Think of it (pro leagues) like an FMCG market. It’s about what people want. But if it's a heritage product, you want to keep it going. As fantasy cricket and football leagues become bigger, it becomes a barometer of public perception
By Reya Mehrotra
Fantasy sports in India is a relatively new concept, but fans are hooked to it and it is one of the fastest growing sports-tech platforms. What do you think has pushed its growth?
Only a certain number of people can play a game, but there is a far larger number of people who understand it. For them, it is their big opportunity to be part of the game and win.
That is why we have seen big growth in India in the past few years. Fantasy sports all over the world thrive on the principle that the players know whom to pick.
How did you become a part of Fantasy Akhada?
These are many tech companies that are in the business of sport and sport fandom, but at heart if you want to succeed you have to be a tech company first. With Akhada, that’s what I like.
It is legal, scalable and profitable. It is good to see the innocence of an industry when you ethically run a business and get it to grow like it has. If people are putting in money and trust, then it is a pure game. The way Akhada has grown in the past 12-14 months is mind-blowing.
Do you play fantasy sports?
I love playing fantasy cricket when I have time. But now that I am actually in the game, I don’t. One starts to take sides because you want that particular player to do well. So, when you are working with a game, you don’t want to have those biases inbuilt in you.
Apart from fantasy cricket, what other fantasy sports are you into?
I have been asking Amit (Purohit, founder of Fantasy Akhada) to teach me fantasy football. Cricket is such a measurable game; it blends itself very easily into fantasy sports. I want to learn how to measure a full-back’s contribution to football.
There are a lot of similarities between betting and fantasy sports (as one selects a player based on their previous performances). Do you think the emergence of fantasy sports will in a way curb betting in India?
That’s been debated a lot in the courts as well. As a part of my continued education in this game, I spoke to some regular fantasy players and I was taken aback by how much thought goes in, which is not the case in betting. I feel they crunch numbers more than I do (in fantasy cricket).
We choose players based on their past performances in fantasy sports but human behaviour is unpredictable. If a player is not doing well in the past few games, he might play really well in the next game. So how does that impact a game in fantasy sports?
It’s like selecting a team. You’re the captain of the team and select someone based on their record. No one can predict what’s likely to happen because someone will come and play really well. You go by your intuition and that’s what makes it different from one person to another, but it’s not strictly intuitive. It is the outcome of a lot of work.
What are your expectations with this year’s IPL?
Who I think will win doesn’t matter, but who wins is important. The shorter the game, the better the chance of any team winning. We are seeing that there’s a science to the 20 overs’ cricket which determines what will happen.
We are living in such troubled times. For these two tournaments (IPL and T20), I want fans to see good, fun cricket happening.
There are so many formats of cricket in India today. Do you think it puts pressure on the players even if it is bringing in good money?
It’s for the fans to decide. Think of it like an FMCG market. It’s about what people want. But if it’s a heritage product, you want to keep it going. I would ask my friends in the media industry as they have the finger on the pulse of the aam janta.
As fantasy cricket and football leagues become bigger, it becomes a barometer of public perception.
In fact, on our platform, a number of people have played women’s cricket, which is a big sign. Many of us are keen to push the idea for women’s IPL and that’s inevitable.
It started with IPL and now we have multiple leagues like the Pro Kabaddi League, Pro Wrestling League, Indian Super League and there are huge amounts of money pouring in…
(Cuts in) That is the future. Country vs country is fantastic and will never die but as a mass sport only 11 people can dream of playing in it. I remember in one of the Punjab Kings vs RCB matches, Harpreet Brar came in and had a great match. You won’t see it in country vs country format.
He’s the underdog here and became an overnight star. These stories happen only during leagues as one has to work very hard to be a part of the national team. What IPL has done is that it has given opportunities and confidence to players. It’s a pure, unscripted reality show.
You come from an academic background, with professors as parents. You went to IIM Ahmedabad, but took to commentary. How did this turn of events happen?
Times were very different back then from what we have today. There were not many choices we had. Salaries in those days were `2,000-2,500 a month. So the risk perceptions were very different. This was not only pre-Internet but pre-liberalisation.
It’s a long story that I have to narrate someday.
You played cricket in your college days. Did you think of taking it up as a profession?
No. Why would I? There was no future at that time in it. The kind of families we come from, it was not an option. Whether you are good or not that’s a different issue. But there wasn’t an option. I played enough to enjoy it. You may not be a painter good enough to own an art exhibition or a gallery, but know enough about art to look and tell which painting is better like an art critic.
This is in fact one of the reasons for the growth of fantasy sports in India. Everyone fancies themselves as critics. Fantasy sport thrives on that very principle.