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eSports, digital gaming are now being globally recognised: MPL co-founder Sai Srinivas Kiran

Esports - FIFA eWorld Cup Grand Final 2019 - O2 Arena, London, Britain Esports - FIFA eWorld Cup Grand Final 2019 - O2 Arena, London, Britain
Esports - FIFA eWorld Cup Grand Final 2019 - O2 Arena, London, Britain (REUTERS)

Sai Srinivas Kiran G, co-founder and CEO at MPL, discusses e-sports in India and race with Dream 11.

Fantasy sports are becoming increasingly popular around the world. Even as the concept has been around for years, fantasy sports have started to gain a wider attention recently. With revenues and number of users increasing, new and existing players are now looking to tap the segment. India is said to be one of the hottest markets for online fantasy sports.

According to a recent KPMG report, India will have 100 million fantasy sports users by end of 2019. The growth is mainly driven by a number of new startups such as Rooter, WinZo, and Junglee among others. Dream 11, one of the popular players in the market, became the first gaming unicorn from India earlier this year. Mobile Premier League (MPL) is one of the fastest growing fantasy sports startup in India.

The startup, which recently completed one year, in April raised $35.5 million in Series A funding led by Sequoia India, Times Internet, and GoVentures. The startup last year had raised $5 million seed round from Sequoia and BeeNext last year. We spoke to Sai Srinivas Kiran G, co-founder and CEO at MPL, on the prospects of fantasy sports in India, legal validation aspect, and discoverability challenges among others. Edited excerpts.

You've completed one year in India. What are your key takeaways?

It is the kind of success that leaves you elated, but still hungry for more. I think the nearly 5 billion-odd games played on the platform in a year, our 30 million users making us the region's biggest gaming platform ... are all numbers that speak for themselves.

Then there are the stories that we are proud to have played a small part in. VS Rathanvel, one of India's youngest chess international masters winning our speed chess tournament where 1.2 million games were played in 12 hours by 90,000 players; Iba Lysner, using MPL earnings to pay for her college in Bangalore and showing how women can empower themselves through digital sports. We want to continue building a platform where everyone can compete and stand a chance to win.

What intrigues you about online Fantasy sports?

What I find fascinating is that everyone who watches these sports on their television sets or phones or laptops is so involved in them…. Commenting on developments, participating in the excitement… For instance, in a cricket match, a lot of us have thought about how one player should have been picked over another… Like, "hey, we should have gone with an extra spinner on this track!" Fantasy sports let users take that involvement to a whole new level. The best part is that the actual matches play a part in how your fantasy team has performed. It also lets you hone your knowledge about these sports as you pick your teams based on how players have performed or would perform based on stats, playing conditions, etc.

Please tell us about the legal validation aspects.

We go through a careful diligence process to ensure that the games on the platform are games of skill -- like chess and carrom. Games of skill are a category of games that are acceptable under the current industry standard and regulatory framework. Culturally, eSports and digital gaming are being globally recognized as big international tournaments like the Asian Games induct it into their next edition as a medal event.

MPL co-founders Sai and Shubham
MPL co-founders Sai and Shubham (MPL)

Dream 11 is India's first gaming unicorn. Do you think new benchmarks have been set for new and existing platforms? Do you foresee MPL reaching that level soon enough?

We are a diversified platform. 38 games were launched in just the last one year. We launched a new game every 7 workdays. As of two months ago, we also launched content channels and audio shows on MPL. Our users are now playing digital radio jockeys commenting on various sports and the culture around them. More than a million audio shows have been hosted on MPL so far.

Focusing on the platform model on the mobile phone means we create the ability to launch the next big game on our platform - similar to a Netflix movie release. In fact, we recently hosted India's largest online chess tournament with over 90k players within one week of launching the game.

Please tell us about your growth trajectory.

As I said earlier, we have 30 million users on our platform and...in four million tournaments, spread across 38 different digital sports and games including four fantasy ones, they played close to 5billion games on MPL.

Let me share a few more:

Of these, about 5 lakh tournaments were initiated and hosted by our users themselves. When it comes to fantasy games, over the last six months, more than 155 million fantasy teams were registered in over 6.5 lakh contests on MPL's four fantasy games, including kabaddi and football now. About a lakh of these contests were initiated and hosted by our users.

The long and short of is that we identify with India's masses. We have users from over 170 cities across India and 150 of these cities are Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. Over 60% of our users play on smartphones which cost less than 10k. We wanted to develop a platform which supports the heart of Digital India and we are glad to play our small part in it by empowering our users to take up Digital Sports Gaming and eSports.

Since MPL isn't available on Google Play Store, how difficult is it for platforms like MPL to be discovered by users?

MPL is available on the Apple app store and on our website. We facilitate discovery by a variety of way including, the campaign with did with Virat Kohli during the last IPL as well as organically- our users love talking about us, made my day recently when one of our users posted pictures of him on twitter cutting a cake to celebrate MPL's first birthday!

Further, our strong network of game developers, who all use MPL as their preferred platform regularly assist us in spreading the word. You know, when we launched Qunami Quiz, the traffic we drove for them was so unexpectedly immense that the Qunami website crashed. So, I think discoverability is well and truly tackled at this point.

What are your near-term objectives and long-term plans?

At MPL, our ultimate objective will always be the same...become the leading mobile esports platform in the world. To do that, we need to become the best platform for not just our users but also our developers. We have a vast network of local developers spread across Surat, Gurgaon, Bangalore, Chennai etc who build games for us. This allows their products to reach the millions of gamers on our platform.

Just last week, we achieved a crucial milestone when Qunami (our quizzing game) launched a quiz game with their own branding on the MPL platform. So, in the near term, we will focus on making it easier and faster for game developers across India to connect with gamers.

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