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Fantasy Is Taking Upward Trajectory – Varun Puri, Dangal Games

Realising the huge potential of fantasy sports in India, Dangal Games, after securing $1 million in Series A funding, ventured into fantasy launching FantasyDangal during IPL’s first phase this year. Varun Puri, Founder & Chairman, Dangal Games speaks with BW Businessworld’s Ojasvi Nath on how the company reacted to IPL suspension, Dangal’s contingency plan, his take on skill-based gaming’s legality in India, and future plans. Excerpts:

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Tell us about Dangal Games, from conceptualisation to execution. 

We started our brand journey with a single offering — PokerDangal. The idea came from being consumers ourselves. I was pursuing my engineering where I met Varun Mahna, a keen poker enthusiast, and started playing online in 2014. Together, we realised that the services available were not up to the desired standards and on the other side the demand was surging. It started as a means of fun and entertainment for us but quickly transformed into a potential business opportunity. Very early on we sensed its potential to transform into a big business that was scalable as well as sustainable. Access to data, smartphone penetration, and the ease of digital payments made this business idea even more alluring. In February 2017, Karan Gandhi and Shashwat Jain joined the team adding skill sets essential for the business. Shashwat has extensive experience in scaling startups and unmatched data expertise. Karan understood the poker business as he is a long-term player and his knowledge of user behaviour was unparalleled. With this team, we started the venture in May 2017 and we went live in September 2017 with PokerDangal.

Since its inception, Dangal Games has catered to its audience remarkably well, which led our first product PokerDangal to be honoured among India’s top five online poker platforms. Following up on the phenomenal response received from the masses, we launched RummyDangal and FantasyDangal to create a snappy yet trustable platform to enjoy online rummy and fantasy gaming in India. 

 What are you plans following series A funding? 

With the recent round of funding, our focus is to diversify the product portfolio and build the tech capabilities of the business. The online gaming industry in India is surging like never before. After the pandemic, our platforms endured an inclining power shot in acquisition and user-time spent. We also want to utilise the funds to grow the gaming ecosystem in the country and enable more gaming tech start-ups with investments.

Dangal Games announced a fantasy gaming platform during IPL this year. Did the IPL suspension impact the expected plan for its promotion? Was there any contingency plan to cope up with the same?

While IPL has been put on hold, there is still a lot to look forward to in the fantasy space. With mega tournaments like PSL, WTC, IPL II, T20 World Cup, and Big Bash League coming up I believe fantasy sports is bound for an upward trajectory. We as a platform are very excited for the second term of IPL season 2021 and it might also act as a precursor to the T20 World Cup for us. We are fully prepared to enthrall our audience throughout the forthcoming lineup of events. Being a new player in this space, our current strategy is primarily acquisition-led, emphasizing digital marketing. Consumer engagement at all stages of a player’s journey while making the best of all external factors will always come first to us. 

How did fantasy as a sport evolve? Your marketing strategies for FantasyDangal... 

Fantasy as a sport in India has grown exponentially and IPL is one of the peak times for fantasy sports. Capitalising on this, we launched our FantasyDangal on April 9, the same day as IPL started, to capture as much user base as we can during the IPL while exposing our current user base to fantasy gaming. Advertising is central to our strategy of entering the fantasy domain. We are planning an extensive campaign during the IPL’s second phase. In the last couple of months, one of the major spenders has been online gaming platforms and I believe that advertising plays a big role in creating brand awareness.

There is a lot of chaos when it comes to fantasy sports and their legality in the country. Where does it stand in terms of compliance and risk management? 

Time and again there has been this discussion and there are several legal judgments and expert opinions which have all endorsed the extensive skill element required to excel at these games. There is an elective course in IIM Kozhikode on the strategy element in which one is required to play poker and the world over it is being recognized as a game that requires extensive skills and analytical abilities to master. Concerning rummy, a Supreme Court judgment endorses and recognises rummy as a game of skill. Where FantasyDangal is concerned, our focus is on responsible skill-based gaming by keeping our users on priority.

What are your plans? 

Building a unified platform for online gaming in India is one of our most imminent goals. Planning, implementing, and achieving it will remain the object of our primary focus in 2021. Going further, our efforts will be directed towards elevating Dangal Games to unicorn status and keep serving the Indian gaming sector with only the best-in-class products and experiences.