When it was still barely a six-month-old company, mobile gaming platform Mobile Premier League (MPL) scored the mother of all celebrity endorsements. It signed on Indian men’s national cricket team captain Virat Kohli to endorse it in a Rs 12 crore (US$1.6 million) deal deal Times of India MPL ropes in Kohli Read more . With Kohli as its face, the platform saw meteoric growth, entering 2020 with 32 million registered users.

What MPL does is simple enough. It lets users play an assortment of casual mobile games—from carrom to cards, archery, and pool. All told, it has over 60 games on its platform.

What sets it apart from most other gaming platforms is the prize money on offer. Players can pay to compete against each other in exchange for a payout. This ranges from a Rs 3 (US$0.04) buy-in for a Rs 5 payout in a one-on-one contest, to as much as Rs 5,000 (US$67), for a Rs 9,000 prize. It also has tournaments, with large cash prizes, low entry fees, and thousands of competitors.

If MPL had the wind in its sails already, the Covid-19 pandemic turned those gusts into gales. MPL and other real money gaming platforms like it grew in leaps and bounds. According to the CEO of one of MPL’s biggest competitors, companies that offered card games like rummy and poker, both of which are also on MPL, saw all their metrics double—from time spent to users to revenue.

The company nearly doubled its user base over the course of the pandemic, now boasting around 60 million users. An MPL executive, who requested anonymity due to not being authorised to speak to the media, claims revenue has grown 10X; MPL denied this in a written response to The Ken. The company, however, shared that it clocked a gross merchandise value gross merchandise value GMV Gross Merchandise Volume is a term used in online retailing to indicate a total sales monetary-value for merchandise sold through a particular marketplace over a certain time frame. GMV includes any fees or other deductions which a seller might calculate separately. of US$1 billion in September.

Surge engine

MPL’s user numbers are all the more impressive considering it is not present on the Google Play Store, which does not allow real money gaming apps. The Play Store, which is present on 91% of Indian smartphones, facilitated 84.3 billion app downloads globally in 2019.

While the details of its surge may be unclear, it culminated in a US$90 million funding round in September, valuing the two-year-old startup at an eye-watering US$450 million.

AUTHOR

Arundhati Ramanathan

Arundhati is Bengaluru-based. She is interested in how people use money in the digital age and how new economies will take shape based on that interaction. She has spent over 10 years reporting and writing on various subjects. Previous stints were at Mint, Outlook Business and Reuters.

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