Who said mobile games are a waste of time? The rapid adoption of smartphones, digital payment systems and cheaper internet plans have played a significant role in the rise of the gaming services industry in India. Seeing its potential, companies in the sector have capitalised heavily, raising large amounts from investors.
According to a KPMG report, the fantasy sports industry user base grew 165.9 per cent during 2016-2020, from 2 million in June 2016 to 100 million in 2020.
Sports in India has always been in the spotlight. If not all sports, cricket stands out as a fan favourite. Now, what if you could play numerous sports from your couch, desk or while waiting in line and earn rewards? Crazy, right? Well, a powerful duo went ahead and created a business model based on this idea.
MPL Descends Into Fantasy Sports
Mobile Premier League (MPL), founded by Srinivas Kiran Garimella and Shubham Malhotra, is one of the leading players in the Indian fantasy sports market. This Bengaluru-based startup was founded in 2018. Galactus Funware Technology Private Limited, incorporated on 22 May 2018, is the parent company to MPL.
MPL is an application that provides a platform for users to participate in skill-based sports and win real rewards. Within seven to eight months, MPL was called the country’s fastest-growing e-sports platform and the fastest-growing application in the country.
In February 2021, the online gaming platform Mobile Premier League (MPL) was valued at $945 million.
A platform for users to participate in skill-based sports and win real rewards.
Satisfying the Gamer Within
The co-founders identified the unquenched thirst for interactive gaming. So while pro-gamers need the right equipment to get going, users on MPL need just three things- a handset, data/internet and accessible modes of payment.
The MPL app is a publishing platform for other gaming firms. MPL does not develop games in-house. Instead, it hosts about 60+ games.
What Makes MPL a User Favorite?
The upside that MPL offers their users is unlimited and instant withdrawals and a simple KYC process.
Another plus point in MPL’s basket is that it offers a more diverse range of games than its competitors. MPL’s success could be attributed to this variety offered from fantasy sports to e-sports. Fantasy sports refers to participants assembling imaginary teams online to play professional sports virtually.
Srinivas Kiran Garimella, the Co-founder and CEO of Mobile Premier League, highlighted that they want to focus on distribution. MPL’s goal is to offer multiple games and formats to users on the MPL platform. It certainly helps that MPL’s design and features are easy to use, keeping a user’s spirit of playing high and free of distractions.
What makes MPL unique is that people can compete with one another. MPL already has multiple forms of monetisation. For example, ahead of the IPL T20 season, MPL sold tickets at Rs. 99 where users just needed to buy it once and could play fantasy for free for all matches. Otherwise, charges for each gaming event varied between Rs. 2 and Rs. 30. However, MPL is looking at one of these becoming a long-term source of monetisation while keeping a high level of engagement.
In 2019, MPL was recognised as the ‘Best Fantasy Sports Operator’ by the India Gaming Awards.
A Game-Changing Revenue Model
MPL charges an entry fee from the players when they participate in any game. In addition, the tournaments retain a hosting fee amounting to 20 per cent of the total raised from the participating players. MPL’s gaming apps also earn revenue through advertisements and in-app purchases.
Happy MPL Players
A large portion of MPL’s customer base comes from referrals. This could be a sign of happy customers. MPL also focuses on customer satisfaction through smoother API response and performance. Every millisecond is critical in gaming, be it Temple Run for a Quiz. To foolproof the application so that players do not experience any lag, MPL has maintained an API response time of 30 milliseconds or less since launch.
The decision to add quiz games to the array was to increase the platform’s variety and attract youngsters. Generally, gaming is either thought to be for the professionals or “timepass”. MPL changed this for its customers. MPL added a value that reflects, more than you bet, straight into your account!
MPL Ranks High on the Leaderboard
MPL launched in 2018 and successfully raised 250 crores during Series A funding. Investment firm Sequoia Capital was leading in the funding process, followed by Times Internet, GoVentures, RTP Global, BeeNext, Base Ventures, and Venture Highway. This funding certainly acted as a power-booster for the seven-month-old mobile gaming platform. In 2020, MPL sponsored two Indian Premier League (IPL) teams, namely Royal Challengers Bangalore and Kolkata Knight Riders.
From Fantasy Sports to On-the-Field
Just ahead of IPL 2019, Sportskeeda reported that MPL roped in Team India captain Virat Kohli as its brand ambassador in a deal valued at Rs 12 crore.
In 2020, MPL was the presenting sponsor of the hit reality television show Big Boss. The reality show’s tremendous popularity possibly elevated MPL’s reach to a wider audience.
In 2021, MPL raised $95 million in funding. The round of investments was led by Composite Capital and Moore Strategic Ventures
MPL “Just Did It” Instead of Nike
2020 yet again brought about another business opportunity when the BCCI formally announced MPL Sports apparel and accessories as the official kit sponsor and merchandise partner of the National men’s and women’s teams as well as the U-19. Succeeding Nike, who had a five-year deal from 2016 to 2020 worth rupees 370 crores, MPL Sports signed a three-year agreement from November 2020 to December 2023.
