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Gaming

Feature: MPL CEO Sai Srinivas Kiran G talks about his vision of creating India’s leading esports platform

Last year, serial entrepreneur and IIT Kanpur graduate Sai Srinivas Kiran G, along with his friend Shubham Malhotra, started an esports platform called Mobile Premier League (MPL) that hosted several games developed by third party developers on a single app.

Backed by marquee investors such as Sequoia Capital, Go Ventures and Times of India, MPL has, in a short span of one year garnered over 30 million registered users on its platforms and offers a wide variety of games such as chess, quiz, carrom, fantasy sports and rummy on a single mobile app.

In this exclusive interview, Srinivas, the company’s CEO and co-founder discusses how he and his team created an all-encompassing content-driven esports platform.

Full interview:

Q. In a short span of one year, MPL has become the leading gaming and esports platform in the country. Can you tell us a little bit about how the idea of MPL originated and the reasons for the phenomenal growth and success? 

Sai Srinivas Kiran G (Sai): My co-founder Shubh Malhotra and I would regularly discuss ideas for our next venture after our first startup got acquired. Mobile gaming presented itself as a great opportunity. There was no platform that could host games and connect game creators to gamers. And thanks to cheap data and smartphones becoming economical, gaming leapfrogged straight to people’s handsets. So you could say the idea behind MPL was to have a dedicated mobile-first gaming platform. 

You’re very kind to compliment us on our growth and success (laughs). I think the big reason why users and developers love our app is because of the ease of use. If you’re a game creator, it can take you less than 7 days to publish your game on our platform. And you start generating revenue from day 1. Similarly for users, it’s a simple yet secure process to sign up, and you can start competing and winning immediately.

Ultimately, a platform’s success is about the value it creates for its developers and users and I’m glad to say we are consistently doing that. 

Q. MPL is perhaps the only platform in the globe that has a diverse set of games ranging from chess and quiz to rummy and fantasy sports. Can you share some details on the most popular games on the MPL platform and some stats about the same?

Sai: First of all, big shoutout and kudos to our game developer community. They have been making some amazing games for our platform and we are looking forward to getting more games from them and partnering with more game creators. We have managed to get close to 40 games in total on MPL since our launch merely a year back, which is great, given the magnitude and scale of our user base.

We have a very talented tech team that works with our developers to get these games out and make the experience great for our users. We are constantly looking out for more such talented folks to join us so we can keep adding great games to our platform. 

That being said, we have had quite a few popular titles on MPL. Quiz, launched recently, saw two million games being played within the first three weeks of its launch! Our users have won close to Rs 80 lakh in total prize money too.

With these numbers, our developer partner can stand to make Rs 1 crore in revenue per year, just from this one stream. You may already know about the speed chess tournament we hosted in July, where 1.2 million games were played in 12 hours. So all kinds of games are doing well on MPL. 

Q. Apart from gaming, MPL has started other interesting initiatives like audio shows. Can you tell us more about the non-gaming initiatives that MPL is focusing on?

Sai: We are a platform driven by content. Gaming, audio, video, we are progressing towards becoming an all-encompassing platform. And going by the phenomenal response to our audio shows, this resonates with our audience. Our users have earned Rs 25 lakh hosting audio shows on MPL in the first two months of it going live. 

Q. What do you see are the challenges on the legal and regulatory for esports and online gaming and what is the best way to combat them?

Sai: I am no regulatory expert but what I can tell you is that fairness and therefore, recognition of skill is a central tenet of what we do here at MPL. We have a data driven approach to ensuring that only such games that test skills to the fullest are available on MPL.

We also have a very robust system in place now for weeding out fraudsters and making sure that the most skilled players play and win on MPL. Esports players, our ‘digital athletes’, deserve recognition at par with any other sport. They practice as hard and play to win. 

I think it’s about time the industry comes together and adopts a common standard for fairness, skill and the like, and we are working through various industry bodies on those aspects. 

Q. Finally, your parting thoughts on MPL’s plan and vision for the near future and the direction in which esports and gaming is headed in the country?

Sai: Esports in India and across the globe is on the cusp of a mainstream revolution. It looks like it could well be a medal event at the Olympics even before cricket! Given the global opportunities that are mushrooming, we at MPL believe India is poised to grab the chance. We need the right support system for esports players and developers alike. And MPL provides the platform for the entire system to grow on.

We want to keep adding to our games, making the platform a mini-app store where game creators can publish their games and users can compete and win, playing these games. Overall, we want to play our part in developing gaming and esports as a viable career option for developers and gamers alike.

