There is a huge growth opportunity in India with fantasy gaming, says Varun Mahna on launch of FantasyDangal
FantasyDangal, a third offering by Dangal Games after PokerDangal and RummyDangal, is catered to the growing fantasy sports industry. The app launches on 9 April to coincide with the IPL.
Dream11, MyTeam11, My11Circle, Howzat, Halaplay, 11Wicket, MyFab11, MPL Fantasy Cricket and Ballebaazi are some of the players in the crowded fantasy sports category in India. In India, a FICCI-EY report said the online gaming segment was worth Rs 6,500 crore in 2019 and is slated to touch Rs 18,700 crore in 2022. As per KPMG, the IPL fantasy league will be worth $1 billion alone.
In September 2020, Dream11 raised $225 million, while Mobile Premier League raised $90 million. On Friday, as the 14th edition of IPL gets underway, FantasyDangal - part of Dangal Games - also throws its hat in the ring.
Dangal Games, which owns PokerDangal and RummyDangal, and raised $1 million in Series A funding earlier this year, has long planned to jump on the bandwagon and IPL seemed the right opportunity.
Firstpost spoke to Dangal Games Founder & CEO Varun Mahna on the platform and the future of fantasy gaming in the country.
What it is, how long has it been in the plans, and most importantly, what makes it unique in comparison to other fantasy gaming portals?
We are an online gaming company, and have got two products, which are already live in the market. So we have got an exposure to the gaming sector. We are one of the leaders in the segment with the PokerDangal. We always had the vision to explore fantasy sports as a sector. And definitely, it was a logical next step for the business to take, because we aspire to be one of the leading online gaming companies in the country. Fantasy (sports) is a very big domain, when it comes to online real money gaming. So, fantasy has always been a part of the plan. We had been looking to come out at the right time with the right product. This time is correct for us to now start expanding our verticals, and start building on what we have created for four years of our existence.
This step is taken to bolster the company's growth and tap into a market which is already around 100 million customers and we are talking about adding another 50 million customers in the next one, one-and-a-half years. There is a very big spurt of growth that we are expecting fantasy as a sector. And I feel it is the right time for us to come in and start capturing market share now. We believe the time is right to explore the market right now.
I've been a big fantasy (sport) enthusiast ever since Super Selector, when there was no money involved. Our team is also crazy about fantasy sports so we ourselves are users as well. That really creates a very big impact when you're bringing a product out to the market. The product has been created keeping in mind the user experience and that is the core of our entire operation. We believe that giving the best service to the consumers is the most important thing when it comes to gaming operations and running a real money gaming company. And that is how we want to differentiate ourselves from our competition. We think technology be it in customer support or promotions or offers, the focus is on bringing something which the users really enjoy.
What is unique about our platform is, right from the user experience, to the flow, to the promotions, everything has been created keeping in mind how comfortable it should be for the user. We also have a very good referral program, which is the best in the industry. So we know that there's a benefit both to the referrer and the referee. And that is something we want to really focus on. And build our community, from our organic word of mouth publicity as well. We want to build on the word of mouth publicity, refer a friend to really build a very strong community.
How important is an IPL for a fantasy gaming platform in India?
IPL is very important for FantasyDangal from the launch perspective. The idea was always to coincide the launch with the start of the IPL so that we can leverage the euphoria which is created by this beautiful game. It's an important step for us. We are well prepared and well geared up for the launch. And we are very excited to present our platform to the consumers and get them to experience what we have to offer. Definitely, it's a huge year for sports in general. I mean, not only cricket, but there is some excellent football action going on, there is kabaddi, ISL, World Test Championship, India tour of England, the T20 World Cup, Ashes. The sporting calendar is jam-packed. But I'm very excited about the next 12 months. And I feel it's going to be a big year for FantasyDangal as well.
We will be launching Dangal Games, which will be our multi-gaming application where you can access all our products and much more from a single application on a single sign-on. We're planning for a June launch. The next 12 months are very, very exciting for me personally. And from the point of view of the sporting calendar, it's just top notch action.
Isn't it daunting to be starting with the IPL?
The world we live in is like a T20 now. So you have to start with a bang, have to create ripples when you are entering anything. The idea is to, you know, ride the wave. Definitely, the team is under tremendous pressure to perform be it the technology team, marketing, or operations. They're all working round the clock to make sure we have a product and a launch which is a big success for the business. So it's a testing time, definitely.
Do you plan on it being cricket only platform?
For the first two months, there is only going to be cricket which is offered on the application. By the end of the second month, we will add football, kabaddi, basketball to the application.
What are the challenges with fantasy gaming on the monetising side of things?
