'Fantasy players create their own team, get phantom money and start playing the virtual game.'
Samreen Ahmad reports.
IMAGE: Jasprit Bumrah celebrates Mahendra Singh Dhoni's wicket during IPL-10. Photograph: BCCI
As the cricket-frenzy nation gears up to watch the Indian Premier League, beginning April 7, there is a new set of teams being built by sports fans who will play alongside the eight IPL teams.
These are virtual teams of real players who will compete with each other based on their statistical performance in actual games.
Getting the ball rolling for fantasy cricket league in India, UK-based StarPick Limited launched StarPick India, the country's first international online fantasy sports platform.
"This a digital extension of the sport where people not only watch but actually get in and play it on a digital platform. Indians are highly opinionated, but these opinions largely fall on social media," says StarPick co-founder and chief operating officer Trigam Mukherjee.
"Here they get to create their own team, get phantom money and start playing the virtual game, where the cost of the player depends on his past performance," Mukherjee adds.
Sports fans will be able to choose their teams at a variable management fee from the pool of players based on their understanding and analytics of the game and win or lose based on the actual performance of these players in the IPL series.
According to an Indian Federation of Sports Gaming (IFSG)-AC Nielsen report, with over 50 players, India is becoming a battleground of fantasy sports operators.
There are around 20 million followers already in the country with the number expected to reach a whopping 100 million by 2020, says the report.
IMAGE: Left to right: StarPick co-founder and COO Trigam Mukherjee, with co-founder Ulf Ekberg, key advisor Jonty Rhodes and co-founder Rohit Nair.
"About 700 million passive Indian sports viewers now have the opportunity to become active participants in every single match," says Harsh Jain, chairman, IFSG.
"Fantasy sports is the start of a revolution that will change the face of the sports industry forever," Jain adds.
Ashish Karnad, executive director, Nielsen India, says among sports enthusiasts, two out of three people are aware of this new sports trend.
With competition simmering, StarPick has signed an array of brand ambassadors, including cricketers Harbhajan Singh, Rohit Sharma, Dinesh Karthik and Gautam Gambhir, to tap the growing market.
It also has Jonty Rhodes and V V S Laxman as advisors who will act as guides to the gamers.
"Fantasy cricket is a game of skills and you need to engage with the users. Me and Laxman will be providing insights to the users to allow them to make informed decisions," says Jonty Rhodes.
Rival Dream 11, which claims to hold almost 90 per cent of the fantasy sports market in India followed by MyTeam11 and HalaPlay, recently roped in Mahendra Singh Dhoni as its brand ambassador.
The company in April last year won a case in the Punjab and Haryana high court, which stated that playing fantasy sports online does not amount to gambling and involves a substantial degree of skill.
This ruling paved the way for StarPick to come to India.
"We started looking at India in 2014 when fantasy sports exploded in the US. However, we were not sure about the legalities. But after the court ruling we thought the time is ripe for India, which is the next outpost for fantasy sports," says StarPick Co-founder Ulf Ekberg.
The start-up has already raised its first set of angel funding from European investors and private Indian investors and is going to give out Rs 100 million worth of prizes for IPL-11, its maiden India venture.
It will also add European football, kabaddi, cycling, and ice hockey to its pool of games.