HalaPlay: With the ICC Cricket World Cup started on 30 May, all the teams are desperate to give their best to lay their hands on the trophy. The players and the fans are all euphoric for another historic series of matches for the one coveted trophy. The format of the game will involve the teams playing against each other in a round-robin format. This time’s world cup comes with a feature of hosting 10 teams unlike 15 in the year 2015. The tournament is conducted every four years with the first match played in 1975 won by West Indies against Australia. India is bound to have a significant amount of action as the cricket-playing 10 countries battle it out in England and Wales for the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup.
Besides, glued eyes to TV screens or mobile phones, the action will turn greater with fantasy sports leagues and mobile apps gaining immense popularity. Fans wish to show their exemplary skills as well and these online games provide multiple avenues to them. South Indian city Bengaluru based HalaPlay game is looking to capitalise on this wish of the cricketer fans or to say, cricket devotees.
What are Fantasy Sports Platforms?
Users of fantasy sports platforms create their own fantasy teams and play to earn points and real cash based on the players’ actual performance. Users too can be sports persons now in their own little world. The games played on such platforms started as mere fun-playing games but has today become a multi-billion dollar business influencing real live sports as well. Such is the scale that top influences like Time Warner have also invested in one of such platforms.
The fantasy games are considered legal despite several questions raised against them. The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act has classified it as a game of skill rather than a game of chance. Banned in five states of the USA — Arizona, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana and Washington, the Fantasy Sports Trade Association is lobbying to change such laws.
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This fantasy game platform was launched in 2017 and in a span of around two years has conducted more than 5,000 fantasy matches in sports such as cricket, football, and kabaddi, offering leagues from across the world. The platform was founded by alumni of BITS Pilani Swapnil Saurav, Ananya Singhal, Prateek Anand, and Aman Kesari. Indian gaming giants Nazara Technologies and Delta Corp India in a Series A funding invested Rs 40 crore in the start-up. Manish Agarwal, CEO, Nazara Technologies in an interview said: “HalaPlay is a young team with great potential and we saw the appeal in their vision. They have already reached a great user base, and will continue to grow. We are confident HalaPlay, with this fresh round of funds, will ride the explosive growth of fantasy sports in India.” The company had earlier raised funds from Kae Capital, AngelList, and Nazara Technologies. It claims to have seen a 10x growth in its user base in a year and is expected to touch one crore active players by June 2019.
The beginnings of HalaPlay
HalaPlay’s co-founder Prateek in an interview spoke about the reason behind the company’s name. He said: “As college friends, we used to love playing fantasy sports during the IPL (Indian Premier League) and EPL (English Premier League) seasons. While we enjoyed the experience, pulling through the season was a concern as gratification came at the end of each season. Hence, we saw the concept of a Daily Fantasy Sports platform seemed more appealing.” Prateek also added: “We realise that fantasy sports is by far the best medium to engage sports fans with during a match, and playing it for cash gave them the skin in the game. Even though 90 percent of the users play for free, they are really engaged during a sports match.” The four friends got together a few years after graduation to start HalaPlay, which has today become India’s prominent daily fantasy sports platform. The four co-founders had a comfortable life as they had cushy corporate jobs.
Swapnil and Prateek were developers in Moengage and Nucleus software, respectively. Ananya was operations head for Billionscraft, while Aman was a data scientist with Daily Ninja. The team took six months to build their initial product. Their tech stack remains the same for all the platforms and everything is done in-house. The fact that the four founders were players themselves helped them understand the users’ psyche, letting them innovate the existing formats to launch the platform. The team faced their shares of challenges as any other start-up has to go through.
The team in an interview about their company said: “In the initial two years, we innovated unique features such as season passes and a process that lets you make changes to your team until the delivery of the first ball. These USPs have been recognised and appreciated by the industry. We are glad to have led this initiative in the fantasy sports industry, which took seed from our own personal experience.” They faced the common challenges of funding and acquisition but they made through it successfully. In the final few minutes before the kickoff of a game, the platform saw 10X traffic keeping the team on their toes. The team describes it as a tense period. Although the team has come a long way, they are geared up for the hurdles that are there in their way.
The team is confident to touch a user base of 10 million, with one million daily active users by June. When users join a league in a particular match, they pay a joining amount, which consists of a contribution to the prize money, a fixed platform fee, and taxes. The team, however, has done away with the platform fee to provide a higher percentage of the winnings to the players. HalaPlay is the only fantasy sports platform to offer the “Zero platform fee” option. The company has signed up with ace cricketers like Krunal Pandya and Hardik Pandya as brand ambassadors, and are going to continue with this association through the World Cup season as well.
