The landscape of fantasy games in India has evolved into a new phenomenon in the past 2 years. This can be in proportion to the surge in digital usage, especially due to the introduction of cheaper data plans and better connectivity offered by the budding telecom industry. The ease created by Artificial Intelligence and Data Science has affected not only the tech world but also the way people visualize and think.
The outside edge created by the development helped the entry of fantasy gaming into the sporting world. Nowadays people don’t rate players by their physicality or charm. The 21st-century sporting world revolves around statistics. These statistics create the foundation for these so-called fantasy games.
The fantasy sports landscape in India has witnessed a significant transformation since its launch nearly two decades ago. ESPN-Star Sports launched its ‘Super Selector fantasy game’ in 2001, which proved to be a pathbreaker for the association of e-games with sporting fans. The format of the game involved people registering their teams for free, with the contest duration ranging from a month to any specific league. Over the years, several monumental tournaments such as EPL, UCL, ICC events, and IPL, developed games where people could manage their teams for specific tournaments.
The surge of multiple sporting leagues in India over the last few years has increased opportunities for users to engage in fantasy sports. While the Indian Premier League remains the prime sports phenomenon in India, both from a sporting as well as a fantasy sports point of view, the emergence of these new leagues ensures that users can engage with multiple sports throughout the year. The structuring of teams based on regional geography with the presence of exceptional players from both, the regional and international arena ensures maintaining a die-hard fan base and an active audience for the leagues.
Prominent organisations like Dream11, MyTeam11, Halaplay, 11Wickets, Starpick and Fantain have partnered with official sports leagues as their fantasy sports game partner. Dream11, the leader in this segment with 90 per cent of the total market share, is the Official Fantasy Game Partner of the International Council of Cricket, Pro Kabaddi League, Indian Super League, Caribbean Premier League, International Hockey Federation and Big Bash League. Apart from these operators, prominent leagues like the Indian Premier League run their own official fantasy leagues.
Indian online fantasy sports industry has experienced colossal growth in recent years. According to the FIFS-KPMG report, in the year 2016, there were less than ten companies in this segment. Today there are more than 140 companies. The market has grown 9 times, from Rs 1,743 crore to Rs 16,467 crore in the last 4 years. Fantasy sports companies were also the fortunate beneficiaries of over 2.5 thousand crores in revenue while the government made 776 million in tax revenue.
Fantasy sports play an increasingly important role in connecting fans to their favourite sports. The young and enthusiastic sports fan base is hooked on this virtual game and is increasing rapidly. The user base of online fantasy sports platforms, including Dream11, has grown from 20 lakh in the year 2016 to 9 crores in the year 2019. With increasing participation, the earnings of the players are also growing tremendously. In the last year alone, fantasy sports gamers took home rewards worth 14 thousand crores.
Fantasy sports games require the user to select a team based on the application of their knowledge of the sport which involves the performance analysis of the players. It requires users to have an understanding of the game and a judgment of the performance of the selected players over the others.
There are various elements that are characteristic of the game format which requires thorough research and analysis to win the game. For example, some features like team selection with the same number of players as in real life team sport, a restriction on the number of players that can be selected from each team, the continuation of the game for at least the duration of the relevant match in real-time, an upper limit on spends to select the team and prohibition from changing the team structure after the start of the real-time sports match ensures the predominance of the element of skill in the game.
Fantasy sports platforms offer complete transparency to customers in their monetary transactions. All transactions happen through safe and verified payment gateways, which allow greater reliability to users. Fantasy sports platforms require users to provide their personal information such as bank account details as well as address proof before they can withdraw their earnings. This provides a method of tracking the source of money, in order to verify the legality of the source
A regulated and supervised environment ensures that players have the option of approaching the law in case of any dispute regarding the functioning of the game. Fantasy sports platforms also prohibit their own employees from competing in such games to ensure assurance and reliability to their users. Users found to be using automated bots are automatically disqualified from competing.
The tournaments that the fantasy games are based on currently are specialized and happen only at a national or an international level rather than locally. Tournament organizers struggle to find support from both local sponsors and sports associations. For the sport to truly gain outreach, adoption at regional levels can pave way for success in the future.
Due to the stereotypes stacked against competitive gaming, many brands are still not willing to associate themselves with these online fantasy games. These stereotypes are often related to the demographic of e-sports and the definition of ‘quality content’, which varies from game to game and may not be completely related to audience approval.
In the recent ruling of the High Court of Punjab and Haryana in the case of ‘Shri Varun Gumber vs. Union Territory of Chandigarh and others’ in 2017, it was held that playing fantasy sports of the type under consideration in the case (i.e. a Dream11 game) involved a substantial degree of skill and did not amount to gambling. The Court held that ‘the element of skill’ had a predominant influence on the outcome of the game under consideration, which had the format discussed above.
The Court judged that the above format, as offered by Dream11, constitutes a ‘game of mere skill’, and that Dream11 is a legitimate business activity protected under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution of India. This clarification of the legal status of the fantasy sports format has helped boost the overall fantasy sports market in terms of a larger number of platforms entering the market with similar formats and also leading to widespread user adoption.
To bring in the true essence and motive of the industry, strong and effective marketing campaigns should be conducted nationwide and locally to introduce the audience to the game platforms and allow themselves to enjoy its interface, with a similar spirit they have towards the sport. Through analysing the current scenario, the success rate is phenomenal and the future will witness a steady growth for the industry.