Mobile Premier League (MPL) has raised $90 million in a new financing round as the two-year-old Bangalore-based esports and mobile gaming platform grows its user base and looks to expand outside of India.
SIG, early-stage tech investor RTP Global, and MDI Ventures led MPL’s $90 million Series C financing round, with participation from existing investors Sequoia India, Go-Ventures, and Base Partners. The new investment brings MPL’s to-date raise to $130.5 million.
MPL operates a pure-play gaming platform that hosts a range of tournaments. The app, which has amassed over 60 million users and hosts about 70 games, also serves as a publishing platform for other gaming firms.
Because fantasy sports is only one part of the business, the coronavirus outbreak that has shut most real-world matches has not impeded the startup’s growth in recent months. The startup claimed it has grown four times since March this year and more than 2 billion cash transactions have been recorded on the app to date.
“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. MPL’s track record speaks for itself, so we’re excited to support the team as they grow and expand,” said Galina Chifina, Managing Partner at RTP Global, in a statement.
But since an aspect of MPL is about fantasy sports, its app is not available on the Google Play Store. Google Play Store prohibits online casino, and other kinds of betting, a guideline Google reiterated last week as it pulled Indian financial services platform Paytm from the app store for eight hours. Sai Srinivas, co-founder and chief executive of Mobile Premier League, declined to comment on Google and Paytm’s episode.
In an interview with TechCrunch, he said the startup plans to expand outside of India in the following months. He did not name the new markets, but suggested that India’s neighboring countries will likely be part of it.
Dream Sports, the parent firm of fantasy sports app Dream11, has secured $225 million in a new financing round as the Mumbai-headquartered firm builds what it calls “end-to-end sports tech company” in the cricket-loving nation, which is also the world’s second largest internet market.
Tiger Global Management, TPG Tech Adjacencies (TTAD), ChrysCapital and Footpath Ventures financed $225 million in Dream Sports through primary and secondary investments, the 12-year-old Indian firm said.
The new round values Dream Sports at over $2.5 billion, two people familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.
Dream11 has cashed in on the popularity of cricket — a game that has attracted serious attention from several major firms including Disney and Facebook. Dream11 explores the fantasy part of it, allowing gamers to pick their choice of best players for an upcoming match. They can win cash prizes depending on how their selected team performs.
This year, Dream11 is also the title sponsor for the 2020 season of Indian Premier League cricket tournament, one of the most popular sporting events in the world. The startup won the rights, which was previously secured by smartphone vendor Vivo, by bidding $30 million for it. Vivo had to back out of the sponsorship amid geo-political tension between the two nuclear-armed nations.
The new season of IPL kickstarts later this week after months of delay due to the coronavirus outbreak.
“The sports sector has high growth potential in India. There is a significant opportunity to enhance the fan experience and we are excited to partner with Dream Sports to leverage technology in ways that will deepen the connection between Indian fans and the sports they love,” said Akshay Tanna, Managing Director at TPG, in a statement.
In recent years, Dream Sports has expanded into additional categories such as merchandize. Harsh Jain, chief executive and co-founder of Dream Sports, claimed in a statement today that the startup had amassed over 100 million users. (Dream11 app is not on the Google Play Store and the startup relies on people either using its mobile web or sideload its Android app on to their phones.)
“As a homegrown Indian company, we are proud to continue adding value to our 10 crore Indian sports fans, investors, employees and the overall sports ecosystem in India. In the last two years, we have grown beyond fantasy sports to sports content, merchandise, streaming, experiences, and there is much more to come. Our vision is to ‘Make Sports Better’ for India and Indian fans through sports technology and innovation,” he added.
Avendus Capital was the financial advisor to Dream Sports on the transaction.
Athletic coaching is a massive, multi-billion-dollar industry. No surprise, really, given the massive revenue some top athletes are able to generate. Mustard is working to supplant — or at least augment — some of that pricey coaching with the launch of a new mobile app designed to analyze an athlete’s mechanics and offer corrective tips to help them improve.
The company was co-founded by Tom House, a former reliever whose coaching career has earned him the reputation as one the “father[s] of modern pitching mechanics.”
