Living out a fantasy
For a group of Internet gamers, the lines between the real and the virtual game get blurred with fantasy gaming.
On a college trip to Delhi in 2006, when all his classmates were having fun, Sriram Iyer was restless. The 18-year-old was an avid fan of cricket, and had enrolled himself on the fantasy cricket site Super Selector. He'd created a team consisting of players whom he hoped would perform well in the ongoing tournament, and after the day's match, he'd forgotten to check how he'd fared.
"When everyone else went sightseeing, I snuck into a cybercafé and checked my score. I got an earful from my professor later, but I didn't care," he says.
Over the past few years, the Web has put users in the unique position of living out their deep real-life involvement with games, in virtual ways. Fantasy game sites have given sport buffs the chance to create and manage a team of their own, pitting not just real teams against each other, but virtual managers too. Of course, the results depend entirely on real performances of the sportsmen. With newer portals emerging on the Web, it's clear that the genre has caught on.
No longer passive
"Entertainment in this form changes from passive to active," says Harsh Jain, owner of Dream11.com, a graphical fantasy cricket Website. "There is real-time interaction, and the end result depends on what the actual scoreboard reads."
Fantasy games are easily available on the Internet and offer a good deal of social interactivity. When Dream11 started operations in June 2009, they recorded 1.5 lakh users in 20 days. Today the user count has increased to 4.5 lakh with traffic during the recent IPL series spiralling up by as much as 400 per cent.
Jain himself is a regular on Fantasy Premier League football (fantasy.premierleague.com) since his school days in London, and now also uses it to stay in touch with his friends. "Any game that allows for user interactivity will be played," Jain adds, emphasising the importance of such value additions as news sections, user opinions, forums and blogs.
Bhakti Shah (25) was into fantasy gaming with her bunch of friends during her college days. "We studied the game, cross-checked figures and then chose our teams." Now it's their way of staying in touch. "It definitely is no longer a closed group activity," says Shah.
Fantasy portal Cricketweb.net registers a growth of anywhere between 1,500-5,000 users before the start of an international tournament. Founder James Nixon attributes this to the ease of gaming that Internet provides without having to invest in a console or high-end equipment. "With Internet games comes a great deal of flexibility. Slow speeds might be a problem, but that can be worked around by keeping file sizes to a minimum," says the Australia-based entrepreneur.
As for patriotism, well, that needs to be worked around too. Iyer remembers a time when he'd hope Jayasuriya scored a hundred. "I'd support India, but if Jayasuriya didn't play well, I'd lose precious points!" he says. Adds Nikhil Ghanekar (21), "The game becomes so addictive, you almost don't care who wins so long as your choices pay off!"