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Football fans have been hitting fantasy gaming platforms after the Indian Super League (ISL) kick-started on 20 November—a testimony to the sport’s growing popularity in India.

Online platforms such as Mobile Premier League (MPL), Twelfth Man and Paytm First Games have registered more than 30% increases in user traction and engagement in keeping with ISL’s progress.

Football is the second most popular sports on fantasy gaming platforms after cricket, according to a 2019 report by the Federation of Indian Fantasy Sports (FIFS)-KPMG.

“As we know, most of the sporting events are expected to take place with either limited or no in-stadia audience and digital sports fan engagement platforms like fantasy sports are sure to play a pivotal role in driving fan engagement," said Amrit Mathur, strategic adviser, FIFS.

Fantasy gaming platforms allow players to create their own virtual teams by selecting active real-life footballers from a particular league or tournament. Players then gain points based on actual team or player performances and compete to earn points, often for cash prizes. The majority of such platforms work on a ‘freemium’ model where they play for free. Revenue streams for platforms include ads, contest fee and brand partnerships.

Apart from virtual matches, these platforms also promote ISL across digital media to attract new users and by sponsoring ISL clubs. Paytm First Games, for instance, has come on board as an associate sponsor of FC Goa and fantasy sponsor for Chennaiyin FC.

Sudhanshu Gupta, chief operating officer of Paytm First Games, said the platform is seeing an uptick in the number of new gamers. “Those who have played IPL on our platform are now engaging in ISL as well, which is encouraging. We see a major rise in players joining from southern and eastern India, which is an important base for our other games such as rummy as well. Having both these games on one platform has been a major draw for many users," he said.

Fantasy gaming startup PlayerzPot, which targets 18-35-year-old football fans, said growth is higher than in the earlier edition of the league. “Comparing the statistics of a week itself, there’s an increase of 50% user engagement on ISL matches on PlayerzPot as compared to the last ISL season," said Mitesh Gangar, co-founder, PlayerzPot.

Though cricket is the most popular sport in India, Gangar noted that leagues like ISL and Pro Kabaddi League are much-awaited by fans as well.

Launched in April, football-only fantasy sports platform Twelfth Man said it is getting a few thousand new users every day. MPL said that so far it has witnessed an 11% increase in the average number of gamers per match playing fantasy football in ISL matches.

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