After PV Sindhu’s impressive run at the Tokyo Olympics, where she medaled for the second successive Games, India’s top badminton players would have eyed a title or two when the World Tour resumed with the Denmark Open last month.
In the four World Tour events since then – French Open, HYLO Open and Indonesia Masters being the others – India’s badminton contingent has not won a single title and have not even made a final. Sindhu, Kidambi Srikanth and Lakshya Sen have all made one or more semis but the best win by an Indian so far has come from HS Prannoy, who stunned Olympic champion Viktor Axelsen at the Indonesia Masters last week.
With the Indonesia Open being the last tournament before the World Tour Finals and the World Championships next month, here’s a look at the key storylines:
Can Sindhu end her title drought in a depleted field?
Sindhu is the reigning World Champion and won bronze at the Tokyo Olympics earlier this year. However, her sole title at the World Tour Level came almost three years ago at the World Tour Finals in 2018.
With four of the five best players in the world – Tai Tzu Ying, Chen Yufei, Nozomi Okuhara and Carolina Marin – skipping these tournaments with a combination of injury (Okuhara and Marin) and self-preservation (Tai and Chen), Sindhu would have fancied her chances of winning at least one of the three tournaments she took part in.
While she has been fairly consistent – she has made two semis and lost in the quarters of the Denmark Open – as the most decorated player in the draw, she ought to be eyeing a better return in the Indonesia Open. The three players she has lost to in those tournaments – Akane Yamaguchi, Sayaka Takahashi and An Se Young – are all in the other half of the draw here. Moreover, she will have happy memories from her last appearance at the tournament, where she went all the way to the final before losing to Yamaguchi.
Sindhu’s first real challenge might come in the form of world no. 11 Michelle Li in the quarterfinals but Sindhu will start as the favourite there, since she has won each of her past four matches against the Canadian. Sindhu might then run into her toughest challenge in the tournament, in the form of Ratchanok Intanon.
Sindhu has made the semis in four of the last five tournaments she has taken part in but lost all of them. Intanon won both their previous matches this year in straight games but that was in January. Intanon has struggled with form and injury over the past month, failing to progress beyond the quarterfinals in any of the last four tournaments she has taken part in. It would be interesting to see how the former world champion’s body holds up if she does go as far as the last four.
Sindhu, though, is in better form and fitness at the moment and if she gets past Intanon, she will have a chance to most likely avenge her losses against either Yamaguchi or An in the final.
Is Kidambi Srikanth actually on the verge of a turnaround?
After climbing to the heights of world no. 1 in 2018, Srikanth’s form has veered from the sublime to the ridiculous as a byproduct of injuries and a lack of confidence. For a player who has been a fixture in the top 10 of the world rankings and India’s best men’s singles player for the majority of the last decade, the failure to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics must have hurt.
However, he’s shown signs of improvement since returning to action at the Sudirman Cup in September. He first showed signs of a resurgence in the first round of the French Open, where he almost beat world no. 1 Kento Momota. That match seemed to have buoyed him with some much-needed confidence as he then made the semis at the HYLO Open and the Indonesia Masters.
He faces a very tricky opener here in the form of compatriot HS Prannoy but he has had the upper hand over the big-hitting Prannoy recently, having defeated him in a lopsided match in the quarterfinals of the Indonesia Masters last week.
The real test of his progress, though, might come in the second round, where he’s likely to run into Olympic champion Axelsen. The last time Srikanth defeated a top five opponent in a completed match was the Denmark Open in 2017, when he defeated Axelsen in the quarterfinals. He has since suffered 22 successive losses against top five players in completed matches. Since that quarterfinal in 2017, Axelsen has won each of his four matches against Srikanth without dropping a game.
If Srikanth can turn that record around, he will definitely fancy his chances at the tournament this week
University students hold the keys to ‘level up’ the esports industry
Written by Tao Martinez, Head of University Esports Development at GGTech
For many students, getting in from a class or lecture means jumping onto CS:GO or League of Legends with their friends to pass the time and have a laugh for a few hours.
Climbing the ranks may spark conversation about “going professional” one day but forging a career in esports has never been more accessible for students, with the industry growing by the day.
The total revenue of the esports industry in 2021 was estimated by Newzoo to be $833.6 million, and this is enhanced by a rising number of jobs, university courses and opportunities, making it one of the fastest growing and desirable sectors to lead a career in.
The most obvious route into esports is through being the best at a given game, with teams willing to sign players up on a contract to represent them at tournaments and online leagues. And whilst this is desirable, there are actually a whole host of other careers within the industry.
With Covid fears beginning to fade, in-person gaming events are returning with competitions such as the Amazon UNIVERSITY Esports Masters, hosted by GGTech in collaboration with NUEL, bringing together the best university talent across Europe to face off.
Beyond the players, these events require event organisers, planners and managers, advertising, sponsorship, social media promotion, casting, filming, tech support, and that’s before even getting to the participants which involves players, coaches, and team organisations.
There are so many aspects to a successful esports competition which in turn creates a wealth of jobs and opportunities – which are growing all the time. And these opportunities are also available through online esports leagues as well.
