Until 2018, Ratul Sethi was busy setting up a family-run casino business in the northeastern Indian state of Sikkim. While setting it up he noticed the sudden uptake of mobile gaming among youngsters in the country. Soon after the business was up and running, he moved to New Delhi to launch his own gaming company.
By mid-2018, he had started to work on Apne11, got together a small team to create the gaming app, design the gameplay, and launched the first version of the app in June 2019. “Seeing the growth of mobile-based multi-player games, I realized I wanted to venture into the online gaming space,” Apne11 founder Sethi, told KrASIA.
Apne11 is a multiplayer, mobile-based fantasy game that is based on real-life international cricket matches. Sethi believes that for Indian millennials just watching a cricket match—a sporting event treated as a religion for many in India—is not enough anymore, as they desire a more immersive experience. Playing the game virtually gives them that opportunity.
“The culture of playing fantasy games came to India three to four years ago and there are mainly two to three types of skilled game in India that are gaining traction. Fantasy gaming was the one that intrigued me the most,” Sethi said.
Users of Apne11 have to make their cricket team by choosing sportspersons of their own choice from the pool of real-world cricketers. Apne11 players can either enter a practice match or can go for cash contests that require an entry fee and a chance to win a mega cash prize.
Once a user pays an entry fee to play a cash contest, he or she gets a fixed number of credits to spend on buying players in order to make a team. Each player is given a credit score corresponding to his or her performance in a recent match. Since these games are based on a real-life sporting event happening live, the fantasy sports players earn points depending on how their chosen cricketers perform in the cricket match happening on the ground.
Sethi said fantasy games are not just luck-based games, but also require player skills and an understanding of the game. Users are tested on their sporting knowledge depending on the kind of team members they choose, how much they spend on buying key players, and other similar sporting decisions, which might make you a winner or a loser.
To bump up the number of users on its platform, Apne11 has roped in former Indian cricketer Kapil Dev as its brand ambassador. The company claims it has disbursed over INR 5 million (USD 70,000) in wins to winning players among its 50,000 registered users.
Mobile-based games that require skills and allows winners to earn real money have gained a lot of popularity in India in the last three years. There are about four to five companies in this space, with the biggest among them being Dream 11.
“There are many real money fantasy gaming companies in India. But the reason we also launched a similar product is because we believe the market is huge as we are a country of over 100 crore people,” Sethi said.
A report published by KPMG and the Indian Federation of Sports Gaming (IFSG) estimates that the user base of fantasy gaming platforms crossed 70 million Indians in 2018. Participants in this nascent sport spent around INR 11,880 crore (USD 1.73 billion) last year.
With so much competition from deep pocketed players, Sethi is looking to target users from tier two, three, and four cities where these other companies have yet to make a dent. “Although these companies have created a lot of awareness about fantasy games, there are still people in smaller towns who don’t know the concept. This can be a good form of entertainment that also helps them earn actual money,” Sethi said.
Roland Landers, CEO of All India Gaming Federation told KrASIA that fantasy games is indeed a crowded market in India, and the market share is a bit slanted towards the leader of the space. “What others are fighting for is really a small market size, unless they can reach the population that is not exposed to fantasy games faster than the leaders in this space,” Landers said.
Going forward, the company will launch new games apart from cricket. In the next four months, Sethi said people can start playing football on Apne11.
According to Sethi, the company is making small changes to ensure more users can earn money on its platform. For example, Apne11 has deliberately made the gameplay such that there are few contestants competing against each other. “The chances of winning a tournament increases with fewer contestants. If you see a lot of competition it becomes quite intimidating,” Sethi said.
This article is part of KrASIA’s “Startup Stories” series, where the writers of KrASIA speak with founders of tech companies in South and Southeast Asia.