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Gaming

Three professional players win MPL Chess Mahayudh

Three professional chess players won the top three positions in Mobile Premier League’s recently concluded MPL Chess Mahayudh, that saw participation of over 90,000 players and a total prize pool of Rs. 11 lakhs.

18-year old Coimbatore-based chess prodigy VS Rathanvel was declared the winner of the chess mahayudh on the night of 21st July, and has been given a cash prize of Rs. 5 lakhs.

Rathanvel secured 253 wins out of 265 matches that he competed in over a 12 hour period. On his way to the top, he defeated grandmaster Ankit Rajpara, from Gujarat, who won 241 games.

Rajpara secured the second position and a cash reward of Rs.50,000, while defeating another young FIDE Master, from Ahmednagar, Suyog Wagh. Wagh had 238 wins and finished a mere three points away from Ankit Rajpara.

The chess mahayudh, touted as India’s biggest digital chess event had got an endorsement from India’s most recognised chess player, Viswanathan Anand, who was the tournament’s official ambassador. The tournament garnered over 3 lakh registrations and saw 90,000 players competing on the tournament day, with over 1.2 million games of chess being played over a 12 hour period.

 “For a 10 month old start up to host a Grandmaster, 2 FIDE Masters and another 90,000 players is no small feat! It was an absolute honour for us to have them play MPL and we thank them for their trust. The future of digital sports is on the mobile phone and we are happy to bring chess on our platform.”, said Sai Srinivas Kiran G, co-founder and CEO of MPL.

“I am delighted beyond words about winning MPL Chess Mahayudh. This was an incredible gaming experience and I loved the challenges posed by different players across the country. Playing chess for 12 hours straight is exhausting but I am happy I was able to maintain the momentum! I am looking forward to the next chess tournament organized by MPL,” said V.S. Rathanvel, on winning the competition. He leaves for international chess tournaments later next month and plans to use his winnings to further pursue his professional chess career.

Commenting on the tournament, second place winner Ankit Rajpara said “I played over 250 games, and I did not face a single technical issue or glitch. This has never happened before in my experience. The fairness ensured by MPL bodes well for the growth of chess in the digital era.”

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Gaming

MPL announces Chess Mahayudh, India’s biggest chess tournament, Viswanathan Anand endorses event

Leading esports and digital gaming platform Mobile Premier League (MPL) announced the launch of India’s biggest chess tournament on its platform, christened as ‘MPL Chess Mahayudh’.

The 12-hour long online tournament, to be conducted on 21s July, will follow the speed chess format (with total of 3 minutes given to a player in a particular game). The tournament has already garnered over 2 lakh registrations, making it the biggest ever Indian chess tournament organised online and offline.

The total prize pool for the event is Rs. 10 lakhs for the top 30,000 players, with the first prize winner getting a cash reward of Rs. 5 lakhs.

Chess grandmaster and Padma Vibhushan award winner Viswananthan Anand announced the event in his tweet and a video released by MPL on social media.

Commenting on the announcement, Sai Srinivas Kiran G, co-founder and CEO of Mobile Premier League noted, “We are thrilled to launch the Mahayudh Chess tournament on MPL. This is a major landmark in our effort to keep our platform exciting to both casual and professional gamers.

We believe that real-time, multiplayer games are the future of digital gaming. Chess is one of the oldest strategy-based multiplayer game with deep roots to India’s culture. We’re proud to host this tournament and we expect it to be the largest online chess tournament in terms of number of participants competing on a single platform.”

Announcing his association with the chess tournament, Anand added, “I am excited to introduce chess to India’s growing digital gaming community. I am sure MPL Chess Mahayudh will be a closely contested event. It’s a great platform to introduce youngsters to the game and I am very excited to see them showcase their talent in this tournament.”

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Gaming

Feature: Gaurav Gaggar talks about his latest venture Brain Duel Games

Delhi-based chartered accountant Gaurav Gaggar has been one of the early movers in the online poker space. He was one of the key persons responsible for starting Adda52, India’s first online poker website. He has also started other ventures in the e-commerce, healthcare and research space.

In this exclusive conversation, Gaggar discusses the launch of a new Mind Sports league that he co-founded. He also talks about the other opportunities and challenges in the skill gaming space.

Full interview:

Q. You have been actively involved in the online skill gaming and poker industry since 2009-10. Can you tell us about how you got involved in this space and your ventures prior to Brain Duel?

