As 10 countries battle it out in England and Wales for the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup, there is sure to be a significant amount of action in India as well. Only, this action will be online with fantasy sports leagues and mobile apps gaining immense popularity, offering multiple avenues for fans to show their skills. And Bengaluru-based HalaPlay is looking to capitalise on just that.
For those who don’t know, fantasy sports platforms allow users to create their own fantasy teams, and earn points and real cash based on the players’ actual performance. Since its launch in 2017, HalaPlay has conducted more than 5,000 fantasy matches in sports such as cricket, football and kabaddi, offering leagues from across the world.
Founded by BITS Pilani alumni Swapnil Saurav, Ananya Singhal, Prateek Anand, and Aman Kesari, HalaPlay recently raised Rs 40 crore in Series A funding round led by Nazara Technologies and Delta Corp India - veterans in the Indian gaming industry.
Speaking on the funding, Manish Agarwal, CEO, Nazara Technologies says, “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.
The beginnings of HalaPlay
On why they decided to start HalaPlay, Co-founder Prateek says,
“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.”
Thus, a few years after graduation, the four friends got back together to start HalaPlay, which has a daily fantasy sports platform.
“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,” says Prateek.
Before starting HalaPlay, 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.
“It took us 6 months to build the initial product. It was developed single-handedly by Swapnil. Our tech stack remains the same for all our platforms and everything is done in-house,” says Prateek.
As the four founders were players themselves - they understood the users' psyche, which helped them innovate the existing formats to launch the platform.
Working around the challenges
“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,” he says.
The founding team, though, faced the common challenges - funding and customer acquisition. Also, in the final few minutes before the kickoff of a game, the platform saw 10X traffic, which would keep the team on their toes. “It was usually a tense period. And although we have come a long way in the past two and half years, the path still holds impediments but we are geared for it,” says Prateek.
The team claims it will 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 sector and the users
Fantasy leagues as a category is fast growing, with several players. Recently, Dream11 achieved the coveted unicorn status. The Tencent-backed fantasy sports startup is valued at $1.1 billion after its latest fundraise from Steadview Capital.
Dream11 currently commands 90 percent of the domestic fantasy sports market, according to a joint report by the Indian Federation of Sports Gaming (IFSG) and KPMG. Sector experts believe its success will inspire more entrepreneurs to see fantasy gaming as a scalable business proposition. This will offer monetisation opportunities going ahead, even though paid players are just about 15 percent of Dream11’s overall user base of 51 million.
Recently Bengaluru-based e-sports startup Mobile Premier League (MPL) raised $35.5 million in a Series A funding round led by Sequoia India, Times Internet, and GoVentures. Founded last September by Sai and Shubham Malhotra, MPL is an app-based platform that allows fans to compete in skill-based sports and win real rewards. It has over 10 million users and is labelled the country’s fastest-growing e-sports platform.
“We have recently done away with the platform fee so users get a higher percentage of the winnings. We believe in innovating on the business model front to offer something new and different to the audience in every phase. This is unique to HalaPlay being the only fantasy sports platform offering the option of ‘Zero platform fee’,” says Prateek.
“We have signed up Krunal Pandya and Hardik Pandya as brand ambassadors for the company, and are going to continue with this association through the World Cup season as well. With this endorsement, we are aiming at an increase in the user acquisition by 10x in the coming year,” he adds.