Fantasy Gaming may sound interesting to you as an ardent user of smartphone and a hardcore fan of sporting events such as Cricket or Football but, its ill-effects are also being discussed as the game progresses. The lawmakers, civil society, parents and other stake holders are having a tough task ahead as how to make it more useful for the generation to come without curtailing the essence of it.
Fantasy Gaming is the next big thing after PUBG Mobile that is going to bring new changes as how the aspirational youths may engage with a game. Gone are the days when people spent hours on a Sunday morning playing cricket or any other sport of their interest, having long hours of conversation with friends and family. The way we used to queue up at a stadium for a glance of our favorite player. Now, we can spend hours of Sunday or any other holiday submerged into our smartphones. That’s how our lives have transformed. The majority of our lives now just plays around a smartphone on which we talk, chat, interact, and transact, etc., without being physically present everywhere. Taking a cue of it, the new virtual sporting platforms have emerged which we call as Fantasy Gaming platforms where users can select their own set of players before the start of the actual game and based on the accuracy they are being rewarded with points and even cash if the selected team plays and win. Fantasy Gaming have provided users with a new platform to stay involve, interact and win, virtually. Even if they are into their offices or travelling they can stay hooked via their smartphones and can be a part of the game, virtually. Platforms like Fantasy Gaming are examples of pre-immersive era, where a user gets sentimentally into the tech platform, but would not get from experiential perspective.
The concept of Fantasy Gaming might be new to India but, if we track down, it goes back to the era of World War II when the idea of Fantasy Gaming was first introduced in United States, and now in India the Fantasy Sports and the Gaming Industry is already worth Rs 43.8 billion and is said to reach Rs 118.8 billion by FY23 with a growth rate of CAGR 22.1%, says a study done by KPMG India and Indian Federation of Sports Gaming (IFSG).
“Online gaming in India is seeing increased traction due to the growth of digital infrastructure, with fantasy sports emerging as an important segment in this space. With the number of fantasy sports operators growing rapidly and the number of users on fantasy sports platforms expected to cross 100 million by 2020, this segment has the potential to spawn a whole ecosystem around it, and could help deepen user engagement with their favourite sports,” said Girish Menon, Partner and Head – Media and Entertainment, KPMG in India.
Similarly, John Loffhagen, President of IFSG has said, “With the rapidly growing digital infrastructure and emergence of new sports leagues, the Indian online sports gaming industry is witnessing a boom which shows no sign of slowing down. Exponential growth provides users with easy access to a vast variety of sports gaming apps, formats and genres. This could lead to potential confusion and misjudgment among players in choosing the right platform to engage with their favorite sport.
IPL and Fantasy Gaming
The rise of Fantasy Gaming in India can be directly credited to the rise of IPL. The kind of sponsorship IPL has of smartphone players makes it a win-win situation for everyone. Every brand wants to get associated with IPL and probably it’s the biggest promoting platform available today in India. IPL has given much to country’s cricket, advertiser and developers of Fantasy Gaming who did not have many takers two years ago. But, boy oh boy! What a journey it has been! From just mere 2 million fanbase in 2016 to 20 million in 2017 which rose to 50 million in 2018 and is expected to cross 100 million by 2020. The emergences of sporting leagues such as IPL, Kabbaddi League, Football League and Badminton League have contributed heavily into the growth trajectory of Fantasy Gaming in India.
In terms of potential, as users move from offline to online to real-time gaming, fantasy gaming is only going to see further growth. Devices are already there do support and enable its growth. The popularity of other sporting events like Kabbaddi Premier League can also prove vital for Fantasy Gaming in India.
The High Court of Punjab and Haryana has termed the concept of Fantasy Gaming as “skill”, opening new opportunities to new entrants as well as developers. Despite the ruling of the Hon. High Court the discussion is still on whether the concept of Fantasy Gaming overlaps the boundary of online betting or not.
“The online gaming space in the country has gone beyond just being of recreational value; people can now derive monetary benefits of the same. Ubiquity of internet and accessibility to platforms across the globe have allowed the users to permeate through the spectrum of gaming apps and services offered by several domestic and foreign service providers,” said Abhishek Malhotra, Managing Partner, and Bagmisikha Puhan, Senior Associate at TMT Law Practice.
