Recreating sports experiences with Game Theory

In the latest episode of our Tech Trailblazers series, India Business and Trade engaged in a captivating conversation with Sudeep Kulkarni, founder of Game Theory. Kulkarni’s venture is revolutionising the recreational sports industry by merging sports with cutting-edge technology to create an immersive, gamified experience. The discussion began with Sudeep Kulkarni sharing the inspiration behind founding Game Theory and its focus on enhancing recreational sports through technology.

The discussion highlighted their innovative use of smart courts and data analytics. Finally, Kulkarni discussed the vast potential of the recreational sports market and Game Theory’s strategic plans for expansion and growth.

Sudeep Kulkarni

IBT: Can you tell us about the story behind the founding of Game Theory? What inspired you to create this company, and what niche in the market are you trying to fill?

Sudeep Kulkarni: Before starting Game Theory, I founded Tribe Fitness in 2013, a pioneering venture in the group exercise fitness business. Our goal was to make fitness exciting by creating group exercise-only programs to get people moving. However, we quickly realised that no matter how exciting we made fitness, people stuck around for only three months before dropping off.

We understood that fitness, inherently, is a boring activity. The question was, how do we make it exciting? Sports, on the other hand, are exciting. So why hasn’t it taken off? Initially, we thought infrastructure was a common problem, but by 2019, Bangalore had 550 badminton venues with over 2,000 courts, yet peak-hour utilisation rates were only 40%. Clearly, the issue was bigger than just infrastructure.

On digging deeper, we found a subset of people within these venues who played continuously. These players had one thing in common: they played with equally skilled partners. They formed groups with a critical mass of people and made bookings for the entire year. Their perception was that when they got quality games every single time, they would play continuously.

This insight led us to think about how we could replicate this in the digital realm. Video games offer a similar experience by providing easy access to quality gameplay. So, we decided to build a video game-like experience for real sports.

Our niche is solving the problem of making sports easy to play. You don’t need to coordinate with a hundred people. We want to ensure that you have a great game every single time with just a click of a button, making sports an everyday habit for people.

IBT: Game Theory offers a variety of services. Can you walk us through the core aspects of what you do and the value proposition you deliver to your customers?

Sudeep Kulkarni: In India, building a subscription business is a big challenge, especially for tech-only products. To address this, we decided to apply our technology to venues that we take over and operate. We either take over existing venues or help create new ones with partner investors who invest in these venues while we operate them 100%. By adding our technology layer on top, we aim to solve the core problem we’re addressing.

We convert every court into a smart court, equipped with cameras, televisions, and other tech enhancements. During games, a referee calls out scores displayed on the television screens, and the cameras record the gameplay. We use computer vision analytics to analyse the game, providing data at the level a professional athlete would see. This is our unique selling proposition. We then gamify the experience to connect players and maintain their excitement, encouraging them to keep playing.

IBT: Your approach utilises computer vision and AI. Can you provide specific examples of how this technology enhances the user experience for both casual players and aspiring athletes?

Sudeep Kulkarni: To give you an example, while people are accustomed to using devices like watches that track health metrics and steps, these devices offer limited data. With computer vision, we can measure detailed aspects of your performance. For instance, we can track the types of shots you hit on the court and measure your best smash speed—something devices alone can’t do. We can provide slow-motion replays of your best shots, tally errors you made versus your friends, and pinpoint where on the court you made the most errors. This detailed data collection through computer vision allows us to give highly personalised feedback, enhancing the playing experience for our customers. This is the primary use case of computer vision for our players.

IBT: According to you, what is the potential of this sector in the world? What are the global trends that are driving the growth of this sector?

Sudeep Kulkarni: When considering the market size for our recreational play business, we initially found a mix of high and low estimates. Still, we approached it with a builder mindset, aiming to tap into the full potential of the market. Our goal is to cater to a wide range of customers, from kids to seniors, regardless of their mobility. We aim to make sports as inclusive as possible, welcoming everyone to participate.

In terms of potential, we see anyone who wants to play or is considering playing as a potential customer. While estimating the initial market size was challenging, we believe that, similar to the fitness industry, the recreational sports segment will gradually catch up and expand over time. As pioneers in this category, we envision ourselves driving this growth and reshaping the landscape of recreational sports.

IBT: Can you elaborate on your future vision for Game Theory’s growth strategy, both in terms of locations and the range of sports offered?

Sudeep Kulkarni: In India, the company focuses on increasing the monetization of venues by taking over them and operating them fully, delivering better profits to venue owners. They aim to have 100 venues in Bangalore within a year, a significant market size, but still less than 50% of the market size. The target is to expand to Bangalore, spreading the business to other cities. There are two ways to expand: the facility side of the business and the digital revenue business. The digital revenue business comes from digitally built pieces using computer vision and gamification, which generate revenue streams. This portion of the business creates smart quotes in a box, which can be shipped to any part of the world and gamified. The business continues to expand in India in one way and in a different country as a digital player only. In India, the company will continue to be a facility plus a digital player.

IBT: How do you see Game Theory’s approach influencing the relationship between esports and traditional sports in the future?

Sudeep Kulkarni: Well, esports and traditional sports are essentially two aspects of a coin. In a sense, esports has gained mass and appeal now to a very high degree. Whereas sports has its own traditional way of appealing because of the performance at the highest level, now we’re talking about bridging those two levels in between. The relationship is essentially that we take a lot from what eSports has already done and applied to traditional sports. When we see stars created out of traditional sports, not at the highest level, but at the local level, at a hyperlocal level, it’s similar to how stars are created in the eSports world.

Sudeep Kulkarni, founder of Game Theory. Kulkarni’s venture is revolutionising the recreational sports industry by merging sports with cutting-edge technology to create an immersive, gamified experience.

Leave a comment

Subscribe To Newsletter

Stay ahead in the dynamic world of trade and commerce with India Business & Trade's weekly newsletter.