If you have been a vivid cricket follower and watched the 11th edition of the Indian Premier League, you could not have missed the Dream 11 advertisement featuring former Indian skipper MS Dhoni. Online fantasy gaming has witnessed a boom in India with the number of operators in the country having doubled to 60 from 30 operators in 2017, an IFSG-AC Nielsen report released in March this year revealed. Dream11 contributes 90% of the market share followed by MyTeam11 and HalaPlay, it said.
Adding to the optimism in this fldgling industry is the fact that the user base has also seen exponential growth – up from 20 lakh in 2016 to 2 crore in 2017 — a number that went past the 4 crore mark after seven weeks of Indian Premier League. At this rate, India is set to beat the United States and Canada who have 59.3 million (5.93 crore) Fantasy Sports users.
For Harsh Jain, Chairman of Indian Federation of Sports Gaming (IFSG) & Co-Founder, CEO of Dream11, this success came after 10 years of learning from mistakes. “Our short-term success during the Indian Premier League was because of a lot of things. It was the experimentation, the culture we have created in our team and 10 years of understanding the users. We started this journey in 2008 so its 10 years of understanding what the users think and what they want. It’s the 10 years of learning from the mistakes we made,” Harsh said in an exclusive interaction with FinancialExpress.com.
Fantasy Sports are being consumed by fans across metro and non-metro cities alike. Harsh said that building credibility was the key to engaging more people. “Signing Dhoni as the brand ambassador was obviously crucial for us. We also partnered with NBA and ISL to work extensively. These are the things that build a lot of credibility with the users. People start having faith in the product,” he said.
— Dream11 (@Dream11) May 27, 2018
“What happens in our sort of product is that — there are network effects. So, when people use Dream 11, they start telling their friends who also start using it. 100 different things have to work for us to have success,” he added.
A few years ago, Dream 11 was the only fantasy gaming platform in India but the number has now gone up to 70. This is when the need to form Indian Federation of Sports Gaming was felt. IFSG is India’s first and only Sports Gaming self-regulatory industry body which was formed to protect consumer interest and create standardised best practices in the industry.
“In 2016, around 10 companies started doing fantasy sports and by the end of 2017, there were around 60 companies….now, even 70 that are doing fantasy sports in India. When this number went past 50 last year, we felt the need of having a regulatory body to self-regulate fantasy sports as there are a lot of companies claiming false things to people. So, we need a body that would standardise practices across the industry and most importantly, protect the users’ interest. That’s where IFSG was started last year,” he said.
The efforts have paid off as there has been a significant rise in sports gaming in India. Statistically, users from North India (69%) display a higher awareness of Fantasy Sports and participate more followed by West (67%), East (66%) and South (64%).
Harsh added that the challenge was to get everyone on board as people don’t care about regulations. “The biggest challenge was that people don’t care about regulations. So, it was a challenge to unite everybody for the greater good of the industry to grow it for everyone. If we want the government to govern this industry all of us have to work together and we are very happy to say that already 12 of the largest players in the industry have joined the IFSG. So it is picking up the pace,” he said.
Fantasy gaming is also helping in increasing the user engagement for various sports. “Even in the United States, there have been studies that show that when a sports user evolves into a fantasy sports user, he or she consumes 80 per cent more sports,” Harsh said.
This means that people who consume fantasy sports double their sports consumption. During the Indian Premier League, Dream 11 led the way for fantasy gaming in India as the number of users saw a rapid rise from 20 million to 40 million.
“This time during the IPL, we saw that the fantasy game on cricket had so much presence on TV and everywhere. It was advertised heavily and we, ourselves grew from 20 million to 40 million. There are 4 crore fantasy sports users in India now and this base has grown only in these 7 weeks of IPL. I am working with Dream 11 who are currently the official fantasy game and they are putting us in front and centre to engage with fantasy game users,” the IFSG chairman said.
Technology has played an important role in reducing the gap between real and fantasy sports. One of the growth drivers is that this industry has seen a massive increase in operators. The IFSG-AC Nielsen report stated that about 93% users play fantasy sports via mobile or tablets making these their preferred devices.
Watch Dream 11 add featuring MS Dhoni:
“The whole telecom industry has seen a rapid rise in data usage with phones and plans becoming much cheaper. Everyone has access and when that happens there are rising times. Previously, we were the only ones who were doing the marketing but now, there are 60 players who are doing the marketing for fantasy sports which has been a driver. Even companies like Jio and Hotstar are running things like ‘Watch and Play’ because everyone knows that you have to convert the users from passive to active audiences. And, there is no doubt that fantasy sport is a way to do that,” Harsh said.
“I think the other driver is that there is a certain time when the products start becoming mainstream. Like when WhatsApp was launched, only a few people were using it. Then, a few more people joined….a few more and a few more….then came a time when people started understanding that if you want to communicate with a group you have to be in WhatsApp,” he added.
The next target for Indian Federation of Sports Gaming is to cross the barrier of 100 million users.
“Fantasy sports is also on a journey where we have just moved from early adopters to early majority and by next year we will have 100 million users and will start moving towards the late majority. This is a process of growth for this industry and we are sure that there is a long way to go,” Harsh said.
Going ahead, the sector faces many challenges but Harsh hopes that IFSG will be able to make fantasy gaming more engaging for users.
“It is for us to make the game more engaging and entertaining. You can expect us to make fantasy sports play a bigger part in the user experience. It is for us to expand it to as many sports as possible. We also have to keep learning and improving the user experience as we scale up in India. We also have to create different experiences for different users. Localisation and making the sports more engaging is our target. So you can expect that from us,” he concluded.