We are in an era where traditional television is being taken over by Netflix, YouTube and Twitch, creating new mediums for viewers to engage with esports, which is reflected by a growing viewer base.
Research from VentureBeat estimated that in 2021 there were 234 million esports enthusiasts, up from 197 and 200.8 million respectively in 2019, highlighting a stark growth. What’s more is that by 2024 there are expected to be 285.8 million enthusiasts and 291.6 million occasional viewers. Esports is a rapidly growing industry that people want to be involved with, and it’ll only get bigger in the coming years.
This is supported by an increase in job awareness through sites like Hitmarker, a dedicated jobs site for advertising esports opportunities.
The esports ecosystem supports universities through the development of teaching, facilities and opportunities in the industry which helps to focus on student’s interests whilst developing their core skills in preparation for a career in the industry.
For example, Confetti Institute of Creative Technologies, as part of Nottingham Trent University, offer a BSc in Esports Production which teaches students about the global esports industry, the principles of esports, production and technology, as well as broadcasting and management. This will be delivered in Confetti X, a £5 million dedicated esports complex due to open ahead of the upcoming academic year.
Universities such as Sheffield Hallam offer courses in esports management, whilst Chichester has its own esports degree. This is supplemented by universities such as Warwick who have large student esports communities who come together for competitions and tournaments.
The importance of good training in developing the esports industry is being increasingly recognised by universities who are creating new courses each year as a result. Courses involving business, management, events, marketing, journalism and design all offer unique skills which match up with a plethora of new jobs emerging in the esports scene, and with the industry growing at the rate it is, the number of these jobs will only rise.
Moving forwards, the onus is not only on the esports industry supplying opportunities for university students, but also on the university ecosystem to provide the highest-quality education and training in order to fuel the integration of new talent into the dynamic esports workforce.
In order to assist students who are pursuing a career in esports, GGTech works with university students to run and produce the Amazon UNIVERSITY Esports Masters competitions, giving them vital first-hand experience at casting, broadcasting and event management.
Part of the fabric for the future development and growth of the esports industry is putting faith in the talent of university students, being willing to innovate courses, equipment and opportunities, and supporting students every step of the way to help turn their hobby into their future employment.
That’s why university campuses are the best testing space for evolving equipment, products and services whilst allowing students to gain valuable experience, especially through internships and competition management.
Opening people’s eyes to the vast array of opportunities and careers that the esports sector has to offer will fuel the next generation to become the core of the industry during its rapid growth.
Now is the time for a career in esports
In the esports industry revenues are growing, viewership is growing, the number of participants is growing, and this is creating more and more opportunities all the time.
There is no better time to pursue a career in esports, and education is at the forefront of attracting prospective students into the industry. As the sector grows, we will see an increasing number of universities offering esports related courses and follow in the footsteps of Confetti in building dedicated facilities for students to gain the best first-hand experience for running tournaments.
Students should be encouraged to take the plunge, and universities and esports professionals must provide the best assistance possible to welcome in the new generation to help the entire esports industry grow.
Junior Hockey World Cup: Marquee QF clash might come down to who handles pressure better
Ahead of the two sides’ clash on Wednesday, there’s been some talk that India’s quarterfinal match against Belgium in the 2021 Junior Hockey World Cup will be a reprise of an earlier match – the final of the 2016 edition. Although India won that contest, just that result can’t be extrapolated to this latest encounter.
Being an age group tournament, it is obvious that neither team would still feature the same players from five years ago. Indeed, the only common figure from both those games will be Belgium’s coach Jeroen Baart. Individuals from both teams in that contest would graduate to the senior squad and ended up meeting in the semifinals of the Olympics, where the Belgians emerged victorious.
But even though this latest batch of players haven’t ever had a chance to play each other, they will know what they are up against. Wednesday’s match is a clash not just between two teams but of two philosophies of hockey – a classic stylistic matchup. “You see the DNA (playing style) comes down from the senior team, and the senior team is world no 1,” India’s coach Graham Reid said about Belgium. Reid doesn’t mean to say that Belgium’s style has been thrust down from what the seniors. Over the last decade, beginning from the juniors, Belgium has created a playing style that’s worked miracles for them – winning them the Olympic title this year. What this is is a solid defensive structure where Belgium controls the pace of the match. “We focus on control to create opportunities. For us that means maintaining structure and intensity,” says Jeroen Baart.
India have a philosophy too – one that’s also been a decade in the making and which resulted in a drought-ending Olympic bronze. Baart knows of this as well. “India play is about counterattacking with speed and vertical play. “Our style of play is very complimentary to India. India like to counter-attack using their speed and vertical play. They do it really well. We are focused on our defensive end and on controlling the ball to create opportunities,” says Baart.
Signs of vulnerabilities
Both teams will go into Wednesday’s clash knowing not just each others’ playing styles but also based on their performances so far at the World Cup what they aren’t happy facing with. In their first match of the tournament India fell to a shock 5-4 loss to France – a side that’s looking to cast itself in the Belgian model. The French controlled possession for much of the game and the Indians, except for a brief flurry in the final few minutes of the match, were unable to get into the shooting circle. That last bit of relentless pressure will trouble Belgium though. “We will have to survive those waves from India,” Baart says.
