Shubham Malhotra (left) and Sai Srinivas Kiran
Shubham Malhotra (left) and Sai Srinivas Kiran

Gaming startup Mobile Premier League (MPL) has raised $90 million in its latest financing round, its top executive told ET.

The company also executed a buyback of employee stock ownership plans (Esops) worth $3.2 million as part of the fundraising.

The latest round, valuing the real money competitive mobile gaming platform at $450 million, was led by SIG Global and RTP Global, along with MDI Ventures and Pegasus Tech Ventures. Existing investors Sequoia India, Go-Ventures and Base Partners also participated in the round. MPL’s early investor also includes Times Internet, which owns ETtech.

This takes the total investment raised by the two-year-old firm to $130.5 million.

“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 its expansion plans to markets including South Korea, Japan and the North American region, as well as strengthen 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 will focus on building large-scale tournaments and luring the best gaming developers to its platform.

Founded by Srinivas 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 a lockdown at the end of March.

With social distancing 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 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,” said Galina Chifina, managing partner at RTP Global.

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

Last week, after mobile payments platform Paytm was temporarily pulled out of Google’s Play Store for running a cashback promotion that it said breached the platform’s gambling policies, the company’s founder, Vijay Shekhar Sharma, said that he would explore all options against the US technology major, along with seeking government and regulatory intervention to back his case.

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

In May last year, MPL moved out of Play Store after Google said its policies do not allow for fantasy gaming or real money gaming apps to be listed.

Since then, however, 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 is a symbol of trust — which is what we understood last year.”

The move away from Play Store also helped MPL sign up a lot of third-party developers including WCC and YesGnome. “Our focus is constantly how much money we make for our developers,” Srinivas said.

Disclosure: Times Internet owns ETtech.




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