Gaurav Gaggar (GG): My brother Vaibhav and I are avid gamers and had a vision as early as 2005-06 to lead the online real money gaming revolution in India. Vaibhav as a lawyer was clear that poker as a game of skill is exempt from the Public Gambling Act and gave us the opinion to go ahead and launch real money poker online. This was all the ammunition we needed to take the next step, which we did along with our other co-founders and launched Adda52.com in 2011. Adda52 went on to become India’s number 1 poker portal, a position it holds even today. We exited Adda52 in 2016 and are now involved in incubating a few other ventures in the real money gaming space including in poker.

Subsequently, Vaibhav and I worked with the Government of Nagaland to bring about the Nagaland Prohibition of Gambling and Promotion and Regulation of Online Games of Skill Act. We also continue to work with several gaming companies in advisory and strategic roles. Our mission is to create the right ecosystem for skill-based real money gaming in India.

Q.  How did this idea about starting a mind sports league come up? Can you share more details about the games that will be hosted, franchisee model, prize money, dates and format?

GG: It’s been our constant endeavour to grow the skill gaming industry in India. We had the idea to launch offline tournaments and leagues as far back as 2010. However once we exited Adda52 we strongly felt that like poker other games of skill too should similarly be recognized and players who have dedicated their lifetime to playing a certain game of skill should have a platform to showcase their skills and be given the opportunity to build a well deserved recognition.

Initially we will be launching leagues for chess, poker, quiz and e-sports. The plan always was to host the licensed launch event in the capital with coverage from national media and attract those interested in such a format to reach out and partner with us. We received a tremendous response to the launch and are in advanced stages of discussions with industry stakeholders for each of these mind sports. We are currently in the process of finalizing the tournaments and leagues and their structure.

The idea is to be able to reach the far corners of our country so the formats will allow contestants from even rural India to participate in online qualifiers and have a shot at large life changing prize pools. We aim to change the landscape of skill gaming in India and will announce the details once we have finalized the structures and formats.

Q. Considering that there are already 2-3 other leagues already happening (especially for poker), why did you decide to go ahead with the mind sports league? What distinguishes your league from others?

GG: Mind Sports League and tournaments is about skill based gaming and not just poker. For any player of a game it is important to be able to showcase their skills, compete, win, be recognized for it and also earn money and adulation. We felt that there is a genuine lack of platforms for various Mind Sports and it is this gap that we endeavor to fill. Since we are talking about Mind Sports, poker is very much a part and parcel of it and is one of the games we will be taking up. Each of these games have their own nuances, and we are in the process of curating tournaments and/or league structures for different games based on these individual nuances.

We shall be coming up with more details as and when we are ready but I can safely say that we will be trying to create structures which are out in the open vis-à-vis in casinos or underground situations, they will be legal and with sanction from authorities and shall be inclusive, which means that we will involve all stakeholders of a particular game rather than create properties to cater to individual companies alone. It is this democratization of the game which will allow us to take these games to the deep parts of India and cater to the 500 million smart phone user community which is only going to grow.

Q. You invited celebrities like actor Arjun Rampal and chess grandmaster Tania Sachdev for the launch event. Are you going to involve celebrities and eminent persons in your league? Can you share more details?

GG: Yes we will certainly have more celebrities joining the bandwagon to promote Brain Duel and each mind sport associated with it. This will increase our reach to the skill gaming masses and create an aspirational value to the brand and the property. We have begun discussions with a few celebrities who have a passion for mind sports and wish to take their favorite sport to the next level.

Q. What is the business model of the mind sports league? How do you plan to generate revenue?

GG: Brain Duel is a movement to create IPRs for various Mind Sports. Each game which we take up shall be treated differently based on individual requirements like type of people playing the sport, the reach, the packaging, the formats etc.

For instance, chess has the largest following as a sport in India but is currently positioned as a very serious sport and is played across ages and demographicsvis-à-vis poker, which is a far younger profile sport, comes across as more edgy, and where the money involved per player is more.

We will curate formats of tournaments and leagues keeping the above profiles in mind. What is interesting is that unlike physical sports, we have a huge opportunity to create properties which are a confluence of online and offline. It is our firm belief that with the deepening penetration of internet and smartphones and the fact that in the coming times people of all ages and demographics shall be playing online, we are in a very unique position to create something which shall revolutionize consumption patterns in India and are happy to be working towards it.

Naturally, with the creation of such IPRs there are several monetization possibilities including the ones which are available to traditional sporting properties like cricket, kabaddi, wrestling as well as other online options.