Belgium too have shown vulnerabilities in Bhubaneswar. In their second game against Malaysia – they were held to a surprise draw against a side that tightly defended, giving no opening of its own. India chief coach Graham Reid alluded to that as well. “”We also saw some vulnerability the Malaysians were able to capitalise on and hopefully we can do that,” said Reid. That though will be easier said than done since it would require going against the free flowing hockey the Indian team prizes.
Can they play their A-game?
While both sides have displayed vulnerabilities, they equally have the potential to nullify each other’s strengths as well. Both sides will find that their release tactics might not have the same kind of success as they might have had against other teams.
The Belgians for one might find the high ball — a tactic very successfully employed by their Olympic champion senior side as well –has no guarantee. Although the French side did manage to use the high ball successfully, that match was marked by unusually poor trapping and interception from the low-on-match-practice Indians, who would back themselves not to have two bad days in a week’s time.
India, on the other hand, will find that the kind of defenses that allowed their counterattacking play to end up scoring 25 goals in the league phase might not have the same kind of opportunities against a side that prides itself on its defensive structure. The fact that India have lost striker Maninder Singh due to injury might place addition pressure on the remaining first choice forward line. Coach Reid admits that impatience might be a factor should the young Indian side not get the kind of gifts they would have been used to over the last few days. “That’s (impatience) one of the tough parts when coaching someone younger since it doesn’t come naturally in younger boys. Kids at that age want things to happen right now. You have to try to teach them patience and move the ball around. When you see Belgium play, you will see that patience because it’s been ingrained in them growing up,” he admits.
In a high-stakes encounter against two sides who started as pre-tournament favourites, what both coaches admit will be critical is just who handles the pressure better. Should the hosts go 2-0 down as they did in their opening game against France, then it’s likely that scoreboard pressure could cause them to play poorer than they might otherwise have.”There might have been some nerves ahead of the first match of the tournament. Hopefully that would have been washed away by now. What I’m focused on is that we are tight in defence all through the game. But our priority would be to get off to a good start,” says Reid.
Baart will be hoping to deny India of just that. “It’s going to be a fantastic match-up. We expect a lot of attacking and aggression from the Indian team. We need to have the right structure and the right intensity at the right moment to deal with it.”
Utah State Stands Out in Group of Five
Utah State was projected to win three games this season. The Aggies had other ideas. They are 9-3 and playing for the Mountain West Conference championship on Saturday. San Diego State is the opponent. The Aztecs also proved the experts wrong in the college football odds.
Utah State Aggies
Utah State is +5000 to win the MWC title and the Mountain Division champion is a 5½-point underdog to San Diego State in the college football spreads. The Aggies opened the season with three straight wins to reach their projected total. After losing two in a row, they rewarded over bettors in their sixth game, but that came at a -145 price.
Northern Illinois Huskies
Northern Illinois wasn’t thought of too highly at 3½ wins in the Las Vegas odds. The Huskies started 1-2 but rattled off five straight triumphs, giving over players the victory along the way. Northern Illinois has won eight games and is +5000 to win the Mid-American Conference title on Saturday as a three-point dog against Kent State
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
Western Kentucky is +700 to claim the Conference USA title as a 1½-point favorite versus UTSA on Friday. The Hilltoppers figured to be in the middle of the pack with an over-under of 5½ wins. Under players were getting what they wanted when Western Kentucky began 1-4. But seven straight victories later, over players have long since counted their money.
San Diego State Aztecs
San Diego State, the MWC West Division champion, won 11 games after its over-under was set at 6½ for betting online. The Aztecs needed only seven contests to sail over the number. San Diego State is also a big price to wear the conference crown at +1400.
Texas-San Antonio won a school-record 11 games to start the season, smashing its projected win total of eight. The Roadrunners were the third choice to win the C-USA title at +330, but find themselves a slight underdog against Western Kentucky.
BYU’s 12-game independent schedule featured six against Power Five conference programs. The Cougars were 5-1 in those contests. BYU also went 5-1 against the rest to easily surpass the 6½ win total to which it was assigned.
East Carolina Pirates
East Carolina was given a 4½ win total. The Pirates dropped their first two games, won three straight and lost the next two. East Carolina continued its see-saw ride by sailing over the number with four victories in a row before losing to College Football Playoff hopeful Cincinnati.
Boise State Broncos
Boise State was -125 to win the MWC title. The Broncos were in contention until the final weekend of the regular season before losing to San Diego State. Boise State has seven victories and cannot reach the nine it was projected to win.
Buffalo was +330 and a co-favorite to win the MAC championship with an over-under of 7½ wins. The Bulls even got a bit of national love at +50000, but they never gained traction in 2021. Buffalo was 4-4 before losing its remaining four games.
Florida International Panthers
Florida International’s modest win over-under was 4½. After winning their first game, the Panthers lost their final 11, cashing at -125 along the way for under players.