Mobile Premier League bags $90 million in funding, announces ESOP buyback, Technology News, ETtech

Shubham Malhotra (left) and Sai Srinivas Kiran

Real money competitive mobile gaming platform Mobile Premier League (MPL) has raised $90 million in its latest financing round which also saw an employee stock buyback worth $3.2 million, a top executive told ET.

The round, valuing the startup at $450 million, was led by SIG Global and RTP Global along with MDI Ventures and Pegasus Tech Ventures, and takes the total investment raised by the two-year-old firm to $130.5 million.

Existing investors Sequoia India, Go-Ventures, and Base Partners also participated in the round.

“Our goal with respect to this fundraise is to set us up to go to multiple international markets…and separately as a part of this raise we are doing a significant ESOP buyback,” Sai Srinivas, cofounder and CEO of MPL, told ET. “This valuation is more of a validation of the business. We look at long-term success as listing our company on the Nasdaq or equivalent exchange,” he said.

The funding will fuel the company’s plans to expand overseas to Korea, Japan, and North America, as well as strengthen its product development with a focus on social functions such as live streaming, and audio and video content features.

MPL is a gaming platform that offers more than 70 real money games including fantasy sports, rummy, poker, chess, 3D pool, ludo, and carrom. About 15-25% of its business comes from fantasy sports, depending on the offline seasonality of sports events. It competes with Dream11, WinZo, and Mega among others.

“We do not depend on any one business vertical… a user on average plays around 6.5 different games every month on MPL, while our user acquisition costs have been 30-40% lower compared to the industry average,” Srinivas said. Going forward, the company said its focus will be to continue to build large-scale tournaments and lure the best gaming developers to the MPL platform.

Founded by Sai Srinivas Kiran and Shubham Malhotra, both second-time entrepreneurs who sold their startup Creo to messaging app Hike, MPL has seen a spike in its engagement numbers since the country went into lockdown.

With social distancing measures in place and telecommuting becoming the new norm amid limited physical sporting events, eSports and mobile gaming startups have gained traction.

Between March and now, MPL has grown over fourfold in size to hit over $1 billion in gross merchandise value (GMV).

“Even in an environment as challenging as the current one, we are impressed with the success and accessibility of the platform concept – giving users a unique variety of experiences and social interaction,” Galina Chifina, managing partner at RTP Global, said.

Earlier this month, Dream Sports, the parent company of India’s leading online fantasy sports company Dream11, raised $225 million from Tiger Global Management, TPG Tech Adjacencies (TTAD), ChrysCapital and Footpath Ventures at a primary valuation of $2.2 billion.

Growing independently beyond Google’s Play Store

Last week, after payments company Paytm was temporarily pulled down from Google’s Play store for running a cashback promotion which breached the platform’s gambling policies, the company’s founder, Vijay Shekhar Sharma, said that he’ll explore all options against the US technology major, along with seeking government and regulatory intervention to drum up the issue.

“It’s a good debate to have for the overall ecosystem and I am happy its happening sooner than later,” Srinivas told ET.

In May last year, MPL moved out of the Play Store after the US technology giant said its policies don’t allow for fantasy gaming or real money gaming apps to be listed.

Yet, since then, MPL’s scale has increased exponentially. “From our point of view… if there is a product-market fit, no one can stop you, not even Google. The fact that we have been able to build outside the Play Store ecosystem is a testimony to that,” he said.

“We continue to focus on building our brand, because all that Play Store provides — a symbol of trust — which is what we understood last year,” he said. The move away from the Play Store also helped MPL sign up a lot of third-party developers including WCC, YesGnome, and others. “Our focus is constantly how much money we make for our developers,” he said.

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