Big League Awaits Indian Online Gaming Firms In 2021


Online gaming companies are looking at an eventful year ahead.

Casual games, esports and live streaming are growing at a fast pace as the COVID-19 pandemic-led lockdown brought more people online for longer durations.

Gaming has become a popular avenue for entertainment and investors have made big bets on the segment, even as the outlook on real money gaming companies has turned sour with regulatory roadblocks.

India’s telecom sector, in the efforts of enabling policies including more quantum of the spectrum, is set to establish new benchmarks in the next-generation network deployments and service delivery.

The online gaming industry raised US$174 million in 2020 versus US$97.2 million a year earlier, according to data from Tracxn. Fundraising this year is expected to surpass previous records, industry experts said.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about a transformation to every industry globally and the esports industry is no different. The lockdown fuelled this already-burgeoning industry,” said VP, Growth and Marketing at Mobile Premier League, a mobile esports platform, Abhishek Madhavan.

The 300 million-strong gamers market is set to grow to 440 million by 2022, he added.

However, online real money gaming companies in rummy, poker and fantasy are expected to spend the year talking to the government to overturn bans announced by Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh late last year. These decisions put a dampener on the fast-paced growth witnessed by the industry. Telangana banned these games a few years ago.

“What we have seen in the last few months is a pushback by states with respect to online games,” said L. Badri Narayanan, Partner at law firm Lakshmikumaran & Sridharan.

“2021 will be a year of engagement between the industry, various stakeholders and the governments. Hope to move from absolute bans to a more regulated, licensed gaming which ensures fun and safety,” he added.

Online rummy, fantasy sports and poker platforms such as Dream11, Mobile Premier League, My11 Circle, PokerSaint, RummyCircle, Ace2three, Winzo, and PaytmFirst Games have been impacted.

“What has happened in South India has put a little bit of uncertainty into the mix. Other parameters are well and good and on course,” said CEO of the All India Gaming Federation, Roland Landers. “As of now, things have been a bit reactive but going forward we have to be more proactive as an industry and reach out to them.”

The industry is pushing for regulations as an alternative to an outright ban. They are also talking to the Karnataka government, which has been on the fence with regard to following the other south Indian states.

Pocket52, an online poker gaming app, said that states are willing to listen to companies as they realise that bans imposed by them can lead to job losses.

CMO, Pocket52 Debashish Bhattacharjee told ET that the company has recently added rummy to its portfolio and will soon add bridge card game to ride the wave of growth seen due to the pandemic.

CEO of Adda52 Shivanandan Pare Rummy, told ET that growth over the current base will remain the main challenge during 2021 because of the bans.

“The biggest challenge for gaming firms this year will continue to be the grey zone around regulations. If there is clarity around this, we see substantial growth in the sector both from an investment as well as a player perspective,” said CEO of The Online Rummy Federation, which represents companies such as RummyCircle, Ace2Three and Paytm First Games, Sameer Barde.

CEO of online gaming platform Octro, Saurabh Aggarwal said the growth will depend on the role of the government in providing a favourable and predictable regulatory regime for not only existing players to grow but also incremental foreign investment to come into the country.

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