A six-month-old Indian startup hosted the largest chess tournament the country had ever seen in the middle of 2019. Over 300,000 players registered, and over 12 hours, 1.2 million chess games were played. That’s 17,000 chess games concluded every minute, pretty huge right!!
Guess who had the guts to organize the event at such a huge level?? You guessed it right its E-sports and mobile gaming platform Mobile Premier League (MPL).
In this edition, we will discuss about one of the most popular platforms for real-money gaming, MPL’s story in detail, and try to bring interesting facts and figure about the company.
MPL had raised $95mn funding in its series-D round which was led by Composite Capital and Moore Strategic Ventures. This round just doubled up the valuation of the startup in just 4-months. It was valued at $465 million in its previous financing round in September and this round gave a post-money valuation of $945 million.
Before commenting anything on the valuation surge, let’s understand MPL as a whole starting from its inception.
Let’s look at the Industry first…
India is one of the fastest-growing markets in the world when it comes to eSports and recently, India has also witnessed a lot of eSports startups, namely, Nodwin Gaming, FanMojo, Cobx Gaming, etc. As of 2020, India ranks 16th among the world in the eSports industry with total revenue of Rs. 8,000 crores (approx. $1.17 billion). India’s fanbase for eSports has also seen a steady amount of growth with around 2 million occasional viewers.
A research report by KPMG and the Indian Federation of Sports Gaming also predicts that by 2023, it is also expected that the Indian eSports Industry’s net worth will increase up to INR 118.8 billion at a CAGR of 12.5 % along with user penetration growth from 8% to 10.2%. The growth so far has come on the back of booming smartphone sales, more disposable income, and affordable internet at a faster speed.
The pandemic-induced lockdown last year provided a fillip to an already-booming e-sports industry, benefiting players like MPL
Challenges for Esports in India
Since eSports is all about online gaming, then your Internet connection speed is obviously a great starting point to ensure a good gaming experience. ESports also needs some academies so that interested players can get trained by professionals and this will also improve the current status of the eSports industry in India.
From where it took off…
Mobile Premier League was founded in September 2018 by Sai Srinivas Kiran Garimella and Shubham Malhotra, who earlier worked together on Consumer Electronics company CREO. It started as a side-load only app but was soon launched on Google Play Store in October 2018. The Apple App Store launch followed in February 2019. It provides an abundant pool of games such as chess, quiz, fantasy sports, free fire, rummy, 8 ball 3D pool, carrom, ludo, and more.
MPL CEO Sai Srinivas did his B.Tech from IIT Kanpur in aeronautical engineering and Co-founder, Shubham Malhotra did his BE in electronics and instrumentation from BITS – Pilani. Sai had begun his entrepreneurial journey by founding Base9 during the final term of his graduation in 2009, a company that held live events across the country and promoted them and later joined Zynga. Shubham worked for Capillary Technologies, a technology service provider, before beginning his entrepreneurial journey with CREO, Sai was also the co-founder of CREO which was later acquired by Hike messenger and later they both ventured into the mobile e-sports sector with MPL.
MPL’s growth is especially impressive because its app is not available on the Play Store. Google, whose Android operating system powers 99% of all smartphones in India, does not permit fantasy sports apps on Play Store in the world’s second-largest internet market.
When MPL got delisted from Google’s play store….
The app had been removed as a result of technical issues specific to Google’s developer policies.
Gambling is a state subject in India, but the standard in most states is this: If a chance-based game is played with stakes, it is gambling. But if a skill-based game is played with stakes, it is not gambling, but real-money gaming (aka skill-based gaming). More skill, less chance is legal. Less skill, more chance is illegal.
A two-step test is used to determine whether a game is predominantly skill- or chance-based. Test one: A player must be able to choose to lose. He exercises some agency in winning. Test two: A player’s performance must improve over time. Consistently and steadily.
When MPL got out of the Play Store, they were told that growth will be very very hard to come by and every single marketing metric would fall. But the removal of the application benefited the users. As it is interesting to note that after the removal of the MPL Live app from the Playstore, the MPL Live app has changed its rewarding policy and it is now offering 25 Rs per refer unlike previously as they offered around 5-10 Rs per refer. Currently, the MPL has also increased its referral rewards and is currently increasing its download at the official site of MPL.