“Too many kids miss out on the power of play and the many physical and mental benefits of sports—studies show that 70% of kids stop playing sports by the age of 13 due to cost and lack of access to quality coaching. Mustard offers every kid access to the same coaching programs and extensive biomechanical analysis used by the best athletes in the world, and the same personalized training protocols that I use with the Hall of Famers I see in person,” House says in a release tied to the news. “We want to make elite personalized coaching accessible to all.”
Mustard announced this week that it has raised $1.7 million to improve its tool, led by Shasta Ventures and Intersect VC, along with a number of angel investors, including David Novak and Mike Dixon, and all-star athletes Nolan Ryan and Drew Brees. Ryan, in fact, has become one of the main faces of the company, gracing its home page, along with a color scheme that appears inspired by his days with the Astros.
The name isn’t great. It’s a reference to the phrase “put some mustard on it” — which refers to the act of adding a bit of an edge to a throw.
The app is opening up for a limited, free public beta, focused solely on baseball to start. “The product will be entirely free at first,” CEO Rocky Collins tells TechCrunch. “Over time, we will add premium features for a low monthly subscription. Even when premium features are added, we plan to continue to offer a free version of the app that offers tremendous value to users.”
The system relies on the smartphone’s camera and then uses proprietary AI algorithms to monitor the player’s motion and approximate human athletic coaching. For the baseball side of things, the company has employed engineers from Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM). Future sports will be added at some point down the road.
NASA has signed a new agreement with Japan that lays out plans for the two nations to cooperate on the International Space Station (continuing existing partnership between the countries there) as well as on NASA’s Artemis program, which includes missions in lunar space and to the lunar surface.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine signed the agreement with Government of Japan Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Koichi Hagiuda on July 10. It’s a Joint Exploration Decoration of Intent (JEDI), which essentially commits the two countries to laying the groundwork for more concrete plans about how the two nations will work together on projects that will extend all the way to include both robotic and human exploration of the Moon .
Japan was one of the earliest countries to express their intent to participate as an international partner in NASA’s Lunar Gateway project, all the way back in October 2019. Since then, a number of countries and agencies have expressed similar support, including Canada, which will contribute by building a third version of its Canadarm, the robotic manipulator that has been used on the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station, and the European Space Agency.
This new agreement formalizes that arrangement, and from here you can expect both parties to begin to detail in more specificity what kinds of projects they’ll collaborate on. Japan has plans to launch a robotic space probe mission to the moons of Mars and return samples from Phobos, its largest natural satellite, with a launch schedule for 2024, and it has launched a lunar orbiter exploration spacecraft called SELENE, and is planning a lunar lander mission dubbed the ‘Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) for 2022 that will be its first lunar surface mission.
Brandon Byrne is the CEO and co-founder of Opera Event, a technology platform that connects content creators, teams and sponsors to one another programmatically and at scale. He was previously the CFO of Team Liquid and VP of Finance and Administration at Curse.
I recently sat on a panel for gaming website Pocket Gamer that was focused on esports and the Olympics. We were debating whether esports were filling the gap in sporting events, including the Olympic games, which have been paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was an interesting conversation that started out like most esports panels. The only difference here is that instead of the typical question, “When will esports catch up to traditional sports?” it was, “Will esports become mainstream enough to make it into the Olympics?” A slightly different question, but the same sentiment: The international games are one of televised sports’ marquee events, and esports companies hope to earn a seat at the grown-up’s table.
I doubt it would surprise anyone to learn that the average age of almost all traditional sports viewership skews older than esports’ audience. Even then, I think the actual data will be quite surprising. Only one professional sport (women’s tennis) actually saw its average viewers age come down in the last decade or so. Even in that context, the average age of a Women’s Tennis Association home spectator is 55 years old.
The average age of esports viewership looks to be around 26 years old. Think about that from a marketer’s perspective. Traditional sports are just missing young people, by a wide margin.
Where are the kids?
But there are more factors at play than just a lack of interest from millennials and Gen Z driving this trend: There’s also a question of access.
The IOC made the decision in recent years to stream the Olympics (the way most younger people consume content), but it capped the ability to watch online to 30 minutes if viewers didn’t sign in with their cable company (a relationship many millennials don’t have) to continue watching.
