When India banned the hit mobile version of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) over its diplomatic row with China, Zeyan Shafiq’s e-sports team was suddenly left without players. So Shafiq, who is based in war-torn Kashmir, did something unusual: he reached across the border to Pakistan.
Shafiq, 18, feared reprisals over his move, but none came. It resulted in an unheard-of alliance between Indian and Pakistani gamers, forged in one of the most dangerous regions in the world.
“Of course we had lot of things in the mind when we made this move, including a possibility of backlash,” Shafiq said.
“But by God’s grace everything went well and people supported us on both sides. They understood that this is e-sports and there is no partiality between these two countries,” he said.
PUBG is a military-style war game where teams battle online, and whose mobile version has been downloaded hundreds of millions of times worldwide.
The game echoes real life in Kashmir, which is disputed by India and Pakistan, and where shells and bullets hurtle almost daily across the border.
Following a deadly clash with Chinese troops on another disputed frontier, India blocked the PUBG Mobile app, which is licensed by Chinese tech giant Tencent for sale in the region, along with dozens of others.
It left Shafiq’s Stalwarts Esports team without players, after they had already earned a shot at reaching the PUBG world league, which offers US$2 million in prizes.
“I somehow managed to retain a slot for my team, but was not allowed to pick Indian players. So I got in touch with the Pakistan players,” he said.
“The Pakistan team played in the world league last year ... so I told them they should collaborate with me and they agreed,” he said.
Shafiq’s move cuts through decades of tensions between India and Pakistan, whose sporting ties are nonexistent.
It has been 13 years since either side visited the other to play cricket, the two countries’ favorite game.
Stalwarts Esports ultimately failed in their bid to reach the PUBG world league, but Abdul Haseeb, one of the Pakistani players, said the collaboration was a success in other ways.
“We were happy to represent our talent without caring about national borders,” he said.
“In the end the love and support we received from both countries fulfilled our purpose of being on that platform, and representing both Pakistan and India,” he said.
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