Evolve Labs is expanding beyond its PC gaming social media platform, Evolve. The company is entering the eSports arena for the first time with BlackFlag, a new paid service that will charge League of Legends teams of five a $5 entry fee to compete with other teams of similar skills for cash prizes. 

Evolve Labs is working with Riot Games and will use the League of Legends Tournament API to facilitate fair matches through BlackFlag. For now, this new service is a standalone product, but still affiliated with the Evolve collaboration platform. League of Legends players from Evolve’s 2 million users have been part of early testing and BlackFlag arenas will eventually be natively supported within Evolve.

The service will first be available to players 18 and older in 45 out of the 50 States and all of Canada, with plans to roll out globally wherever permitted by law. Adam Selke, co-founder and CEO of Evolve, talks about this entry into eSports in this exclusive interview.

adamselkeWhat did Evolve launch as originally back in 2010

Evolve was launched in 2010 with a mission to make gaming more simple, more social, and more fun. We started as a sort of Facebook for gamers that combined an in-game instant messaging app with an easy-to-use virtual private network that enabled gamers to connect and play videogames together over the internet.

How did Evolve amass this audience of 1.8 million gamers

Evolve has grown mostly through word of mouth. In January 2013 we had less than 100,000 members. Twenty-four months later we hit our first million. This year we’re doubling that.

Why did you decide to enter the eSports arena now

ESports is one of the most exciting things happening in gaming today. It’s been a huge contributing factor in the resurgence of the PC as gaming platform, and in Evolve’s growth in general. We witnessed first-hand its influence through our affiliation with Twitch and the popularity of eSports titles like League of Legends and DoTA on Evolve. We wanted to find a more immediate way to engage this market.

How did you devise BlackFlag

When we started building Evolve 2.0 we were looking for ways to incorporate eSports directly into the platform, but the costs and timelines to fully integrate the experience conflicted with other priorities. That’s when part of our team went rogue and developed BlackFlag as a more focused, standalone MVP in order to test the concept and bring it to market sooner than later. It’s been a true labor of love.

How have you worked with Riot Games in bringing League of Legends into the fold

We’ve been working with Whalen Rozelle, director of eSports at Riot and J. Eckert, their developer relations guy, on their new Tournament API. Gaining reliable access to game data direct from the source helps add to our commitment to building a high-integrity product.

What are your rollout plans for other eSports titles

There are a few titles on our radar, but there are no immediate plans to support specific titles. In short, any game with a way to ensure fair matches and honest outcomes could be supported.

Fantasy Sports has come under a lot of heat of late in multiple states. How does this offering circumvent those issues

Daily Fantasy is taking some heat, but it is also vigorously defending its legitimacy as a game of skill. That said, head-to-head competitive arenas are even further to the right of the game of chance versus game of skill debate, so even if something were to change in the Fantasy space, BlackFlag has its own relative position on it.

How much money can be won by playing a League of Legends match with this service

We’ll be testing different fee and prize structures as we roll out, but initially, prizes will be $8.50 per team, per match. There is no maximum limit.

How big an audience do you see for this service

The market is still somewhat new, and compared with Daily Fantasy Sports, still relatively small. However there are 67M LoL players, playing an estimated 30M matches a month. We thought it was a sizable enough to explore.  

How are you marketing BlackFlag

To start, we’re engaging the 250,000 members of Evolve who play League of Legends to be early testers on BlackFlag. Beyond the Evolve community we’ll be reaching out to various game-related and LoL-specific media partners, bloggers, and streamers to help us get the word out.

What are your long-term goals with this technology

We’re definitely excited about adding native instant competitive match support to Evolve. We think it will add a whole new level of excitement and engagement to the platform.