Additionally, the IOC made the laughable decision to “ban” GIFs with the press covering the event, which qualifies as one of the more stupid things a governing body has ever tried to do. First, it won’t work. Secondly, and more to the point, it demonstrates how out of touch the IOC is with the ways in which media has evolved in the last 20 years.
However, unlike the Olympics, where no corporation owns the rights to volleyball or the pole vault, all esports companies own the IP associated with the game itself. That means, by default, the IOC would not have carte blanche when making decisions about how to represent the games, programming, licensing rights and other factors it has enjoyed for a long time.
Finally, it’s worth noting that the IOC doesn’t like the idea of “violent” games being added to the Olympic roster. It would prefer to see current sports transformed into virtual competitions. But anyone who knows anything about esports understands that this isn’t how esports works. Before a game ascends to esports royalty, it needs to be a good game. If nobody plays it, it’s unlikely anyone will want to watch it.
Secondly, it has be digestible as a viewing experience. World of Warcraft Arena is a game that draws a lot of players, but it’s almost impossible to know what is going on unless you’re an expert at the game or you have a godly shoutcaster who can translate the on-screen action. You can’t make track and field an esport and hope audiences will want to watch.
The IOC Solution
The IOC has taken steps to try and stave off declining youth viewership trends by adopting sports considered “young” in the past few years. Five sports recently added to the Olympic games include:
The baseball/softball addition notwithstanding, I think you would have to live under a rock if you thought that competitive sport climbing held a candle to Fortnite or League of Legends in terms of generating youth interest. Frankly, this seems like an idea that came from an old person trying to find a way to “get the kids back.”
To the IOC’s credit, it has begun to hold panels and conferences with esports experts and game publishers, but the deals that will come from these will look REALLY different than what they are used to. It seems to me that we have a long way to go here.
For my part of the panel, I argued that the Olympics need esports much more than esports need the Olympics. Media companies are only going to overpay for broadcasting rights for traditional sports for so long. At some point, someone is going to notice that the “inside the demo” group isn’t there and move on.
The thing that esports CAN get from the Olympics is understanding a better way to monetize its audience, something that the Olympics do well and esports doesn’t do well right now. A report from Goldman Sachs shows the audience size and monetization based on that audience, showing that esports dramatically underindex on monetization relative to their more established sports league equivalents. It is clear that esports is immature from a monetization perspective and, while the Olympics aren’t on this chart, I would assume that it punches WAY above its weight, much like MLB does, trading on its reputation more than on actual results these days.
The IOC should act fast, though. It won’t be long until esports figures this whole thing out and once they do, the Olympic games won’t have anything to offer this emerging media powerhouse.
Tyler Cracraft is an electronic engineer turned solution architect at Advantech who has more than a decade of experience working in the electronics technology industry.
If you’re a business owner or investor and are wondering about the long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the business world, you’re not alone.
Today’s business leaders have been plunged into the deep end of telecommuting with little notice, and the way we do business has been impacted at almost every level. Travel is restricted, meetings are virtual and delivery of goods and even raw materials is being delayed. While some industries that depend on large gatherings are seeing extremely difficult challenges due to the pandemic, others such as the tech industry, see the opportunity and responsibility for innovation and growth.
As many states begin phased reopening, companies are trying to determine what the workplace and business environment will look like in a post-quarantine world. The first obvious step is the integration of personal protective equipment (PPE). Sanitization and face masks will become required and nonessential face-to-face meetings will be a thing of the past, along with shaking hands.
Additionally, relationship-driven careers such as sales and recruiting will have to find new ways to connect to be successful. Physical distancing rules will have to be established, which may include employees coming in alternate days while telecommuting the other days of the week to keep offices at reduced capacity. Large offices of 10 or more may implement thermographic camera technology for fever screening or other real-time technology-based health screenings.
One thing is for sure: IoT devices that enable physical distancing will become an integral part of reopening businesses, facilitating sales connections and embracing a different way of living.
Solutions for physical distancing
There are a variety of IoT devices available that can help business leaders successfully implement physical distancing in their offices. Thermographic camera technology coupled with facial recognition can create a baseline for each employee and then assist in determining if an employee has a temperature outside of their norm. Other remote health monitoring may also take place with healthcare providers, helping employees determine on a daily basis if they are well enough to go into work.
