Mobile Premier League, e – gaming startup gets $95 million funding; Virat Kohli backed MPL nears unicorn status; despite MPL being banned in seven Indian States

Mobile Premier League (MPL) India based eSports platform, has in its latest round of funding raised $95 million in Series D round of funding, taking its total fundraising to a whopping $225.5 million.

The multiple skill-based mobile gaming allows users to compete against one another in tournaments; it was launched in September 2018 and now boasts a user base of more than 60 million users in India and also has a strong base in Indonesia with over 3.5 million users.

The company is now nearing unicorn status, as the latest round of funding led by Composite Capital and Moore Strategic Ventures along with Base partners, RTP Global, SIG, Go-Ventures, Telstra Ventures, Founders Circle, and Play Ventures have led to over 2X jump in its valuation from around $400 million in September 2020 to $945 million.

This despite the fact that MPL is banned in seven states in India – Assam, Odhisa, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana.

In March 2019, the MPL had announced Virat Kohli as its brand ambassador. Kohli had also participated in a series of multi-channel marketing and promotional activities for the brand.

Virat Kohli had invested in MPL in February 2019; the company went on to become BCCI’s official kit sponsor and also the merchandise partner in November 2020.

MPL offers its users a competitive mobile gaming experience where users participate in a range of games and compete against tens of thousands of players in tournaments.
It also allows its users to access some of India’s most popular mobile games and hosts tournaments and 1V1 style player formats and Fantasy Sports.

The latest round of funding will help expand its E-sports portfolio and in organizing digital tournaments. The company also has plans to expand internationally. MPL had in the past also organized a digital sports festival College Premiers League in 2020, with one crore in prizes and scholarships.

The Future of e gaming in India

Esports has become quite popular and gaining significant momentum in the Indian market. The younger generation -the expanding mobile phone users and affordable data plans- have seen a user base like never before.

Especially during the early months of the Covid -19 pandemic, mobile phones based entertainment saw a steep rise and perhaps the biggest explosion in the OTT based platforms and gaming world over.

This sector is said to see significant expansion due to localized content, easy and affordable access to one and all, booming smartphone sales, more disposable income, and affordable internet data at faster speeds have primarily contributed to the sector’s rise.

According to the data, India’s digital gaming market is said to grow by leaps and bounds from an approximate $295 million in revenue in 2020 to $531 million by 2025.

This would mean a CAGR of nearly 12.5 percent and a user penetration growth of 10.2 percent from 8 percent.

What does the Indian Law say?
In India, online gaming comes under the Public Gambling Act (PGA) 1867 involving real money transactions.

Although this segment has largely been in a grey area for many years, however, the Delhi and Gujrat High Courts had quite recently directed state governments to reportedly consider public litigations (PIL) as representations to regulate online gambling that may allegedly operate under the disguise of gaming.

However, mostly it is the State’s prerogative when it comes to betting and gambling and allows for respective states to enact their own laws in this regard.

However, in November 2020, Tamil Nadu, along with AP and Telangana, had banned online games and gambling; this after the state’s governor propagated in order to restrict such games from the public to prevent them from the “evils of online gaming.”

According to the new Law, any forms of wager or online bets using computers or any other device are banned across the state. The Law also said that anyone found gaming online shall be fined Rs. 5000 and be punishable with a six-month sentence.

While those with such establishments that offered such services shall be fined Rs 10,000 and be imprisoned for two years.

Thus Tamil Nadu became the third state in the country to ban online gaming and gambling.

The rationale behind banning such games?

One of the reasons for the banning is said to be the fact that many youngsters were being cheated and several had committed suicide due to this latest craze.

Though there has been a debate on whether online games are skill-based or a matter of luck, the financial aspect of the same has further complicated matters.

Since they are no clear regulations, most players resort to spending vast sums of money for buy-in in these games.

Another significant opposition is that kids of all ages also play these games. The lack of finances to buy these add-on puts a substantial amount of peer pressure among these children, which may lead to unpleasant circumstances.

Also, the fact that online gaming platforms advertise and market themselves as a source of reliable income rather than a source of entertainment. This is where the people get caught; the misrepresentation has not only causes loss of income, economic hars=dships to those who may be addicted it has also, in several cases, lead to suicide.

Another worrying aspect is that the gaming companies are now able to leverage data and algorithms. They formulate promotions, deals, rewards, notifications, with the opportunity to make huge money.

These formulations are devised to test which of the above can drive the user’s behavior aiming at maximizing addictive behavior. These platforms can also go far as to register individual emotions such as anger and regret to incentivize the customer further.

Hence the question of a celebrity endorsing such online platforms has been widely debated. Since the perils of the same outmatch the benefits and may not be entirely skill-based as it is marketed to be.

Perhaps people who are public figures and have a huge fan following and much looked up to and admired by the young and the old alike, caution and consideration need to be administered.

For the young who aspire to become and subsequently have a similar lifestyle is the main driving force that leads them to endorse and follow a particular public figure.

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