Last year, something miraculous happened in mobile esports. Sai Srinivas Kiran G, a graduate from IIT Kanpur bred with an entrepreneur’s mind stepped up to change the mobile gaming scenario once and for all. He along with his friend, Shubham Malhotra, an alumnus of BITS Goa came up with an idea of a digital platform which can enlist and host games from various third-party app developers onto a single app. And with this idea, Mobile Premier League was born.
Today, a year later MPL boasts over 30 million registered users who on a daily basis enjoy a variety of fun arcade as well as rewarding games such as chess, trivia, carrom, cricket and that too all on a singular app. MPL was backed by help from prominent investors like Go Ventures, Times of India, Sequoia capitals which all helped MPL reach where it stands today resolute and unshakeable
We sat down with the co-founder of MPL Sai Srinivas Kiran G as he shares his experience of managing one of the most valuable mobile esports platform in India, as well as the challenges and the road ahead for MPL.
Q. MPL has seen phenomenal growth in just a couple of years with a $35M investment at the start of this year. What is the story behind this unprecedented growth?
I think it is about finding a market which a lot of people didn’t think existed. Everybody talks about esports and competitive gaming outside of India but when it comes to India people usually have a very give up look on their faces and the reason for that being nothing happens in India. That because they are slamming a business model from first world countries onto the Indian market and they don’t realize if Indians want it in the same way. We here at MPL don’t judge our customers, we give them what they want and not what first world country describes as esport. We believe monetizing people’s skills is a great way to drive traction. We gave the people what they wanted and they liked it, thus our company took off after the first 5-6 months.
Q. You have roped in huge ambassadors like Virat Kohli and partnered with Cricbuzz in the latest season of IPL. How has the mainstream media help you grow your user base?
Mainstream media is helpful but to be honest for us the real growth came from the lesser-known influencers. Virat is helpless in a big way to establish our brand and to establish the fact that you should try our company, but he is very helpful in getting our brand out there. The lesser-known influencers like YouTubers helped in our growth immensely.
Q. How much has the ease of access to the internet and smartphones for the average user helped you?
100%. There is nothing without the internet. It is like water for our business. If there was no Internet, I don’t think we would be talking here. The three things that are most important for the gaming industry are good and cheap devices, good connectivity and payment. All of which came to India 2-3 years ago and the industry started booming.
Q. We have seen over 35 games on the platform, some of which are very casual and arcade-like. What is the thinking with incorporating so many games and do you have an active user base for niche games like maybe a Fruit Dart or Kite Up?
As people become gamers, they tend to incline towards the complicated ones. But the simpler the game is, the more people tend to play it given the fact that it is less intimidating. As I said, we don’t judge our customers, if they want to play Fruit Dash we let them. Telling customers what to do has been a problem for India for a long time. The customers want to play and earn money and we are here to help them, not the tell them what to do.
Q. In the online gaming space we have seen a huge market being formed, with players like Dream 11 also offering something similar like you do. How would you say you are different from then and who are your main competitors in this space?
I think Dream 11 does fantasy and they have been doing it for a while. Fantasy is a small part of us. We are like a supermarket of games where fantasy is also an option. The reason it is so popular because we advertised it during IPL but personally I prefer other games over it.
Q. The fantasy sports and virtual gambling industry in India is a very grey area, with no regulations as such on virtual currency or this industry in general. What do you think of regulations being set to protect the players’ best interests and what measures are you taking to eliminate fraudsters and cheaters?
I already gave you an insight into the measures we are taking to eliminate fraud. We are a part of the AIGF and IAMAI and the Rummy Federation as well. These organizations are helping us to develop the best practices, alongside the charter for esports.
Q. Do you have plans into getting in Traditional Esports and more conventional PC and Console games that already have a huge fan following?
We have a very clear philosophy, that is we stick to the devices that are accessible to everyone.
Q. As much as we attribute Fantasy Games to skill, there is a significant level of Luck required for someone to win. How can we ensure that it is being played fairly and there are no conflicts of interest or no scenarios of say “fixing” happening on a larger scale?
We have understood the practices of wrongdoing in this industry that happens at the fundamental level. And at that level, we have robust TNCs with anti-money laundering policies, anti-collusion policies and defraud policies. On top of that, we have a KYC procedure where we ask for government-issued identification so that we know who our customers exactly are. Services like PayTM and UPI which are integrated into our system also have a KYC at their backhand to assist us in this process. Anti-hacking algorithms and software are also invigilating for potential fraud. These fights are very dynamic, hackers get better every day and we try to keep the industry level security for our platform so that we get as close to perfection as possible.