Statespace has today raised a $15 million Series A financing round led by Khosla, with partner Samir Kaul joining the board. Existing investors, such as FirstMark Capital, Lux and Expa, also participated in the round, as well as newcomer June Fund.
Statespace launched out of stealth in 2017 with a product called Aim Lab, which recreates the physics of popular FPS games to help players practice their aim and work on their weaknesses. Statespace was founded by neuroscientists from New York University, and goes beyond the mechanics of aim itself to understand and measure several parts of a player’s game, from visual acuity across the quadrants of the screen to reaction time.
Anyone from an average gamer to a professional can use Aim Lab to improve. But the company has other offerings, too. The company is working on the Academy, which will launch in Q3 of this year, and was built in partnership with MasterClass and a number of top streamers. Users can get advanced tutorials from these streamers, which include KingGeorge (Rainbox Six Siege), SypherPK (Fortnite), Valkia (Overwatch), Drift0r (CoD) and Launders (CS:GO).
Statespace has also partnered with the Pro Football Hall of Fame to develop the “Cognitive Combine.” Just like the NFL Combine measures general skills and abilities, such as speed, strength, agility, etc., the Cognitive Combine is meant to give a general assessment of a player’s skill in a game-agnostic manner.
The company also works directly with esports teams such as 100 Thieves and Philadelphia Fusion, building custom data dashboards and products so those teams can get a deeper look at their metrics and build practice regimes around their weaknesses.
Statespace is also sprinting to make its products more available to a broader user base, including launching a mobile version of Aim Lab and introducing Aim Lab on Xbox, with plans to launch PlayStation support soon. The company also plans to launch support for 400 games next month.
Interestingly, the technology behind Statespace, which lets the company measure well beyond the kill:death ratio and look at cognitive ability, can be used for many other applications. The company has applied for a grant alongside several universities to work on a commercial application for stroke rehabilitation.
Statespace will use the funding to continue growing the team, which has doubled since raising $2.5 million in August of 2019. The company has also brought on a few notable hires from bigger companies, including new VP of Engineering Scott Raymond (formerly of Gowalla, Facebook and Airbnb), Jenna Hannon as VP of Marketing (formerly of Uber, Uber Eats) and Phil Charm as VP of Growth (formerly of Checkr, Gainsight).
According to founder and CEO Wayne Mackey, Statespace has 2 million registered users and 500,000 monthly active users, up 400% from January.
The NFL’s Thursday Night Football is returning to stream on Amazon. The companies announced today they’ve renewed their agreement, which will allow Amazon Prime Video to offer a live, digital stream of Thursday Night Football to a global audience through the 2022 season. This time around, the NFL and Amazon also announced a new deal allowing Amazon to exclusively stream one NFL game globally on Prime Video and Twitch for each of the next three seasons.
Amazon and the NFL have been partnered on streaming Thursday Night Football since 2017, initially with a one-year deal that was said to be valued at $50 million. The companies renewed that agreement in 2018 for two more years, valuing each season at $65 million (or $130 million in total).
The terms of this new deal weren’t disclosed, but an initial report from CNBC claims the deal price has been upped once again. That makes sense, of course, given the new agreement is not only arriving two years later but also now includes an exclusive game.
Over time, the audience for the NFL games has grown slightly. The 2019 Thursday Night Football games delivered an average audience of 15.4 million viewers across all properties (broadcast, cable and digital), up 4+% from the 2018 games.
Digital streams in 2019 surpassed an average minute audience of over 1 million, up 43% year-over-year (729K). This includes the streams across Prime Video, Twitch, NFL digital, FOX Sports digital and Verizon Media mobile properties. (Note: TechCrunch’s parent company is owned by Verizon).
Viewers will be able to stream the 11 Thursday Night Football games broadcast by FOX through the Prime Video and Twitch websites and apps across living room devices, mobile phones, tablets and PCs. That makes the games available to Amazon Prime’s more than 150 million worldwide users in over 200 countries and territories, Amazon notes.
But Amazon won’t be the only place to watch most of these games.