They went on to explain the word skill as mentioned above, “The dichotomy of ‘skill’/ ‘chance’ continues to be the deciding factor in determining the legality of a particular gaming business / platform. The country has two central legislations concerning gaming, namely, the Public Gambling Act, 1867, and, the Prize Competitions Act, 1955. These are in addition to the several legislations enacted by states (“gambling” and “betting” are state subjects, Schedule VII, List II, Entries 34 and 62). It must be noted that a majority of these laws are only limited to the realm of the physical act of gambling and betting, and do not always consider the virtual realm.”
The Supreme Court in the case of Dr. KR Lakshmanan v. State of Tamil Nadu and Anr. , in 1996 interpreted the words “mere skill” to include games which are preponderantly of skill and do not merely qualify as an act of chance or what we would commonly perceive as luck. Increasingly, online gaming especially fantasy sport games have stirred the legal debates of critical issues prevalent in the virtual gaming space. This was tested in the year of 2017, where the Dream 11 fantasy league was acknowledged as a game of skill and judgment, for the same tested the user’s capability of appreciating and implementing the statistical performance of the players and the weather conditions pertaining to the sport. It is pertinent to note that gambling and betting continue to be state subjects; consequently, the decision of the court in the Dream 11 matter (before the High Court of Punjab and Haryana) does not lend blanket legality to fantasy gaming.
The extant laws including but not limited to the Telecom Commercial Communications Customer Preference Regulations, 2010, the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011, Foreign Exchange Management Act, 1999, continue to impose liabilities on online gambling businesses.
It would not be correct to assume that fantasy leagues would per se qualify to be promoters of online betting, for they deal with the skill and judgment of the user to a great extent. Further, in light of several court precedents and the existence of online gambling laws in the states of Nagaland and Sikkim, a lot of traction is witnessed in the sector. As is the case with technology-impaired laws in the country, we will have to play the dice in determining the legality of operations with respect to distinct instances, added Abhishek and Bagmisikha.
“As India’s only self- regulated industry body for Sports Gaming, we are dedicated to creating awareness about fantasy sports, encouraging operators to adopt ethical and best business practices and allowing sports fans to enjoy their favourite sports in a fun, exciting and safe manner,” said John Loffhagenof Gaming Federation on regulation part of it.
Similarly, Faisal Kawoosa, Founder and Chief Analyst, techARC said, “To certain extent this is gamification of gambling and creating new forms of gambling and betting, which traditionally was attached to few games.”
He explains that, there is a need to have a strong monitoring mechanism as nobody would be aware of how the algorithms work and how the performance is actually gauged. With that dark spot in, it could be easily exploited and users would lose lots of money. As an example, how would anybody know that if the last displayed betting price is correct or being manipulated so that, effectively nobody wins. At least in physical forms, you can see and hear the people making the bet. What stops a platform to have bot users who would always put a fresh bet to deprive a genuine player of a possible win.
Faisal further added, “I think such areas need not to be just completely ignored till they became monstrous, difficult to handle and so many people lose money. In such services, there should be some regulatory mechanism put in place which certifies the technical aspects so that the potential users are not put to risk.”
The future of the Fantasy Gaming is more or less on the lines of PUBG in India. Today it’s selling like a hot cake but who knows about tomorrow. The growth of Fantasy Gaming should also be credited to the growth in smartphone usage and the advancements in telecom industry such as 4G and LTE and affordable data packs. The future remains bright too with the kind of technology coming in like 5G and the readily available use of Artificial Intelligence. With more and more people coming on to smartphones the user base would definitely increase but holding them will be the key because majority of Fantasy Gamers stick to Cricket only and drops down heavily when it comes to other sporting events.
Apart from this, the numbers of game developers have also increased due to the acceptability and success of Fantasy Gaming in India. To an estimate there are over 250 companies involved directly or indirectly into this industry. There are professionals who get paid depending upon their skills. The KPMG study did find out that over 30 per cent of the users see it as a chance to win money. There’s also a set of respondents who said that the Fantasy Gaming helps them understand the game better, improve their skills and knowledge about the game and last, for fun and entertainment.
One major aspect is that this industry has given a face to itself in the form of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the former Indian Cricket Team Captain and probably the most successful and reliable one, to gain the confidence of users that helped it earn a loyal user base. This new concept of virtual gaming has given us a new unicorn like Dream 11 and many more in the pipeline following the same concept. The Fantasy Gaming has many takers in India if it sticks to the basics of the game without overlapping into betting and can serve the purpose of entertainment, fun and skill enhancements. With more population joining the smartphone race, the future of Fantasy Gaming is as bright as our dreams.