What is behind the rise of online gaming platforms in India

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Updated: May 26, 2019 10:12 AM

Mahendra Singh Dhoni is the brand ambassador of Dream11, while Virendra Sehwag is the face of another startup called Myteam11.

The company takes 15-20% of the users’ victories.

There has been a rise in the number of users on online gaming platforms on the back of recently concluded Indian Premier League. Fantasty sports, also dubbed as esport, is now the new ‘it’ thing, the new kid on the block. Even though the companies backing these platforms have existed for years, the surge in their user base over the past three years and the massive funds these companies have amassed from prominent, international venture capitalists bear testimony to their growing popularity. According to a report by KPMG and India Federation of Sports Gaming (IFSG), there are about 20 million fantasy gamers in India right now, a gigantic jump from two million users of such games in 2016. With mass internet penetration fuelled by telecom companies offering data services at cheap rates, this number is expected to go up to 100 million by the end of 2019, as per the report.

One of the frontrunners in the esport gaming platforms is Dream 11, which, according to the IFSG-KPMG report, currently occupies 90% of the domestic fantasy sports market. Even though paid players make for just about 15% of Dream 11’s overall user base of 51 million, the company became India’s first gaming unicorn after the Tencent-backed startup received its latest round of funding from Steadview Capital, raising its valuation to $1.1 billion. The high-stakes online sports game had recently landed itself right in the soup as its `120-crore worth three-year deal with the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s Indian Premier League promotes a business which is legal in nature but is similar to sports gambling as contestants can make money by betting on players’ performances. Founded in 2012 by Harsh Jain and Bhavit Sheth, Dream 11 allows users to create imaginary teams and earn cash by betting on players’ actual match performances. The company takes 15-20% of the users’ victories.

Besides Dream 11, there are multiple other platforms that are raking in the moolah since the IPL has taken off this year. Mobile Premier League is the latest entrant in the segment, having been launched in 2018 by Kiran Garimella and Shubham Malhotra—the former founders of Creo, acquired by Hike in 2017. The Bengaluru-based platform boasts of 10 million users, amassed in just eight months of launch. It is the number one app in the ‘Casual’ category of Google Play Store India. Then there is HalaPlay whose user base has grown 10 times in the last 12 months, as per media reports. The company expects to have one crore active users on its platform in the coming months, observing a massive growth trajectory from the current four million players. Another platform that launched at the start of 2018 is BalleBaazi with cricket fantasy games at its centre. Unlike peers, BalleBaazi gives users an option to create their private teams and engage with them only. The startup has just bagged funding worth $1 million from its parent, Baazi Games.

There are now almost 70 fantasy sports operators in India at present, compared to just a handful that existed three years ago. A common practice followed on most of these platforms is that users can play for free, but the entry fee on any paid game is as low as Rs 10. The prize money can also range from a few hundred rupees to `10 crore. A lot of these top platforms are also endorsed by famed Indian cricketers. For instance, Mahendra Singh Dhoni is the brand ambassador of Dream11, while Virendra Sehwag is the face of another startup called Myteam11. Halaplay roped in Krunal and Hardik Pandya, while Fantasy11 is endorsed by Murali Kartik. Another noteworthy aspect in the esport world is that cricket remains the biggest crowd-puller and pleaser, but sports such as football, kabaddi, basketball are also gaining momentum. The market, as per the joint report by IFSG and KPMG, is expected to touch $5 billion in the next two years.

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