Abid Hussain Barlaskar

How a timely switch to game streaming put Rooter on the right track

The former sports content and fan engagement platform currently holds the top spot in the sports section of Play Store.

Rooter, for the uninitiated, is an Indian game streaming app. It currently holds the top spot in the ‘Sports’ section of Google Play Store. As per mobile intelligence firm Sensor Tower, Rooter registered two million downloads in May (2021) alone, growing at five times the pace of its rivals.

Now, a gaming app occupying the top spot in a cricket-crazy country like India is pretty significant.

In principle, Rooter works like American live streaming platform Twitch, or the game streaming section of YouTube. In the Indian app space, it competes with Loco and Turnip.

But Rooter wasn’t always like that. Its success is only recent. The platform was started in 2016 as a hotspot for sports fans. It used to provide personalised content for sports like football and cricket, encouraging fans with live commentary, videos and social listening.

In conversation with afaqs!, Piyush Kumar, founder and CEO, Rooter, says that sports content is promising, but there’s a serious issue with the sector that hindered his platform’s growth.

Sports in India is irregular, i.e., the sporting events aren’t consecutive and rely on external factors for continuity. Things came to a standstill when the COVID pandemic struck in March 2020.

Over that, Indian fans have precise preferences. The engagement and retention on the platform would dip if the Indian team wasn’t playing. The pandemic-era boom in gaming emerged as the perfect opportunity. After a few months of passive observation, the Rooter team built technology and decided to try out game streaming.

Piyush Kumar
Piyush Kumar

“The ecosystem was growing really fast around games like PUBG. We realised that gaming could solve all our problems with sports, particularly the retention and user acquisition part. It worked really well for us,” mentions Kumar.

Now, he wasn’t always an entrepreneur. He started out as an advertising executive with FCB Ulka in 2004, working on brands like Micromax, HCL and Zee Sports. Kumar moved over to the brand side, joining Dish TV in 2009. In his last marketing stint, he was head of marketing for Rado Watches.

“I didn’t take an offer from BMW because I wanted to start Rooter (in 2016).”

Speaking on the shift from an employee to a tech founder, Kumar points out three “very important” aspects of his role.

– Evolve the idea for a product market fit. “That’s a really tough part and where a lot of start-ups die.”

– Build the right team. “They are the people who’ll help you realise your dream.”

– P&L. “This is something that you don’t have to worry about when you are working for someone.”

“If you tell yourself that there is no option of going back, it’ll make everything work,” he adds.

Rooter has currently opened all the major channels of monetisation – advertising, performance marketing, sponsored e-sports events, and in-app purchases.

The monetisation plan ties back to its user-creator base. The app’s audience mainly falls in the 12-24 age group. They are students, or young professionals, mostly based in Tier-I and II cities.

The platform currently has 7.6 million viewers and six lakh creators. The users spend an average of 29.8 minutes on the platform daily. Close to 20 per cent of the creators and 15 per cent of the viewers are female.

“That TG (target group) is very difficult to get in one place... The games won’t put brands in them. That way, the brands don’t really have many options. Advertising has worked well for us. We also make a 90 per cent margin on performance marketing for the brands that are looking to get downloads and new users,” says Kumar.

Rooter’s e-sports tournaments (like Rise of Legends) have attracted sponsorship deals from brands like MX TakaTak and Shunya. On the user monetisation front, it sells platform currencies like coins, diamonds, etc., which can be either used to redeem Paytm/game vouchers, or donated to other players.

Other brands with which Rooter has worked with include CoinDCX, Future Group, Netflix, Paytm, etc.

Despite the growth and opportunity, Rooter faces competition from major streaming players like YouTube and Facebook. YouTube, with its huge reach, happens to be the largest. Facebook is yet to make a serious gaming push.

Kumar says that he does not perceive YouTube as competition, but as an ecosystem partner. He points out that most streamers start their journey on YouTube. India has more than 50 YouTube streamers, with over one million subscribers.

Kumar explains that YouTube faces a few challenges when it comes to game streaming.

“It can’t focus on, or push, new gamers. Both Facebook and YouTube have large user bases, but their algorithm pushes content that people want to watch. And, a lot of content that Indians want to watch is around movies, music and cricket. The gaming community, despite being large, is still small in comparison,” he elaborates.

Rooter even encourages its streamers to be present on YouTube. “There is an opportunity in India for a game streaming platform to grow simultaneously with YouTube,” Kumar signs off.

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