I am a firm believer that any business operation has to make financial sense before you enter it. Business is all about making sure you're recovering what you are investing over a period of time and then making some profit. So we believe that right now, for the first few years of our operation with FantasyDangal, we want to focus on building a community, building our user base, engaging with the users and gaining that trust of the consumer. Monetisation in this field is a service fee based revenue model. As we grow that component of revenues should come in but for the first few years, it is a phase where we are going to learn about the sector in much more detail. It is the phase where you want to capture the user base, you want to engage with the user base at a deeper level, and then the venues will follow.
There are differing policies and laws on fantasy gaming and making money from it. Whether it is skill based or a game of luck. What are your thoughts on that?
The discussion around Game of Skill vs Game of Chance has been very clearly defined by the courts of our country. I feel that debate is not there anymore. On things that are banned, it is a state subject. We have to understand that we're a federal structure, there is some power with the Centre and there are certain powers with the state. So gaming falls under the state laws. And we respect every state's decision because they are democratically elected governments which are passing legislation. What we can do is to try and show them the benefits of online gaming, what we're going to do as an industry to make sure we are following all the right practices. So it is the onus on the operators as well to follow responsible gaming guidelines which have been given by the various gaming organisations and federations. And then it is all about leaving all the things in the hands of the lawmakers. But keep trying to push them and tell them, 'Hey, this is what we are doing, this is legal, and it is beneficial for the whole ecosystem. Because gaming is a big revenue generator for states as well. And it's going to have a huge employment base in the near future. So it's one of the few sectors which are growing very rapidly.'
Where do you think the future of fantasy gaming lies in the country?
After Super Selector, there was a gap when it comes to cricket. But people follow football, follow Premier League or any of the other international leagues, there always was a fantasy Premier League, which was very popular in the Indian sub-continent. There was always a place for fantasy sports (in India). Globally, around 2010-11, fantasy sports became really big because it was monetised very early in the West. But in India, the monetisation started only in 2015-16 with Dream11 coming in and becoming big. I think we are on the same track, as the Western countries were 10 years back, where it's gaining popularity, users are understanding what fantasy sports are and how you can use your skills to make some money out of it, and enjoy the sports in a much more engaged manner.
The users who are making a team on fantasy sports, they're not only investing money, but they're also investing a lot of emotions and in that, they're engaging with the sport at a much deeper level. That is something which will continue to happen in the near future.
In terms of the volume in terms of the revenue generation, where do you see this sector going?
Right now, 10 crore people play fantasy sports in India, the number of users who watch cricket in India is 80 crore. There is a huge opportunity to convert these sports enthusiasts into fantasy sports lovers as well. If you add 70 crore users to the ecosystem, you're talking 8x growth in terms of the user base, and at least 15x in revenue in the near future. So I feel it's just the tip of the iceberg.
Will it be true to say that fantasy gaming is dominated by Tier 1 users and Tier 2 is still to join in?
If you had asked that in 2018, I would have said yes. In 2021 it's partially true. We have a lot of users coming in from non-Metros. In fact, the penetration is pretty good in Tier 3 and Tier 4 as well, but they are joining in at a lesser speed as compared to say the Metros. So as the game expands, the popularity increases. Mass Media is used to educate users. They're also jumping on the bandwagon very quickly. So the good thing is that the ecosystem is right in India: smartphone penetration and availability of cheap data. These are all enablers for online gaming.
In one of the interviews, you had mentioned that the platform saw an uptick after lockdown. What numbers are we talking in terms of the users, the time spent, and the monthly revenue generated?
Lockdown had a positive impact on our sector. We saw a 30 percent increase in the time spent on the application, which we are still seeing. The user retention from March to this year increased by 30 percent. March, April we saw a huge spike in revenue. But then, from May onwards, it kind of plateaued a little bit for us. And that was, I think, because people understood that lockdown is here to stay. There were issues with liquidity for a lot of users. We saw those revenues picking up again in September. So compared to last year's March, our revenue has gone up by 30-40 percent and the user base has nearly doubled.
There are a lot of players in the market for fantasy gaming around cricket. Is there is a chance of saturation?
There is more than enough space right now for No 2, No 3 players to come in and then challenge Dream11. There is always an opportunity in an industry like this. Definitely there is a lot of room at the top. Bottom is always crowded as you say. I feel in the next two-three years, you'll see a lot of mergers and acquisitions happening in this sector as well.
How much of your focus and attention is on educating the masses considering we are a society which still thinks of poker and rummy as bad for the society?
If you look at our marketing campaigns, 50 percent is dedicated to educating the users. That it's legal, it's not bad. There is a lot of focus on that with poker and rummy specifically. When it comes to Fantasy, I still believe that there has been a lot of effort put in by Dream11 and the likes in the last three-four years. We will continue the good work and focus on educating the users with the benefits, best practices, what is bad as well for responsible gaming.
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