Q. Are you going to broadcast the league live through television channels or Over the top (OTT) providers?

GG: Post the star studded launch in Delhi, we have offers from both television and OTT providers, we will take this call separately for each sport. As of now we are yet to freeze on the media strategy but we will certainly do so as prior to announcing the formats and structures for each sport. The idea is to create world class properties which shall be monetized in multiple manners.

Q. In terms of legality of the format, do you see any difficulty or issue in holding skill games events for real money, especially considering the fact that some High Courts have ruled against the game of poker?

GG: As you know,most states have exempted skill-based games from the ambit of gambling. There are,however,some state governments and High Courts who have disallowed even skill-based games to be played with real money.

While we will continue in our endeavor to open the minds of such states to the merit in allowing players of games of skill to earn money and recognition from their talent, we will respect the local laws and conduct our events in those states which do allow such mind sports.

Q. Brain Duel recently hosted poker tournaments in Delhi and stated that they had obtained license from the authorities for the same. Can you share details about this licensed poker tournament?

GG: We spent over a year working with the authorities and convincing them to obtain a formal license to hold the mind sports event in Delhi for poker, rummy, chess in April. It was not at all easy as we had to satisfy them on the legalities, the structures, the way we were conducting the games etc.

However, having pulled it off, it will go a long way to create benchmarks in the skill-based gaming domain especially bringing these games out from the underground and casinos.In terms of the actual event,we had a limited entry 54-person Texas Hold’em Poker tournament which was anchored by PokerHigh.com and co-anchored by Hippo52.com. The response was amazing and all seats were pre booked well before the day of the event. Aditya Kumar won the first place.

We also had a celebrity Poker table to add even more excitement. Vidushi Mehra won the Celebrity tournament while Arjun Rampal was the runner up.We had promoters of many online Poker sites including thespartanpoker.com, PokerBaazi.com, PokerHigh.com, Hippo52.com and  9stacks.com join the celebrity table. It was amazing to see the industry come together and support the event. This is the kind of inclusivity we aspire to achieve through these events. For chess, we had over 50 entries and the tournament was won by GM Vaibhav, while rummy also saw more than 20 entries.

Q. How do you see the online poker and skill gaming space evolving over the next couple of years, especially considering that there are several legal challenges including adverse court orders, legislative bans and ongoing litigation?

GG: Indians have a natural affinity towards games of skill and have been playing them at home and in social clubs for generations. The online real money gaming revolution has now given them the opportunity to play their favorite mind sport online. Considering the lack of time especially for those leading busy lives in metropolitan India, this number of online skill gamers is bound to only increase. Couple this with the smart phone revolution that’s taken over our country, I would say we have an industry that’s going to grow leaps and bounds over the next few years.

This is an industry that needs to be monitored and regulated to avoid fraudulent companies cheating consumers. So while some states like Nagaland and Sikkim have taken steps to legislate and regulate skill based gaming thereby increasing revenue to the state, some others like Telangana have taken a decision to disallow such games altogether.

Similarly while the High Courts of Karnataka and Calcutta have recognized poker as game of skill and allowed it to be played for stakes, the High Court of Gujarat has taken an adverse view on the matter and is now in appeal before the division bench.

We all know activities that are prohibited have a tendency to go underground and allow racketeers to prosper at the cost of the consumer. So in my view it’s always better if states move to regulate instead of prohibit, especially considering that games of skill are by definition exempt from the ambit of gambling and are not taboo. The industry must come together to spread awareness and strive for further legalization while keeping a close watch on the ever-evolving legal scenario to ensure they are within the ambit of the laws of the land.

Categories
Gaming

Brain Duel Games launches new mind sports league

Brain Duel Games Pvt. Ltd., a venture co-founded by entrepreneurs Gaurav Gaggar and Kunal Lalani, announced the launch of a first of its kind mind sports league series that would include games like poker, rummy, quiz, e-sports and chess at Hotel Pullman in New Delhi today.

As per the announcement at the company’s press conference that was attended by lawyer Vaibhav Gaggar, chess grandmaster Tania Sachdev and Bollywood actor Arjun Rampal, a mind sports league will be launched in the next few months that will see tournament as well as league events of various skill games like poker, rummy and chess hosted over the next few months.

Braind Duel’s director Gaurav Gaggar added that teams will be given out to franchisees and an Express of Interest (EOI) inviting participation from private companies and individuals will be released on  the Brain Duel website shortly.