Download the game from the app store or the website and register yourself via Facebook, Google or register yourself with valid email id. You can then choose from the available sports and participate in a league accordingly. The users stand a chance to win up to 50 lakh rupees daily by playing fantasy cricket and football sports on HalaPlay. The app has separate rules set up for different sports format because of different calculating methods to calculate the fantasy score of a player. The scores depend upon the player’s performance of the athlete in real-world matches which are not at all fantasy games. You can check your point score on your app or web by visiting the page that shows all the leaves you have joined in recent times.
The game is legal in India barring few states that don’t have the provision to participate in fantasy games. The States that are not involved in such games are Assam, Odisha, and Telangana. People from these states can only participate in free leagues. HalaPlay covers sports ranging from cricket to football to kabaddi. It allows its users to participate in ODI, Tests, T20 international matches and some domestic leagues in fantasy cricket sports. In football, it covers leagues like EPL, La Liga, ISL or Champions trophy. Users can earn if their dream team in fantasy sports games managed to earn enough points that their points are more than fellow registered users participated in fantasy games. High points among other team participated in the contest means the users win and earn real money which is transferred to their bank account.
Fantasy Game Sector India
The trend of fantasy games is growing rapidly. The Tencent backed fantasy sports platform Dream11 is valued at 41.1 billion. According to a joint report by the Indian Federation of Sports Gaming (IFSG) and KPMG, Dream11 currently commands 90 percent of the domestic fantasy sports market, according to a joint report. Experts believe that more entrepreneurs would take advantage from its success and it will offer monetisation opportunities going ahead, even though paid players are just about 15 percent of Dream11’s overall user base of 51 million.
An example of such inspirational start-up can be of Bengaluru-based e-sports startup Mobile Premier League (MPL) that raised $35.5 million in a Series A funding round led by Sequoia India, Times Internet, and GoVentures. App-based platform MPL was founded by Sai and Shubham Malhotra and it allows fans to compete in skill-based sports and win real rewards. According to India’s only self-regulatory industry body for the sports gaming sector, The Indian Federation of Sports Gaming (IFSG)’s report as many as 69 percent respondents said there are no overlaps between fantasy sports and sports betting.
The report states that the industry is already worth INR 43.8 billion and is said to reach INR 118.8 billion by FY23 with a growth rate of CAGR 22.1%. Based on the report, fantasy sports can aid in slowing down illegal betting in the long run. The users get drawn to these platforms because of the fairness, legality and secure nature of transactions.
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Factors of Growth
Amplified digital environment: This is the first factor of paramount importance because, without India’s exponential growth in digital infrastructure, this industry cannot be thought of. Affordability of smart phones along with cheap data packs has given wings to many such sectors. More investors: Localisation is needed to reach wider audiences. In order to target wider masses, regional language content has played a big role. This wide reach leads to more engagements which inspire E-Sports leaders like Tencent or Nazara to invest in fantasy sports gaming.
The emergence of sports leagues: India is a diverse country. The wider masses have distinct sports gaming preferences. In order to cater to such demands, various sports leagues have been established in the recent past, including those for kabaddi, football, wrestling, and volleyball. For instance, The Fantasy Premier League (FPL) is the official fantasy game of the English Premier League (EPL). In India, leagues like Indian Super League and Pro Kabaddi League have been successful in creating more demand.
Stakeholders and the sports gaming companies’ relationship seems to grow with the evolving ecosystem. Sports gaming have a direct impact on fan engagement, sports infrastructure, digital payments and overall sports development in the country. Co-Founder and CEO of Dream11 Fantasy Private Limited Harsh Jain had said in an interview: “Sports fan engagement is something like the Jio effect that we had when 4G data was available at affordable prices. In the last couple of years, data has become 90% cheaper and is used 20 times more than before enabling viewers to engage with the sport in different ways. Watching your own sport at your own time (even on the go) leads to ways in which you would want to engage with that sport even more. Through fantasy sports platforms, the viewership has gone up by 80% having a reason to delve into the statistics of the players and teams. These factors are working in tandem to increase fan engagement over the last couple of years.”
Clarity on legality
The fantasy sports platforms have always raised questions among masses if it is legal to play such games. The Punjab and Haryana High Court has called Dream11’s format as “a game of skill” and not as a “game of luck”, making the concept of such games as legal. The Court in the case of Mr Varun Gumber vs the Union territory of Chandigarh and others in 2017 ruled that “the element of skill” is the predominant influence on the outcome of the Dream11 format of the fantasy sports game.
The ruling was, however, not welcomed and an appeal against the High Court’s decision was filed in Supreme Court which was later dismissed by the apex court. The clarification on the legal status coming from the apex court helped in promoting the overall fantasy sports market. The Gaming Laws in India also suggest that fantasy games fall in the category of legal games. Central Gaming Act, The Public Gambling Act, 1867 contains 18 sections. Section 12, i.e., Act not to apply to certain games, explicitly states that: “Nothing in the provisions of this Act contained shall be held to apply to any game of mere skill wherever played.” The Act thus proves that any game that involves skills such in the case of fantasy sports do not fall in the bracket of this Act.