The games are also broadcast by FOX in Spanish on FOX Deportes, and will be simulcast on the NFL Network. This continues the league’s “Tri-Cast” strategy, which includes a combination of broadcast, cable and digital distribution.
Meanwhile, Amazon’s exclusively streamed game isn’t a Thursday Night Football game, but instead is a regular season game played on a Saturday in the second half of the season. This game will also be televised over-the-air in the participating teams’ home markets.
As before, the digital streams will include access to Amazon features like X-Ray and Next Gen Stats powered by AWS. Prime members can pick from either the FOX or FOX Deportes broadcast and from a range of alternative audio options exclusive to Prime Video.
Amazon and the NFL will also collaborate on additional content and fan viewing experiences around the game streams in the future.
“As our relationship has expanded, Amazon has become a trusted and valued partner of the NFL,” said Brian Rolapp, chief media and business officer for the NFL, in a statement. “Extending this partnership around Thursday Night Football continues our critical mission of delivering NFL games to as many fans in as many ways as possible both in the United States and around the world,” he added.
A 9-year-old is smashing the shuttle far and wide, and frantically pacing back and forth on the court in Bangalore, India, as her competition refuses to back down. Her rival is not a human. She is playing against a machine that is mimicking the game of badminton legend P.V. Sindhu, toned down a few notches to adjust for the age difference.
By the court, her father, Jayanth Kolla, is watching the game and taking notes. Kolla is a familiar name in the tech startup and business ecosystem in India. For the last eight years, he has been helming the research firm Convergence Catalyst, which covers mobility, telecom, AI and IoT.
When his daughter showed interest in badminton, Kolla rushed to explore options, only to realize that the centuries old sports could use some deep tech.
He reached out to a few friends to explore if they could build a device. “I have always wondered how a younger version of players who have made it to the professional arena must have played like,” he said in an interview.
Months later, they had something better.
Kolla founded Sensate Technologies last year and has hired many industry experts and data scientists from Stanford, MIT, and India’s IIT. Sensate is building solutions on deep technologies such as AI, ML, advanced analytics, IoT, robotics and blockchain.
In the last year, the bootstrapped startup has developed seven prototypes, five of which are for sports. It holds eight patents. Which brings us back to the court.
One of the prototypes that Sensate has built is the machine that Kolla’s daughter is playing against. In a recent interview, he demonstrated how Sensate was able to accurately map how a player moves on the court and goes about smashing the shuttle by just looking at two-dimensional videos on YouTube and mobile camera feed. This has been built using Computer Vision AI.
It then fine tunes the gameplay in accordance with the age difference, which is input into a machine that can now mimic that player to a great level, said Kolla.
“The best part about deep technology solutions and platforms is that you build solutions on these technologies to solve a problem in a particular sector and with very little incremental effort, they can solve problems in a completely different sector,” he said.
Kolla, a former product manager at Motorola and Nokia, among other companies, said the startup is also in discussion with one of the world’s biggest companies that is looking to license its tech for their healthcare stack. “This validates our approach.” He declined to name any potential clients as the talks have not materialized yet.
Like baseball, cricket relies on grass, dirt, wood, cork, spit, spin, drop and rise en route to either victory or loss. And like baseball — and just about any other sport, really — cricket coaching staffs and their players worldwide are looking for more ways to track every move.
Tracking statistics is nothing new. With each action, a player produces a stat that can be used to track improvement or struggle over a given period of time. But as players get stronger and stakes — financial and otherwise — get higher, a need for more specific data is proving necessary.
India-based SeeHow transforms sports equipment into sensors to do just that, and it does so without having to alter anything on the athlete’s body. Its sensors are baked into cricket balls and bat handles to track very specific types of data that batsmen and bowlers generate. And tracking the behavior of a bowled ball and where and how it lands on a bat all play a role in the story of cricket.
“Putting the sensor inside the ball or bat handle where the action is happening is when you can capture data fundamentally at a higher accuracy,” says Dev Chandan Behera, founder and CEO of SeeHow . “Most MEMS [micro-electro-mechanical systems] can measure up to 2,000 degrees per second, i.e about 300+ RPMs. International spinners like Shane Warne can spin the ball up to 3,000 RPMs. This is something we are able to capture.”
