Last year, at around this time, roughly 60 million people in India were hard at work (or play?) on fantasy gaming platforms, analyzing team strategies, player performances, and playing conditions to come up with their “dream” XI for the IPL. Now, with almost all sports cancelled, fantasy gamers have tougher calls to make—who to pick and who to drop from their team in the SBL? The SBL is the semi-professional basketball league of Taiwan. It’s one of the very, very few sporting leagues still carrying on. Or, they could put their money on the Tajikistan basketball league. If football is their thing, then there’s the Belarus Premier League, or the leagues of Burundi, Nicaragua, or Tajikistan—the only football competitions still up and running.
If you’ve never played a fantasy league, don’t scoff at it. The global fantasy games industry is predicted to grow from $13 billion in 2018 to $33 billion by 2025. In India, a report by consultants KPMG released early last year forecast a 22 percent growth spurt between the financial years 2018 to 2023, when it is expected to reach R11,900 crore.
All of it has come to a screeching halt right now, because fantasy gaming needs a live sporting event to feed off of and that source has dried up.
Online gaming goes like this. A participant, usually an avid follower of a sport, pays a sum to participate in a season-long online competition. The online game rides on the performances of a real world league—let’s take the IPL as an example. Every day that an IPL match is scheduled, a fantasy gamer can tweak his team till 30 minutes before the start of the match. If the players the gamer picked perform well in the real match, the gamer gets points, or money. Knowing the finer details of the sport is important; a playing XI for an IPL game must take into account that only four foreigners can play, an uncapped player must be in the side and the line-up must take into account the wicketkeeper, bowlers and batsmen.
In India, fantasy gaming is expected to touch a user base of 100 million by next year. But with its biggest draw, the IPL, suspended, gaming companies are expecting to be hit hard.
“IPL is a major event for fantasy gaming platforms in India. It getting postponed is not good news for the fraternity,” says Varun Ganjoo, Co-Founder & CMO at BaaziGames, a prominent company. “Lot of our businesses and marketing strategies revolve around the IPL season and a delay has slowed down proceedings. We have a user base of over 4 million and we had plans to double that number on our platform during this season.”
Fantasy gaming company Dream11, the leader in India with over eighty million users, has MS Dhoni as its brand ambassador. It is also a main IPL sponsor. Dream11’s current offerings are the Belarus and Tajikistan leagues.
“Covid has stopped all sports, and has resulted in almost no business for fantasy sports,” says Akhil Suhag, CEO, FanFight, an online gaming company that began in 2017, and was expecting to hit 10 million users this IPL season. “With IPL delayed, and with a high risk of cancellation, we have already started to assess the situation. We had lined up new features like daily rewards and leader boards. Now we will reassess launch plans and the campaigns planned around these new features. Any delay in acquiring customers is bad for gaming platforms as momentum is everything in a short peak season such as IPL,” he said.
Fantasy gaming started in the US more than half a century ago, but is a sunrise industry in India. In the last 2-3 years, many new companies have come into play, spending big money to rope in cricket stars, hoping for immediate returns. Mobile Premier League (MPL), founded in 2018, has Virat Kohli, and HalaPlay, which started in 2017, has the Pandya brothers, Hardik and Krunal, for example.
As players, in the real and virtual worlds, idle away their time, these startups will hope they can weather the storm.
The only sporting action in the world right now
Belarus Premier League
Tajikistan Higher League
Burundi Premier League
Nicaragua Premier League
Armenian Snooker Cup
Moscow Liga Pro
Setka Cup, Serbia
Russia Ural League
Men’s League, Thailand
Super Basketball League, Taiwan
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