In April, 2019, Dream11 entered the Unicorn Club of startups valued at $1 billion and more, joining the likes of Paytm, OYO, Byju’s and Swiggy. It’s the first Indian sports-gaming company to enter this club, and it’s a company that has been sweeping the imagination of sports-lovers across the country. But what is it about fantasy sports that is so captivating? Is it the intersection of fact and fiction, where you can watch a live game of IPL, create your own dream team of cricketers, and compete with your friends – all at the same time? Or is it captivating because of the lure of making quick money through the contests that these gaming companies run – contests that claim you can win crores in prizes? We dug a little deeper, and here’s what nobody tells you about Dream11, and fantasy sports in general.

The History

The earliest form of fantasy sports was fantasy golf. People played this casually, in the late 1950s. Later, in the 1960s, fantasy football and baseball began in the US. What started as a hobby amongst young sports enthusiasts, slowly grew into a full-fledged industry worth millions of dollars. 

The participants would form a virtual team of real sporting professionals that were playing in the actual matches, compete with other teams, and gain points (and money) based on real, statistical performance of the players throughout the sporting season. 

Let’s make this more additive, these companies thought. So, the next development was something called daily fantasy sports (or DFS). Instead of making one team for the entire season, the participants could make teams on a daily basis. That means the participants were actively involved, read hooked, every single day!

The Dream11 Story

In India, Dream11 was the first company in this space. Started in 2008, by three young entrepreneurs from Mumbai, it is the top fantasy sports company in India, with 90% market share. With more than eight crore app users, and more than ₹50 crore in winnings, Dream11 has reached great heights in the past twelve years. Not to mention, having MS Dhoni as brand ambassador last year, and being the IPL title sponsor this year. 

While cricket is the most popular fantasy sport in India, the Dream11 platform also allows users to play fantasy hockey, kabaddi, football, volleyball, handball, and basketball. It offers both free and paid contests. A user pays a certain fee to join a contest and can win real cash. The prize money is, of course, after a 30% tax deduction.

I know a lot of people that enjoy fantasy sports, including my brother. He researches the players for days on end, compares notes with friends, forms his fantasy team, and then starts bidding. Once the live matches begin, the adrenaline is high, and I see an added level of excitement while he watches the match. Being an active player rather than a passive viewer is the experience that companies like Dream11 are cashing in on.

Sports is known to bring people together. And in Corona-times, when nobody can visit stadiums to watch matches anymore, these companies certainly seem to be providing people with a platform that helps them bond. But is the price that we’re paying for this, too high? Couldn’t this be considered as gambling?

The Concerns

There is no doubt that gambling can cause terrible cases of addiction. There have been legal cases across the world on whether fantasy sports indeed amount to gambling or not. Although the majority of courts have ruled that it’s a “game of skill”, including the Supreme Court of India, there are studies that prove how devastating it can be, especially when real money is involved. 

It is when the focus shifts from being a source of entertainment to being a source of livelihood, that the problem arises. When people fall prey to all the advertisements that are the main revenue-stream for companies like this, it can be quite scary. Going down this rabbit-hole may cost them not just time and money, but also peace of mind. What’s supposed to be fun and relaxing suddenly becomes a reason for worry and frustration. So, setting boundaries is paramount. And whether you play with real money or not, it’s imperative that you’re mindful of how it’s impacting your daily life.

With the football and cricket season now on in full-swing, I see these gaming apps taking centre-stage in millions of lives, not just in India, but everywhere. The world of fantasy sports is as fascinating as Dan Brown’s thrillers, combining myth and reality. But when it comes to your money, unless you’re an author like Dan Brown, know that the amalgamation of fact and fiction is a slippery slope to go down. For now, let’s all be a sport, supporting the players and teams we love with all our hearts, and let’s let this Unicorn be nothing more than a source of recreation. 🙂

Rushina Thacker

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