Elaborating on the reasons for launching a new mind sports league, Gaggar noted in the press conference, “It has been my long term vision to host organised tournaments and leagues for all mind sports existing in India. Players participating in skilled-based games don’t always get the necessary recognition they deserve. Through Brain Duel, we shall make an effort to give a much needed structure and platform to all players, who seek mind sports as a potential sporting career. We intend to align ourselves with the official federations and governing bodies for a smooth flow of the league and work with them to create a fan and brand oriented league conducive to the growth of the sport. The structure of the league series has been planned in a way that it reaches out to multiple towns and cities across India.”

The regional city-based league will have a  grand-finale in October 2018 that will have cumulative prizes of over Rs. 5 crores.

On the sidelines of the press announcement, a by-invite chess, rummy and poker tournament was also hosted at Hotel Pullman today. The poker tournament was sponsored by online poker websites PokerHigh and Hippo52 and entailed a total guaranteed prize pool of Rs. 10 lakhs.

Brain Duel Games had hosted its inaugral chess and poker tournament at Siri Fort Stadium in New Delhi in January this year.

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Gaming Poker

Brainduel Games organises poker and skill games tournament in Delhi

Brainduel Games Pvt Ltd., a Delhi-based company promoted by chartered accountant Gaurav Gaggar, organised a live skill gaming tournament at the DDA Siri Fort Sports Complex in New Delhi on 21st January, 2018.

The event, sponsored by online gaming websites Hippo52 and Pokerhigh, saw three tournaments of games like poker, chess and general knowledge quiz being organised at the indoor stadium venue for a selected group of players.

The entry fee for the event was ten thousand rupees for poker, one thousand rupees for the chess tournament and five hundred rupees for the quiz competition. Over seventy persons participated in the chess event while the poker event saw the participation of over 40 players from the Delhi-NCR region. Cash prize money of lakhs of rupees was handed over to the winners of the tournaments of the three games.

Commenting on the tournament, Gaurav Gaggar, Director of Brainduel Games said, “It started with our (my brother Vaibhav and mine) vision of popularizing brain/skill games in India. We believe that India with all its cerebral matter has the potential to be a world player in brain/skill based games, all what is needed is the correct platform and opportunities for players and the right ecosystem.

This tournament was the first of its kind licensed event as a proof of concept to be followed by larger events across the country. Poker is very much a skill game as we all know and therefore an integral part of this concept. We got the support of like minded people in Mithun Rebello and Sumit Khurana of Pokerhigh and Hippo52 respectively who sponsored and supported the entire tournament.”

Gaggar added that the event was a ‘proof of concept’ event and that Brainduel Games will be organising bigger and better events in the months to come.

He also stated that the company has taken all necessary permissions and licenses from the police and other government authorities for conducting the event.

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Legal & Regulatory Poker

Online games of skill cannot be played or offered for cash according to Delhi district judge

In a recent development, a District Court in New Delhi held that all online games, whether games of skill or chance involving cash are illegal as per the Gaming as well as Information Technology Act and  allied Rules according to a news report in Card Player magazine.

Additional District Judge Ina Malhotra in her opinion stated that games of skill including games like chess, poker, bridge and rummy do not enjoy the Constitutional right to freedom of trade and commerce  guaranteed under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution as per a report in The Asian Age.

According to Judge Malhotra, conducting such games for profit was res extra commercium  and hence fell outside the ambit of the guaranteed right under Article 19(1)(g).

The court tried to draw an artificial distinction between games of skill played in the physical form and online, holding that games of skill or chance where the websites charge a slice of the winnings as fee or rake is illegal as per Indian law. Further, the court also held that  RBI and banks were free not to permit payment gateways for such websites and portals.

Interestingly, the court also held that advertising or sponsoring such websites is illegal under the penal provisions of the gaming Acts.

The court gave this decision in response to a petition filed by an internet start-up firm comprising of IIT-Delhi graduates. Delhi government was also made a party to this petition, but court proceeded ex-parte after the Delhi government failed to make its pleadings.

This decision is likely to impact the online gaming industry, especially a host of websites offering “skill games” for cash.  However since the decision is given by a District court, it is not binding on any court or forum in India. Hence, though this verdict may not have an immediate impact on online gaming websites especially since the matter of whether games of skill can be played for stakes and profit is pending before the Supreme Court in Mahalakshmi Cultural Association v. Director General of Police.

However the decision may change the RBI policy on allowing payment gateways for skill, though it is understood that decisions taken by the RBI in this regard can also be challenged in courts.

The legal basis for giving this verdict is unclear and decision may have been given without appreciating the well settled position of law and scheme of the Gaming and Information Technology law.  Online gaming companies are said to be unhappy with this decision and are contemplating further legal recourse on this issue.