To obtain data, a trainer first assigns a bowler and/or a batsman in the accompanying Android app before a session. (Behera says an iOS app is due this year.) During play, each action is captured in near real time for each corresponding player.
For bowlers, the sensor tracks speed, spin, seam position or orientation, and length — where the ball lands on the pitch. For batsmen, the sensor tracks swing speed and angle, where it hits on the bat, what kind of deliveries they played, what their responses were to a particular delivery and the velocity of the ball off the bat.
This data is then streamed in real time and can be read by players and coaches alike on the app. The app retains a history of a player’s progress in order to make any necessary adjustments and to track improvements.
“In bat on ball sport or racquetball sport, you’re doing something in response to the pitcher or your opponent, and that’s something we’re able to capture into a single system,” Behera says. Because both the data from the batter and the bowler are streaming to a single system, he adds, the app is able to tell users what the reaction time is.
Behera grew up playing cricket with the intention of improving enough to ensure his rise through the ranks.
“Growing up we would use chalk, cones or a sheet of A4 paper as markers during play to assess how we bowled,” Behera says of his early years. “A coach would use a slate to mark the number of balls bowled and selection would be based on whether you had his attention in that particular window when he happened to look at you playing. You might just have a bad day and not get selected to the next level.”
After moving to Singapore, Behera continued competing in the sport, and says he was exposed to more tools and more methodical training approaches.
“We used to record videos through mobile phone cameras and compare them to videos on YouTube or show it to our seniors or coaches for tips,” he says. “However, the process was very ad hoc, and without any data and science to it, it was subjective. We never improved and made it as cricketers.”
His experience building robots, combined with his cricket playing, prompted him to consider using a ball as a way to glean data to help improve cricketers’ performances.
“It occurred to me that we could address this issue by bringing in a new perspective to the ball itself. The experience of building such complex hardware helped me gauge the challenges we needed to build a sports operating system that will enable sensors in the field of play to provide this holistic learning experience in cricket.”
Behera says SeeHow’s sensors are being used at 12 cricket academies in nine countries. First-class cricketer Abhishek Bhat is a fast bowler whose speed topped at 120km. He writes that after two weeks, he was able to push his pace into the mid 130s:
However, it wasn’t until SeeHow came into the picture that I was able to get a consistent measurement of my bowling speed, session after session and day after day. I cannot overstate the impact bowling with the smart ball has had on my bowling speed.
I had my first bowling session with the smart ball in early November and I was bowling in the mid-120s, barely getting above 130kmph. Then with some technical adjustments in a couple of weeks time, I was consistently bowling close to the 130 kmph mark. It was then that I realized that bowling fast is more than just about technique, it’s about the mindset.
SeeHow isn’t the only company trying to improve the way cricketers train.
A company called StanceBeam has developed a system that, among other things, provides session insights, the power generated from a swing, angles and directions of a swing and a 3D analysis of a batsman’s swing. It does so through a hardware extension that players attach to the ends of their bats and that relays data via an app.
Microsoft is also in the game of cricket analysis. The company partnered with star India cricketer Anil Kumble and his company Spektacom to enhance the reach of its sensor, which is designed to help better engage fans and broadcasters through the use of embedded sensors, artificial intelligence, video modeling and augmented reality. The company’s first offering is a smart sticker for bats that contains sensor tech designed to track batting behavior that is readable via an app.
As cricket starts to find an audience beyond the Commonwealth countries and continues to draw big dollars, look for tech to play a bigger role in attracting and maintaining audiences and players.
For SeeHow, cricket is just the beginning.
“Baseball is a very natural extension to cricket if you look at how the sport is played and the equipment,” Behera says. “And we have also done mixed martial arts with sensors in the gloves.”
The company has filed for five patents, one of which, Behera says, is around the construction of the ball, specifically in order to be able to hold the vibrations.
“We have mounted the sensor in the sports equipment at the core and introduced a protective material to cushion the sensor from impact and vibration,” he says. “The patent captures the construction of the ball that mounts the sensor and introduces the protective material in a novel manner to be able to capture the motion data at the core.”
As it scales, SeeHow will look to license the hardware to equipment manufacturers and become a platform company. SeeHow is funded through a friends and family round and is currently in search of seed funding.