June 14, 2021
In a 2015 Last Week Tonight episode, British comedian John Oliver described fantasy sports as “the most addictive thing you can do on your phone, other than, perhaps, cocaine.” India certainly agrees: in a country where cricket is a religion and cricketers like Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli are revered, fantasy leagues have ushered India’s rabid sports fandom into the virtual world. As of 2021, though only 20 million Indians play fantasy sports across the country, the figure is estimated to grow to more than 150 million next year — driven by growing internet penetration in small towns and the launch of more fantasy gaming platforms.
Cricket fans not only love the sports but will also take any chance to display their vast knowledge to earn bragging rights. Harsh Jain and Bhavit Sheth tapped into this very behavior when they founded Dream11 in 2008, which has grown to become India’s biggest fantasy sports company. Now the country’s first gaming unicorn, headquartered in Mumbai and valued at $5 billion, Dream11 allows users to win money by betting on the performance of virtual teams in real-life matches. As of 2021, the sports platform boasts 100 million users, has raised $785 million, and controls 90% of the fantasy gaming market in India.
“Dream 11 gives Indians the hope that they can become a millionaire. If you have a chance of winning 10 million rupees [about $136,000] by investing ₹50 [less than a dollar], I believe everyone will take that chance,” said 22-year-old Rohit Joshi, a business analyst based in Uttarakhand who has been a Dream11 user since 2017. Despite Dream11’s apparent overnight success, the company has been more than 10 years in the making. And future success is not guaranteed: today, Dream11 faces a slew of competitors, and its growth rests on the legality of sports betting in India.