Now that what we called a great move to take advantage of any situation and the finest example of not giving up.
But in the industry, like eSports people play for a while and then start leaving.
So, what is the MPL’s strategy to keep customer coming back?
Sai explained “There’s always a risk of churn, but if a user is going to churn a month or so after they start playing, and after you pump all the money into enticing them to stay, then you’re much better off letting go of them sooner. We use CleverTap to see the early warning signs of when a user is starting to get bored and respond quickly with communications, at a very personalized level, to recommend other games or content to stop them from churning.”
The willingness of taking bold moves has what made the MPL as it is now.
When they were just 3-month-old, they had signed Virat Kohli as the brand ambassador.
On 15 April 2019, MPL signed up as a member of the All-India Gaming Federation (AIGF), which focuses on setting regulations and policies to govern the gaming industry in India
In May 2019, MPL extended to the shores of Indonesia. At the time e-sports had been incorporated into the South East Asian Games 2019
Also, sports giant Nike had to throttle on its brakes to make way for the swift ascent of MPL. The Board of Cricket Council of India (BCCI) has declared MPL Sports, the subsidiary brand of MPL, as the new kit sponsor and official merchandise partner for the Indian cricket team. The three-year agreement from November 2020 to December 2023 comes after the five-year deal with Nike from 2016 to 2020.
MPL had organized the digital sports festival College Premier League in 2020, with Rs 1 crore in prizes and scholarships.
From where all the capitals were flowing into the company?
The total capital raised by MPL now stands at $225.5 million from different investors including Go-Ventures, Play Ventures, Sequoia Capital, Telstra Ventures, Founders Circle Capital, Times Internet, MDI Ventures, Pegasus Tech Ventures, RTP Global, SIG, Strategic Ventures, and many more.
MPL is owned by Singapore-based M League, and the parent entity had infused Rs 118 crore equity capital in the Indian entity. About Rs 70.93 crore of the proceeds for the company came in the form of convertible debentures.
But how they are making real money for themselves and investors?
There are several ways in which MPL makes money. It collects entry fees from the players whenever they want to participate in any game. Again, when the company holds tournaments, it takes 20% of the total money raised from the participating players as a hosting fee. MPL’s gaming apps also make money through advertisements and in-app purchases. MPL’s business model has aided in its huge success.
Is valuation being justifiable?
MPL has more than 4 crore users with 40+ games. The company is a member of AIGF (All India Gaming Federation), FICCI, IAMAI (Internet and Mobile Association of India), and TRF (The Rummy Federation). MPL posted revenue of INR 2.87 crore for FY 2019, and its expenditure distended to INR 89.46 crore. MPL had spent Rs 30 to earn Rs 1 in FY19.
On the expenses front, MPL spent Rs 38.61 crore on operating activities such as game development and IT infrastructure. About Rs 9.63 crore was spent on employee benefits. A significant amount ~ Rs 41.07 crore ~ was spent by the company on other components including advertising & promotion and IT support services. MPL had incurred an expense of Rs 29.62 crore on promotional campaigns while Rs 4.85 was spent on IT support services. The company also burnt an amount of Rs 10.66 lakh in miscellaneous expenses.
MPL has more than 60million users in India and over 3.5 million users in Indonesia, the startup offers more than 50 games across categories and has worked with 28 game developers to publish their games on the platform. A large part of MPL’s user base in India comes from non-metro cities.
It must be noted that the company gained this revenue only within a year of its inception in 2018.
What about the Future??
MPL will use this fresh influx of funds to expand its eSports portfolio and bolster its efforts to organize more such eSports tournaments nationally and internationally at scale. The funds will also be used to accelerate MPL’s international expansion this year
GamingMonk, Dream11, Cricnwin, LXG, NODWIN Gaming, and FanFight are some of the top competitors of MPL. MPL sustains to be in its best position with more games and cash rewards.
If we compare MPL with Dream11, the scale of the Bengaluru-based firm is tiny. Dream11 did a revenue of Rs 775 crore in FY19, 256.6X more than MPL. However, the Tencent-backed gaming startup is 11 years older than MPL.