There was a time when fantasy sports meant a young person daydreaming about playing for their country or favorite club, hitting the winning six in a World Cup final or scoring the winning goal. But thanks to the internet spreading its roots far and wide, the words ‘fantasy sports’ have taken on a very different meaning over the past few years. These days, you will hardly come across a young person who doesn’t have at least one fantasy app installed on their phone or tablet. Many play fantasy games across a variety of sports. A trusted and popular fantasy app like Howzat is at the forefront of this multi-sport trend.
There was also a time when India was considered a one-sport nation. The national hockey team won 7 Olympic gold medals between 1928 and 1964, and another in 1980, while the footballers were Asian Games champions in 1951 and 1962. But once cricket’s popularity skyrocketed after Test series wins in the West Indies and England in 1971, other sports were slowly left behind. When Kapil Dev’s unfancied side – 66-1 outsiders with English bookmakers before the start of the tournament – won the 1983 World Cup, cricket’s status as India’s sport of choice was unquestioned.
Stalwarts like Tendulkar, Kumble, Dhoni and Kohli have only added to that popularity, and it’s no surprise that fantasy cricket is still by far the most played fantasy sport in India. But times are changing too. The fantasy sports space has grown at an astonishing rate in recent years. In 2019, there were an estimated 9 crore fantasy sports players in India. By the end of 2022, that number is expected to reach 15 crores.
And it’s not just fantasy sports based on cricket and football that are proving most popular. Skill-based games like rummy are hugely popular with the Indian public, with recent competitions organized by Junglee Games breaking previous participation and prize-money records. And in rummy, you’re not depending on the performances of others – cricketers or footballers – to score points.
Thanks to the Super Selector game that was on television long before the internet had penetrated every nook and corner of India, fantasy cricket was already part of the sports fans’ psyche nearly 20 years ago. But other sports too have muscled into that space now.
Fantasy football is extremely popular among a certain section of Indian sports fans. Hundreds of thousands play the official fantasy football game of the English Premier League. Fantasy football contests on apps like Howzat also attract a big following. The best apps make it possible for fans to enter contests involving their favorite teams from the world’s top leagues and competition.
In theory, you could enter competitions based on an Indian Super League contest, an English Premier League game, a Spanish league tie and a Major League Soccer match (USA) on the same weekend. There are also contests based on the European Champions League and global competitions like the World Cup.
The other sport whose popularity in India has shot through the roof, thanks to greater television exposure, is kabaddi. No more is it just a rural game played outdoors in the dirt. The kabaddi stars of today are chiselled athletes, and they played in huge indoor stadia in front of capacity crowds, on mats that don’t send the dust flying with every raid or tackle.
The Indian Kabaddi League runs for close to 2 months every year, and the traveling caravan attracts huge support. The present-day stars are household names, thanks to this exposure, and terms like ‘Super tackle’ are part of dinner table conversations across the country.
Kabaddi, with its easy-to-understand scoring system, also lends itself to a fantasy version that has proved most popular with Indian users. Just as you pick your best XI from two teams for fantasy cricket and football, you choose your best 7 from the two teams taking part in a kabaddi match. A great app like Howzat gives you real-time updates on the scoring too, so your fortunes ebb and flow just as the game does on the mat.
While fantasy football has been popular for years, adding users with each passing season, kabaddi is a fairly recent addition to the fantasy sports portfolio. Indian audiences have reacted enthusiastically to one of their local sports being so featured on various fantasy sports apps.
Fantasy contests based on sports like NBA basketball and Formula-1 motorsport also have dedicated niche followers in India. There’s some way to go before cricket is displaced from the top rung – if that ever happens – but interest in other sports has grown rapidly since Indian sportspersons started establishing themselves more and more on the global stage in recent years.
The fantasy sports market in India is expected to be worth more than $3.7 billion by the end of 2024, according to reliable estimates. By then, almost 1 in 6 Indians could be playing at least one fantasy sport. And though they will be keeping abreast of runs and wickets before making their choices, they will be just as familiar with goals, assists, clean sheets, super raids and high 5s. Cricket may still be at the heart of it, but the Indian sporting landscape looks very different now. The ever-growing fantasy sports space is merely a reflection of that.
So strap yourself in, download your chosen apps and pit your wits against friends and experts alike while putting yourself in line to win some incredible prizes.