The rise of fantasy esports and real-money gaming in India

25 January 2021


Indian esports has seen some impactful developments in the past year, from the banning of PUBG Mobile to the release of VALORANT. However, one major change that has gone under the radar is the growth of betting and fantasy platforms in the region.

While the line between esports, esports betting and fantasy can be blurry, organisations such as the Mobile Premier League (MPL), PayTM First Games, Dream11 and WinZO have heavily invested into fantasy sports and real-money gaming. In some cases, these platforms have even delved into titles which the industry considers ‘mainstream esports’.

Credit: GoodGamer

While the definition of esports has often been up for debate, it’s only recently that fantasy sports, real-money gaming and skill-based games have come to be included under the term, at least in India. In 2020, MPL raised a $90m (~£65m) Series C round while WinZO garnered $18m (~£13m) for its Series B round. In addition, Paytm First Games is backed by Paytm, an Indian e-commerce payment platform that is currently valued close to $10bn (~£7.3bn). The majority of gaming offerings on these platforms are hyper-casual or casual titles. 

A growing concern among core esports industry stakeholders in India is that these companies are diluting the term ‘esports’ and operating in a space much closer to online gambling, which is illegal in the country. Increased scrutiny in the industry could lead to sanctions and problems for everyone, including those operating in traditional esports, because of the way the platforms operate. Despite these apprehensions, the financial backing behind these platforms means that they dictate a lot of the conversation around gaming and esports, especially in the mainstream media.

One company that set up fantasy betting operations in September was GoodGamer Corp. GoodGamer operates the GoodGamer Fantasy Gaming App which offers fantasy betting on titles such as Counter Strike: Global Offensive, VALORANT, and Dota 2, among others. In October 2020, the company closed a $2.5m (~£1.8m) seed funding round and claimed to have over 250,000 users on its platform. 

AFK Gaming, on behalf of Esports Insider, spoke to the company’s Founder and CEO Charlo Barbosa to understand what their plans are for esports fantasy and betting.

The rise of fantasy esports: GoodGamer’s goal

“Our fantasy CS:GO offers users the ability to make teams based on a variety of metrics, such as kills, headshots, wins, bomb plants, and so on. The other thing that we are working on is using computer vision to get scores for Free Fire and VALORANT, and I think we are one of the first platforms to use this technology,” explained Barbosa.

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The platform aims to introduce competitive gaming through multiplayer titles. In India, platforms like MPL are already doing this with casual and hyper-casual titles. GoodGamer plans to integrate both casual and core titles. “In games like VALORANT and Free Fire, we are able to track real-time scores and other metrics,” said Barbosa. Core esports titles and tournaments are expected to be a part of GoodGamer’s offerings in 2021. 

The company is based in Canada, operating in India via GoodGamer India Pvt. Ltd. It also plans to expand into markets like the Philippines in the near future, and Barbosa was quick to touch upon SEA’s existing esports ecosystem. For India and the Philippines, the objective is to build a bigger user base before entering a more saturated market like the US. With significantly higher user acquisition costs, GoodGamer wants to improve on its existing models and have users on its platform before tackling a bigger market. 

Barbosa explained that GoodGamer wants to negotiate with established developers that have successful IPs to get their titles onto the platform, which would enable them to host real-money tournaments. “Gamers will be able to play the free version of a game via the Play Store and a more competitive real-money version via our platform,” Barbosa said.

The platform also plans to partner with sponsors and organisers to arrange competitive events. In India, it has partnered with Chennai-based tournament organiser Skyesports to reach local esports audiences.

GoodGamer fantasy cricket
In September 2020, GoodGamer launched in India with fantasy cricket and CS:GO. Credit: GoodGamer

The impact of the PUBG Mobile ban

One legitimate concern for platforms operating in the betting and real-money gaming space is the threat of government interference. The recent ban on PUBG Mobile in India and the increased scrutiny on tech companies and products globally is something that everyone is cognisant of. However, Barbosa believes that the revenue generated from these platforms is a big boost for governments, and in practice his products are able to adapt and change their operations should new regulations come about. His statements are backed by other Indian platforms raising significant sums of money, with the country’s biggest gaming platform, MPL, now sponsoring the Indian national cricket team in a deal worth 1.2bln INR (~£12m). 

Barbosa highlighted how much potential there is in a country like India, where the majority of the population is under the age of 30 and are rapidly being exposed to faster internet and cheaper technology — resulting in quick adoption rates for new tech products. “If you look at the numbers you’ll see that in India, just above 50 percent of the population has access to mobile phones and the internet. With technology becoming more accessible, we are potentially looking at a much larger demographic coming online in the coming years,” he said. 

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In a growing market like India, the term ‘esports’ has many interpretations and is often used as a blanket term. Gaming platforms with massive financial backing are important stakeholders in an industry where real-money gaming is on the rise. Many of them have high marketing budgets and have been called out over using aggressive tactics to make conversions. Since they operate in a space very close to online gambling, regulation and policy changes are imminent because of the volume of users the platforms are able to process. Existing stakeholders in traditional esports have expressed concern over how the term esports is used by many of these platforms, and are wary of a time when authorities are forced to step in. 

Despite its fantasy esports and real-money gaming offering, GoodGamer remains a fantasy cricket betting platform at its core. While the organisation plans to integrate more core esports titles into its fantasy offerings, it’s difficult to predict how they will perform. Fantasy betting is already a new concept for the Indian market, as is esports, and it is difficult to estimate how a combination of these will perform. However, the Indian consumer is known for adapting quickly to new technologies and GoodGamer seem to be banking on that fact. Time will tell if it can effectively integrate these core titles, and avoid controversy among traditional esports folks in India.

This story is written in collaboration with AFK Gaming. It is an India-based esports media and content company that aims to provide quality and consistent coverage about teams, players, tournaments and competitive video games with a primary focus on the Asian region.

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