From gamer to athlete, story of Ankur ‘JauntyTank’ Diwakar’s decade-long esports journey

Ankur Diwakar, who has won national and international titles in FIFA and Pro Evolution Soccer, has represented India at the 2018 Asian Games as an esports athlete.
By Aarish Ansari

“It hurts when you are the best at something, and no one cares about it.”

This is what professional Indian gamer Ankur Diwakar felt even after being at the top of his trade for a decade.

One of the best football gamers in Asia, Ankur Diwakar has won over 100 esports titles in his 14-year-long career that started in 2007, when the seeds of gaming were just being sown in India.

But the veteran gamer’s journey to the top was a long battle against society to prove gaming was an actual skill-based sport.

It began in gaming cafes

Gaming, back in the early 2000s, was perceived as a pastime for young kids who could press buttons on joysticks to race cars on TV screens, complete adventurous missions or save a princess like in Mario.

But for Ankur Diwakar, famous as JauntyTank, gaming was special. It was more than a way to kill time. The youngster wanted to be the best at his game of choice – football.

And so, he snuck out, bunked college and spent every minute he could in honing his skills with the joystick.

“I used to go to gaming cafes and play. I was the best in my area.”

Soon, Ankur started beating opponents from other localities and even other cities to win titles and awards. He became the national champion multiple times and was ranked in the top five in Asia.

But even after filling his trophy cabinet to the brim, people doubted the career path Ankur had taken.

“At times, I used to sit alone and look at my titles and accolades, thinking one day all this will be counted.”

And, in 2018, things changed.

The Asian Games effect

Ankur’s perseverance finally bore fruit 10 years after he got into esports.

The youngster from Mumbai got the opportunity to represent India in Pro Evolution Soccer at the 2018 Asian Games when esports was included as a demonstration event.

Ankur made his way to the continental showpiece after becoming the South Asian champion – one of his biggest achievements to date.

Apart from the pride and joy that every athlete gets by representing their nation, Ankur had a very different experience in Jakarta, Indonesia - the venue for the 2018 edition.

After facing questions about his career at every level, Ankur felt relieved at the Asian Games.

“There, no one asked me what I did. It felt very good. I was not a gamer at the Asian Games, I was officially an athlete.

“I was having breakfast with PV Sindhu, meeting so many different players and no one cared to ask who I was. In fact, the other athletes told me that I should teach them gaming some time,” Ankur recalled.

The Asian Games played a big part in changing the perception of esports in India as well. The social stigma around gaming started to fade away.

“We were fighting a battle to convince others that gaming wasn’t gambling. It’s a legitimate sport which requires a specific set of skills… I feel satisfied now.”

Esports at 2022 Asian Games

After the successful demonstration of esports at the 2018 edition, eight games have been added as medal events at the 2022 Asian Games, to be held in Hangzhou, China.

Ankur feels the integration of esports into traditional sporting events has opened new opportunities for gamers.

“Now, we have something to tell people and to fight for. There is a roadmap now.”

Although Ankur has been out of action for a while, he is readying for a comeback and will be vying for a spot in FIFA at the 2022 event.