Cheering for fantasy sport: Gaming platforms see growth amid lockdown

Apart from cricket and kabaddi, fantasy sports titles are being designed for many other sports such as football and basketball, and new registrarions are rising. Whether the trend will hold remains to be seen
Krishan, 28, has a new favourite sports star. It’s Franklin Session, a professional basketball player with Taiwan’s Super Basketball League (SBL). With most of the popular sporting events cancelled in order to contain the spread of the coronavirus, fantasy sports fans like Krishan, who is from Karnal in Haryana, have started putting their money on the few sports leagues that are still active, including the SBL, Belarus Premier League (BPL) and Nicaragua's top division football league, Liga Primera.

Fantasy sports, where fans create their own virtual teams made up of real sportspersons, have been growing in popularity in India. Apart from cricket and kabaddi, fantasy sports titles are designed for many other sports such as football and basketball.

“With most of the popular leagues and sporting events having either been postponed or cancelled, some of the smaller leagues are gaining popularity amongst fans of fantasy sports,” says Sudhanshu Gupta, chief operating officer, at gaming platform Paytm First Games. “However, the total number of users showing interest in these leagues is fractional compared to the more popular leagues.”

The unique game play model of fantasy sports is central to their popularity. Typically, fans create their own team made up of real-life players from upcoming matches. These virtual teams garner points based on the actual performance of the players during the real matches. Users whose teams perform well are given points, and those who feature at the top of the list, win actual cash rewards. 

The key to success in fantasy sport lies in selecting the right players. This is where technologies like big data and analytics come into play. The gaming platforms feed information about the teams, and players’ performances are evaluated on various metrics with the help of the open source and paid software available in the market.

“We use a lot of real-time analytics, personalisation and segments to provide the right journey to our users from the time they register on the platform to when they become a pro at the various games,” says Gupta.

The online gaming market in India has seen tremendous growth lately, driven by the surge in digital usage, smartphone-savvy users and cheap data. According to a report by analyst firm KPMG, revenues have nearly doubled over a period of four years, reaching Rs 4,380 crore in FY18. This is expected to grow at an annualised rate of 22.1 per cent to touch Rs 11,880 crore in FY23.

The pandemic and the stay-at-home orders have upped the popularity of the gaming platforms some more. According to Internet Exchange DE-CIX, the gaming traffic in India has surged 109.4 per cent during the ongoing lockdown when compared with the week of 24- 28 February 
this year. 

Take Paytm First Games. It has registered a 200 per cent increase in its overall user base in the last one month, with more than half a million daily active gamers spending anywhere between 30 and 45 minutes on it. “Rummy has witnessed the maximum traction among users. The number of games played is doubling every week,” says Gupta.

In view of the current disruption, the platform is also providing sports quizzes, animated casual cricket and football games.

Dream11, India’s biggest fantasy sports platform, has switched to hosting fixtures of SBL and BPL while its multi-sport aggregator platform, FanCode, shares news and predictions. In India it is also live-streaming the matches of Belarus Premier League.

“With tournaments like Belarus Premier League and Taiwan’s Super Basketball still on, sports fans are currently lapping up the content to keep themselves entertained and engaged with sports. This is also a good opportunity to introduce Indian fans to new leagues and new sports,” says Yannick Colaco, co-founder, FanCode.

Belarus is one of the few countries where no professional sport has been cancelled or postponed. “It is better to die on your feet, than live on your knees. There is no virus here,” the country’s President Alexander Lukashenko told a local television channel after he participated in a game of ice-hockey last month.

However, industry experts feel that fantasy sports fans’ enthusiasm for lesser known teams will not last long. “I think this is a temporary shift in behaviour,” says Abhishek Madhavan, vice-president (marketing), Mobile Premier League (MPL). “But our business has grown overall due to the platform nature of our business, where fantasy is just one of the over 40 games on the MPL app."

According to the Sequoia-backed start-up, users on its app have now migrated to other games such as poker and chess. The number of its daily users is growing 40-50 per cent week-on-week since the lockdown.

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