Great User Experience and Tech are at the core of what we do: Dream11 CIO

February 16, 2022

According to a Ficci-EY report, the Indian fantasy sports industry is growing at a CAGR of 32 percent and is expected to be worth $3.7 billion by 2024. India is also moving beyond skill-versus-chance debates to keep up with the global gaming industry. On February 14, Karnataka High Court quashed the law banning online gaming in the state, which came as a big relief to fantasy sports operators.

IANS spoke to Abhishek Ravi, Chief Information Officer at Dream11 to get his insights on how fantasy sports is contributing towards building a sporting culture in India, how the rise of Web 3.0 and the metaverse will affect the ecosystem and the future of AR/VR in how we consumer sports content.

Excerpts from the interview below:

Dream11 has pioneered the fantasy sports revolution in India. How do you see the rise of fantasy sports contributing towards building India’s sporting culture?

In the last 40 years, sport has evolved from listening on the radio to watching on the television/mobile. For the last 30 years, we’ve primarily engaged with sports as viewers through broadcast media and on-ground. But Fantasy Sports (FS) changes that dynamic. As it is completely dependent on live sports, viewers become active participants in this game of skill where they showcase their knowledge of their favorite sports and compete with friends and family.

FS contributed nearly Rs. 3,000 crores to the sports ecosystem in FY21. But more importantly, it has a big role to play in developing the sports culture and ecosystem in India because it engages fans in a deeper, more personal way. Because of the level of engagement and participation, a user will watch live matches they otherwise wouldn’t, and watch it till the last call –even the last ball of the match can change their rank on the leaderboard. According to a recent report by the Federation of Indian Fantasy Sports (FIFS) and Kantar, FS has increased sports consumption among fans by 60% and around 48% of FS users watch almost every game irrespective of the team or country playing. That’s a drastic shift in sports engagement and viewership. Furthermore, in a country dominated by cricket culture, FS also helps promote sports outside the mainstream – which includes tier two and three cricket, kabaddi, basketball, hockey, football, handball, volleyball among others.

Today, Dream11 is the official partner of the International  Cricket Council, Tata Indian Premier League, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), Vivo Pro Kabaddi League, the Hero Indian Super League, the LaLiga Santander
the International Hockey Federation (FIH), and the National Basketball Association (NBA) in India – we do not just focus on cricket. This is in line with our vision to ‘Make Sports Better’ and thus, have FS be a medium that makes India a multi-sport nation.

How are you using big data, analytics and machine learning to help users on your platform make better decisions?

As the world’s largest fantasy sports platform with over 120 million users, data is everything to us. Artificial Intelligence (AI), data and machine learning play an indispensable role in our company across functions and processes, from start to finish. We are a pure-play product company – we have no logistics, no delivery, no warehouse, no sales, no ad monetization – which means great tech is the start and end of our entire value as a company. We customize and constantly strive to give an awesome user experience end-to-end on the application, Dream11 teams perform multiple experiments to provide the best possible user experience. Our entire data platform is in-house, and we’ve invested heavily in an experimentation platform. Big data, analytics and machine learning are high volume, high velocity, and/or high-variety information assets that require new forms of processing to enable enhanced decision-making, insight discovery, and process optimization. We’re also personalizing touchpoints within the app for our users through machine learning. From a user perspective, participants benefit from machine learning-driven recommendations on which contests to join based on their past in-app behaviour and other factors. Rapid development and adoption of disruptive technologies, rapidly growing mobile data traffic, cloud computing traffic, and high penetration of smartphones, all contribute to creating an ever-increasing volume and complexity of large datasets required to keep our platform running at a scale with a seamless user experience.

How will Sports Tech disrupt our viewing experience? How soon can we see AR/VR pave the way as the next medium to consume sports content, especially in the context of the 5G rollout?

Today, sports fans can experience high-quality sports viewing on TV and on digital devices at home like never before. This has been possible as modern sports technology is making content and viewing far more immersive and digitally heightened. Statistical overlays, batting sensors and smart equipment, AI-run chatbots, drones, etc. have brought sports ‘alive’. Soon AI, the Internet of Things (IoT), AR/VR and other disruptive technologies are going to change the way people in stadiums experience sports along with those who watch it digitally. The industry itself is looking for ways to give people that immersive experience by augmenting reality. For instance, in the near future, 100 million people could wear VR headsets, sit next to their favourite players and watch the match from the dug-out. The opportunities are endless to help fans all around get more out of every match. AR integration into sports is presently determined by two things – hardware and software. Once 5G is rolled out in the market, and it grows, AR is going to heighten user experience in more ways than one. Low latency and high concurrency will drastically improve the immersive and multiplayer experience and cloud-based gaming. The fantasy sports ecosystem overall stands to benefit from accelerated adoption of online sports engagement platforms, increased investments and innovation, and more productive, comfortable and better user engagement.

Where does fantasy sports fit in the Web 3.0 and ‘metaverse’ world? What is your strategy going forward to leverage the potential of this ecosystem?

Just as fantasy sports help fans engage with their favourite sports, metaverse can provide an easy way for people from all around the globe to connect and play their favourite games, outside their native gaming environment and bounds of identity, culture and language. It is a completely different way of consuming the world, which is also giving way to an entirely new model being built around play. There is a shift from play-to-win to play-to-earn with Web 3.0 and metaverse, where blockchain-based technologies allow players to create / own / distribute their digital assets, trade them from one game to the other or sell them for other cryptocurrencies. It’s a very interesting business model which allows players to monetise the amount of time they spend playing these games. The sports world is now waking up to the opportunities for leagues, teams and players offered in the metaverse. We research to explore these possibilities to make sports better for our users.

What did cloud technology allow you to do that you couldn’t do before?

Cloud computing has evolved how one hosts and manages high volumes of users on the platform. As a full-stack sports tech company where we build products that require scale, we needed a large elastic computation power that is immediately available, and data stores to handle our huge concurrent traffic as well as experiment with various new-age technologies. Hence, we chose to rely completely on AWS Cloud, as they have incredible solutions fulfilling our use cases. Over the years, they have improved on speed, resilience and agility, and have allowed us to achieve a lower variable cost. We use their services to provide our users with a seamless experience and are always prepared to host up to 10 million concurrent users at any given time.

We are experiencing improvement in business process performance, cost reductions at scale, reduced time to market, business operations improvements and above all, an awesome user experience, because of running on AWS.

Further, with AWS Enterprise Support, we benefit from steady and competent technical aid from high-quality engineers, tools and technology to help manage the ecosystem and provide architectural guidance in context to our applications and use-cases. A designated Technical Account Manager (TAM) to help coordinate is a great value addition as they are a designated point of contact who not only consult us during the onboarding phase but also provide advocacy and guidance to help plan and build solutions. We also get a lot of input on our Infrastructure optimization, which also leads to cost reduction and better resource utilization. TAMs also help us design solutions that adhere to best security practices.