Built on a gaming community set to reach more than 10 million gamers in over 100 countries worldwide in 2015, Unikrn has partnered with Tabcorp to launch a new online eSports platform where people can gather, game and safely bet on organized, sanctioned multiplayer video game competitions from around the world. At launch, Unikrn will provide access to live viewing, live discussions and competitive odds to eSports fans globally, including in the US. In addition, in legal sports betting jurisdictions, Unikrn users will be able to bet on the outcome of matches and tournaments, with further bet types to follow. The company is focusing on Riot Games’ League of Legends out of the gate and will expand to other eSports games in the near future.
Unikrn is the third company to enter the eSports arena with a gambling business model, although it’s the first to offer straight betting on video games. Vulcun and AlphaDraft are both taking a daily Fantasy ESports approach with their business model. Unikrn CEO and co-founder Rahul Sood, who, up until recently, was the General Manager of Microsoft Ventures, and previously was the founder of VoodooPC, explains why he’s literally betting on the future of eSports in this exclusive interview.
How does Unikrn differentiate itself from other eSports companies like Vulcun and AlphaDraft?
Vulcun and AlphaDraft are not betting companies, they are Fantasy. Fantasy Leagues place people together in competition pools, where they select their own team of players to compete against other peoples’ teams from within the pool. At the end of the competition, the person that has accumulated the most amount of points by successfully building a team of players that perform well, win the pool of money. In other words, nobody places a bet. They pay an entry fee to compete.
Unikrn is simple. Customers “bet against the house” on the outcome of any eSports match, all in a safe, legal and fun arena. We have global licenses for online betting through our partner Tabcorp, and together we’re working to add new legal jurisdictions.
What games are you focusing on for the betting platforms?
We will launch with League of Legends, and our initial criteria is based largely on number of players AND spectators. We’ll introduce games like Dota2, CounterStrike Global Offensive, and Starcraft 2. Other titles are in the works. Further to that, we’ll be looking for any potential AAA-rated game that is being developed with the spectator and gamers in mind.
How receptive have the game developers like Riot Games, Valve and anyone else you’re working with on this new platform?
The eSports betting industry is in its infancy, so developers, publishers and gamers are watching this industry rise along with us. They’re also aware of illegitimate operators looking to take advantage of and exploit the early market. Unikrn is built by long-time gamers and industry veterans, and together with Tabcorp, we are committed to building the safest, best place to bet on eSports in the world.
How big do you see gambling/betting on eSports growing?
In terms of the current sports betting market that includes basketball, football, baseball and other globally recognized sports, we believe the huge community following of eSports provides a great opportunity for eSports wagering to match or exceed wagering on more traditional sports within the coming years.
What are the challenges of dealing with the younger millennial audience that follows eSports?
A big challenge is creating and designing an environment that works for everyone regardless of their taste in games. Beyond that, itâ€™s the same as any business taking on a high growth market, making sure we stay agile as a company, one that is capable of making rapid changes to suit the ever growing nature of eSports. It also helps that we all play games and that we live and love this industry every day.
How are you incorporating livestreaming into your service?
We are not a streaming company. We’re committed to integrating as many platforms as is necessary to support the needs of all our customers from Twitch to Youtube to Hitbox and more.
Why have you decided to focus on eSports?
For a shorter response you might ask, why wouldn’t you focus on eSports? I was involved with eSports back in my VoodooPC days, when it was really just starting to get noticed. Now it’s a booming industry that anyone past 30 needs to learn about. ESports combines the latest technology on the planet with media to produce real-time entertainment for a global viewing audience. In the future, it will reach the majority of all people in developed markets.
That, and the fact that we have two decades in the industry…we are excited to see eSports evolve into the global phenomenon we always believed it would be. ESports will sit front and center for future generations.
How big an eSports fan base do you have from your collection of gaming sites?
Right now we’re inching in on 10 million, but we expect to reach 20 million-plus eSport and gaming enthusiasts in the next 12 to 18 months.
What opportunities do you see for sponsors and advertising through your eSports endeavor?
We see huge opportunities for sponsors, and advertising opportunities for big brands through our Pinion network. The question we’re always asking ourselves is how can we improve gamer or spectator experiences and the eSports industry as a whole.