Billionaire Mark Cuban has placed a bet on Unikrn, a startup that lets users gamble on esports videogame competitions, as part of a $7 million funding round led by venture-capital firm Binary Capital.
The round, which brings Unikrn to a total of $10 million raised, was joined by investors including Advancit Capital, Freelands Group, 500 Startups, Indicator Ventures and Tabcorp, an Australian wagering and media company.
Unikrn’s platform provides betting — in territories where it’s legal — on multiplayer videogame tournaments for titles including “League of Legends,” “Dota 2,” “Counter-Strike” and “Heroes of the Storm.” An estimated 27 million people watched the 2014 “League of Legends” world championship finals, according to the tournament’s organizer, bigger than the TV audiences for the final game of Major League Baseball’s World Series last fall (23.5 million) and the 2015 NBA Finals (23.2 million). The company also cited the growth of Amazon.com’s Twitch game-casting service, which served an average of 16 billion minutes of live gaming streams last year.
“Hundreds of companies every year try to get me to invest, whether on ‘Shark Tank’ or off-camera,” Cuban said in a statement. “However, I only put my money and my name on the companies that I feel will be successful, truly advance an industry and have a leadership team that I respect. Unikrn fits all these requirements… As a sports fanatic and owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, I’m excited to be involved with a new sport just as it’s poised for huge growth.”
Unikrn was co-founded by CEO Rahul Sood, who created VoodooPC, a computer designed to play videogames that was acquired by Hewlett-Packard in 2006. Before starting Unikrn, he was general manager of Microsoft Ventures. “With the help of our other amazing investors, our vision of bringing safe and legal wagering on esports to consumers around the world is now well within our grasp,” Sood said.
The startup’s lead investor, Binary Capital, was formed by Jonathan Teo and Justin Caldbeck, who at previous firms made early investments in such companies such as Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and Whisper.
“Millions of people watch competitive gaming globally, (and) we believe the industry has hit an inflection point and this is just the tip of the iceberg for where this new sport can go,” Teo said in a statement. “We fully believe in the Unikrn executive team, what they are building, and their vision of how they want to heighten people’s engagement with eSports across all mediums.”
Seattle-based Unikrn, founded in November 2014, has 19 employees. The company said it will release a new version of Unikrn Arena, which lets users watch and bet on esports matches, in the first few weeks of July. Unikrn has partnerships with CBS Interactive, HP, Logitech, Razer and Tabcorp.