Those wanting some action beyond their TVs showing the 16th season of the Indian Premier League (IPL), which kicked off Friday, can show off their skills on fantasy sports platforms. And going by the hectic activity, including investments and entry of new players in the online skill-based gaming genre, especially in the IPL season, it seems there are plenty of takers for fantasy sports.
Close on the heels of Indian cricketer Deepak Chahar announcing his entrepreneurial debut with a fantasy gaming platform called Trade Fantasy Game on February 23, BharatPe co-founder Ashneer Grover also launched a fantasy cricket app named Crickpe, which went live last week. The Crickpe app is part of the ‘Third Unicorn’ venture which Grover announced last year on the occasion of his 40th birthday.
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Earlier in March, commentator Harsha Bhogle-backed fantasy sports startup Fantasy Akhada raised $11 million in a fresh funding round led by Florintree Advisors.
With this, Fantasy Akhada has raised $20 million in funding so far and claims to be currently valued at $135 million.
As a sunrise sector, fantasy sport has served to attract both domestic and global investors, with over Rs 10,000 crore in investments in the form of FDI, as per estimates made by the Federation of Indian Fantasy Sports (FIFS), the apex self-governing body for fantasy sports in India, and Deloitte in 2022. “It is expected to attract Rs 15,000 crore over the next three years across major platforms.
Further, the anticipated introduction of the new IT rules for the online gaming industry is expected to bring regulatory stability, which will be welcomed by both the industry as well as investors,” said Joy Bhattacharjya, director-general, FIFS.
The Indian fantasy sports industry has experienced significant growth over the past few years. With a market size of over Rs 34,000 crore, buoyed by strategic investments, the industry now caters to over 130 million registered users.
According to Roland Landers, CEO of All India Gaming Federation (AIGF), the apex industry body for online skill gaming in the country, India’s deep-seated love for sports of various kinds is the primary factor that has led to the growth of fantasy gaming. “The fantasy gaming sector offers fans a chance to get more involved and engaged in the gameplay and use their knowledge of the sport and its players to their benefit. Since India’s love for sports is not going away any time soon, we believe the momentum for fantasy gaming is also going to continue in the long run,” he added.
Sports has always enjoyed strong fandom and sports fans tend to be very opinionated — about team construction and game strategy. “Fantasy sports allows sports fans to express these opinions and be rewarded not just financially but also emotionally when they are right. This is fundamentally why fantasy sports are as popular as they are,” said Abhishek Nag, partner, Lightspeed India, an early and growth-stage venture capital firm that is primarily focused on investing in consumer internet companies, media and entertainment, the creator economy, and gaming.
Today, we can see users hosting their own shows and giving tips as experts, especially in cricket, and they have garnered a large following as more and more people take up fantasy sports. “The surge in the sheer number of fantasy apps advertising during various tournaments like the IPL is also a testament to their growth and impact on sports,” added Krishna Vedula, founder of Striker, a fantasy digital sports card platform.
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However, is there a scope for so many new players to exist in the market at the same time? “At this point of time, considering the gaming users in India and the pace of growth purely from a user perspective, there is definitely scope for coexistence of many players in this space. Over a period of time, let us say, three to five years from now, there could be meaningful consolidation in this space,” said Ankur Singh, founder and CEO of Witzeal Technologies, a mobile esports, fantasy and skill-based gaming company based in Gurugram.
Each fantasy sport platform offers something different to its relevant audience, as per Landers of AIGF. “As we have seen over the past few years, there has been a lot of innovation and iteration on top of traditional fantasy games, which provides more choice for the users,” he added.
In a very short span of time, India has now become the world’s largest fantasy sports market. “We expected the upward growth trajectory to continue, and there is likely room for new entrants in the market to scale, innovate and grow. However, it is essential to note that the industry is still evolving, and there may be a need for consolidation or course correction in the future. With increasing competition, it is imperative that companies focus on providing a unique and engaging experience to their users, as well as ensuring transparency and fairness in their operations,” added Bhattacharjya of FIFS.
Going forward, while cricket remains the dominant sport in the fantasy gaming space, there is an increasing interest in other sports as well. “Notably, the surge in interest in women’s cricket has added an additional layer of engagement and inclusivity to this evolving landscape. This growing interest and appetite for fantasy sports in India is driving innovation and change in the industry,” said Saroj Panigrahi, senior vice-president at My11Circle, a fantasy sports platform operated by online gaming company Games24x7. In the past one year, My11Circle has grown more than 120% owing to ease of access, seamless integrations and multiple competitive formats of gameplay.
Customisation based on insights drawn from data will be a key differentiator. “Also, the use of new technologies which can further enhance the user experience on the platform will be a critical element,” added Panigrahi.
As far as emerging areas within fantasy sports are concerned, prediction markets and card/collectible-based fantasy games are trending. “The introduction of blockchain and NFTs are also creating potentially interesting opportunities from a collectible ownership point of view. Expansion to sports like kabaddi, hockey, and soccer are a third area of new opportunities,” added Nag of Lightspeed India.