MPL Sports offers a wide range of sportswear and cricket equipment with accessories like masks, wrist bands and other gear. The winning streak for MPL does not stop here. Apart from manufacturing Team India jerseys, they also sell licensed Team India merchandise.
MPL, being a startup established in 2018, dethroned a player as big as Nike, proving that entrepreneurs have the potential to emerge the winner too.
MPL thrives on digital mode. Equipped with the knowledge that gamers and mobile users have their eyes trained on a screen, MPL advertises on television as well as digital ads to create good value. Sports sponsorships are also an avenue of advertising that MPL strongly pursues. By shooting the ball through various advertising mediums and strategies, MPL increases brand awareness and presence in the customer’s eyes.
In 2020, MPL began focusing on targeting YouTube to increase brand awareness as it recently crossed 1.2 million subscribers on its channel. Amit Bhadana happens to be one of India’s biggest Youtube stars and has also been associated with MPL, having featured the company in many of his sketches.
MPL went a step ahead and brought YouTubers Ashish Chanchlani and Elvish Yadav on board to launch marketing initiatives. After collaborating with cricketer Virat Kohli and actor Tamannaah Bhatia, MPL has been on the lookout for young digital influencers to pump presence and multiply the consumer base.
From the marketing strategies, it is evident that MPL understands where their audience is and the best way to tap their attention.
MPL: Acquisitions upon Acquisitions
Mobile Premier League (MPL) acquired Pune based Crevise Technologies in May 2019 within 8 months of starting operations. Crevise Technologies, formed in 2016, provided end-to-end product engineering consultation. A collaboration between the two has happened in the past to improve MPL platform performance and operational efficiency.
In 2021, MPL added GamingMonk to its list of acquisitions. GamingMonk hosts esports tournaments across multiple platforms that include PC, consoles and mobile phones. GameMonk creates an integrated platform where publishers and gamers come together. The acquisition could boost key national, regional and global tournament IPs and allow MPL to develop robust esports and broadcasting capabilities.
Given that MPL is a platform that hosts fantasy sports, smoother user experience, multiple game options, and the best of back-end engineering are crucial.
Users on MPL need just three things- a handset, data/internet and accessible modes of payment.
What’s in a Game: Challenges and Competition
Since mobile gaming and fantasy sports took off in India, MPL’s biggest challenge is standing out from the competition right now, because competitors like My11Circle, BalleBaazi.com, and RummyCircle have also been actively advertising.
When MPL secured the apparel sponsorship for IPL, Dream11 replaced Vivo as the title sponsor of the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2020.
In April 2021, the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) was set to permanently ban all gaming transactions under Rs 50 on its popular Unified Payments Interface (UPI) channel. This move was said to favour banks that face processing loads but posed a major problem to real-money gaming platforms running on microtransactions. Apps that charged players as and when they played over a fixed subscription faced this challenge.
Google’s Play Store does not host games or apps that urge users to bet money towards a prize pool. This happens to be the foundation model for many fantasy games. Therefore, Indian fantasy gaming companies need users to visit their official website and download APKs (Android Application Package). MPL is not the only player operating outside the Google Play store. But by being on Google Play Store, a seal of “trust” is stamped on the hearts of users. Google Play Store allows companies to host APK links by providing good software solutions.
Gambling and money sports have also been up for debate when it comes to their legality in India. MPL app is legal in India and is certified by MasterCard and Visa as a secure platform. On MPL, players can bet and engage in a duel. It comes very close to betting and gambling. Hence, while most states allow games like rummy, poker and fantasy sports, deeming them to be games of skill, Telangana, Orissa, Assam, Sikkim and Andhra Pradesh have banned these games under anti-gambling laws. If other states in India view it the same way, then MPL’s goal to gain from this model could face significant roadblocks in the long run.
Recently, real-money gaming advertisements warn customers of the risks involved through disclaimers. This could make eager players pause and rethink their choice to download and participate in fantasy sports.
Unlike online gaming, fantasy sports are linked to live sports. When major sports events are cancelled or rescheduled, the revenue stream from fantasy sports is affected. This was visible when the pandemic hit in 2019. With the Indian Premier League (IPL) suspension in 2021, sponsors face an immediate impact. The FIFS (Federation of Indian Fantasy Sports)-KPMG report reveals that due to Covid-19, fantasy sports might face a 20-22 per cent decline in GMV (Gross Merchandise Value) in FY21 compared to FY20.
What Does the Future Hold?
Sensor Tower, an application intelligence firm, revealed that India tops the list for the biggest global markets for mobile game downloads in the first nine months of 2020. This accounts for close to 17 per cent of all global downloads.
MPL has over 60 games and is a blend of content and gaming, from casual online games such as rummy and ludo to fantasy gaming, including cricket and football.
MPL crosses over numerous boundaries from online gaming, fantasy sports to possible online gambling. However, its USP includes “skill-building gaming”, which could evade pressure from regulatory frameworks.
The platform claims to have witnessed 3x-4x growth from the pre-covid period, with the user base being a melting pot of working professionals, homemakers, students and retired senior citizens. The co-founders believe that e-sports could make it to the Olympics very soon because it is already a part of the Asian Games. This could set a winning streak for online and fantasy gaming in the near future.