The rise of fantasy sports in India, and startups to watch out for in the space
Fantasy sports (interchangeably used as fantasy esports*) is suddenly water-cooler conversation. From a handful of companies until a few years ago, there are an estimated 60 fantasy sports platforms in India at present. Capital is pouring in, including from prominent, international VCs. And, India got its first gaming unicorn this week - Dream11 - the Tencent-backed fantasy sports startup that is now valued at $1.1 billion after its latest fundraise from Steadview Capital.
Dream11 currently occupies 90 percent of the domestic fantasy sports market, according to a joint report by the Indian Federation of Sports Gaming (IFSG) and KPMG. Sector experts believe its success will inspire more entrepreneurs to see fantasy gaming as a scalable business proposition. This will offer monetisation opportunities going ahead, even though paid players are just about 15 percent of Dream11’s overall user base of 51 million.
But, that might be changing with fantasy gaming becoming more and more competitive by the day, with higher cash rewards at stake. While the trend started with cricket coinciding with the launch of the Indian Premier League (IPL) in 2008, now there is an array of sports to choose from: football, hockey, kabaddi, carrom, pool, badminton, basketball, and more.
The IFSG-KPMG report indicates that there are about 20 million fantasy gamers in India right now. In 2016, this number was just two million. The mass penetration of mobile 4G, triggered by Reliance Jio, has popularised fantasy sports (along with several other internet services) in the country.
The market is projected to touch $5 billion in the next two years. IFSG says two out of three sports fans in India are aware of fantasy gaming today, and an estimated 100 million will take to one or more of the platforms/apps by the end of 2019.
YourStory lists a few of India’s top fantasy sports startups.
Tencent-backed Dream11 is the poster child of India’s fantasy gaming ecosystem. Earlier in 2019, BCCI signed up Dream11 as the IPL’s official fantasy sports partner until 2022. This is not only validation for Dream11, but also the overall fantasy sports sector in India.
Founded in 2012 by Harsh Jain and Bhavit Sheth, Dream11 allows users to create imaginary teams and earn cash based on selected players’ actual match performance. Each good move gets gamers cash rewards, and Dream11 pockets 15-20 percent of the winnings.
The Mumbai-based startup looks to double its user base to 100 million this year riding on the IPL, and later the ICC Cricket World Cup. Dream11’s early backers include Kalaari Capital, and Unicorn India Ventures.
Mobile Premier League (MPL)
Sequoia-funded MPL is the latest upstart in India’s fantasy sports market. It is growing at the speed of light, having notched up 10 million users in 7-8 months. This Bengaluru-based startup is the country’s fastest-growing fantasy sports platform, and also the #1 app in the ‘Casual’ category of Google Play Store India.
MPL was founded in 2018 by Srinivas Kiran Garimella and Shubham Malhotra - former founders of Creo, which was acqui-hired by Hike in 2017. The app-based platform allows fans to compete in skill-based sports and win real rewards.
Just ahead of IPL 2019, MPL roped in Team India captain Virat Kohli as its brand ambassador in a deal reportedly valued at Rs 12 crore. It is rumoured that Indonesia’s Go-Jek is looking to invest $30 million in MPL.
Mumbai-based HalaPlay was founded in 2017 by BITS Pilani alumni Swapnil Saurav, Prateek Anand, Ananya Singhal, and Aman Kesari. In March, it raised Rs 40 crore (about $5 million) in Series A round from global mobile gaming leader Nazara Technologies and casino gaming company Delta Corp.
In 2017, it had raised an undisclosed amount from Nazara and Kae Capital. HalaPlay uses machine learning and data analytics to help gamers analyse their playing patterns and improve their skills to earn more money.
The Daily Fantasy Sports platform claims a 10x user growth in the last 12 months, and expects to grow to one crore active players during the IPL season. It has 4 million players right now. Like Dream11, HalaPlay takes 10-15 percent of every player’s earnings.
BalleBaazi (meaning ‘batting’ in Hindi) started in early 2018 as a fantasy platform dedicated to cricket. The Delhi-based startup, founded by Saurabh Chopra, claims to have a monthly user base of one million.
The popularity of cricket in India and the sheer number of high-profile tournaments this year is expected to drive further growth of the platform. Unlike many of its peers, BalleBaazi allows users the option to create their own private teams and invite only the ones they want to engage with.
The startup has just secured a $1 million funding from its parent company, Baazi Games, and plans to utilise it in the expansion of verticals.
This Delhi-based esports startup was founded by Amity University grads Abhay Sharma and Ashwin Haryani in 2014. It began as a marketplace for consoles, PC gaming titles, and other accessories.
In 2017, it pivoted into an esport tournament platform, and received a seed investment of about $5 million from Rajan Anandan, Stellaris Venture Partners, AdvantEdge, Smile Group, and Japan’s Incubate Fund.
Earlier this year, GamingMonk also received a strategic investment of $100,000 from Japanese gaming company GameWink. The startup is operational on all platforms - PC, console and mobile - and claims to have grown its user base by 500 percent in the last six months.
My11Circle is India’s youngest fantasy sports platform, and currently the only one providing real-time match scores within the app. Launched in January 2019 by Play Games24x7 founders Trivikraman Thampy and Bhavin Pandya, My11Circle is dedicated to domestic and international cricket games, but will add other sports going ahead.
Several fantasy gamers are said to be flocking to My11Circle given that the platform is new, and less competition means better chances of earning rewards.
PlayGames 24x7 also runs RummyCircle (India’s online rummy market leader with over 8 million players) started in 2006, and backed by Tiger Global in 2012.
*Update: This article was updated on August 25, 2020 to reflect 'fantasy esports' instead of esports.