GamesBeat: Were you guys more interested in Ethereum for any particular reasons? Do smart contracts have a use for you guys?
Sood: Many of the smart contracts have vulnerabilities in them. When we built our token-selling platform, we did it without smart contracts. We did ourselves with our own secure platform using Ethereum, using ERC20, but we didn’t use the typical smart contract because they had some vulnerabilities because people could get tokens off of the smart contract.
And then, at the same time, we didn’t want just anybody participating in our token sale. We had things like anti-sanctions bouncing built in, individual names that couldn’t participate. With a typical ICO, anyone can send Ethereum to any address and get tokens in return. We didn’t allow that. We had to know who people were, where they were coming from, that sort of thing.
We use Ethereum because we believe in the future of Ethereum. We think companies will eventually only go on Ethereum. We think all the noise we saw last year, some of the stuff that we see now, will be cleared up as people get smarter and exchanges change their processes and so forth.
GamesBeat: Who are your competitors right now in this market?
Sood: I don’t want to sound arrogant, but there are none. None of the others in the space actually have a working product. There’s a bunch of people who call themselves esports companies who are doing ICOs, but they don’t have a token that has usage. They’re just raising money in the hopes that dumb people will buy their tokens. It’s a shame that that’s happening, but you have companies like that on the major exchanges.
We’re a company. As I mentioned, we’re venture backed. We got started in 2014. We have users all around the world. We have a working platform. We have people using Unikoin Gold today. We have licenses in places like Malta and the Isle of Man. You’ll see more usage for Unikoin in the coming months.
GamesBeat: Did you take note of some of these things where people are trying to do alternative app stores, whether that’s a good use of blockchain?
Sood: I do think it’s an interesting use of crypto. What’s cool about Unikrn Wallet is that anyone attempting to do something around crypto can just use our wallet and accept Unikoin Gold. As long as they’re approved by us, they can use it for anything related to gaming and esports. Companies out there are trying to build these alternative app stores. We’ve been approached by a couple to see if we’d allow them to accept Unikoin Gold in trade for games and things like that. I do think there’s an opportunity there. We’ll probably see more of that in the coming months.
GamesBeat: What do you think is going to be the most disruptive thing about crypto or blockchain?
Sood: I look at this, and I think about anything that requires transparency and trust. I look at the banking sector. Certainly, anything related to commerce where you need transparency. KYC and AML controls are much better if you build a proper blockchain than they are with fiat currency. You can see people’s wallets and follow where things are going. I also think things like health care for example — there’s not a lot of good disruptive applications in health care yet, but as patients become the stewards of their own medical data, blockchain technology is unreal.
I do believe that the sector we’re in — we’re on the cutting edge of esports and crypto, two major industries. We’re way ahead of the game. We have a two-year head start on anyone else.
GamesBeat: Is this where you think it will impact the gaming industry the most?
Sood: This is a great way for indie developers to get their titles exposed. For example, we can promote new indie games to new users. We can send our users to play their games. That’s one thing. You can eliminate the need for a publisher if it’s done properly. Obviously, I’m a big believer in the betting side of things. In a regulated market, doing it responsibly, there’s a bunch of over-18 gamers that like this stuff. They’re willing to place a bet on a game of skill. And there are plenty of applications in the transaction model.
GamesBeat: We’re getting to some of your news here. Can you tell me more about the broadcasting thing you’re doing?
Sood: When Unikrn started, we created a studio in Berlin where we were doing esports content, video content. We also do written content, which you can see at news.unikrn.com. We focus on building quality written and video content around esports.
We recently built a studio in Las Vegas. It’s going to be really cool. We have a temporary one right now, and we’re building the permanent one as we speak. DJ Skee, the guy that started Dash Radio, he came to one of our events during CES, saw our studio, and really likes what we’re doing. We decided to strike a deal. We’re going to create regular podcasts each week and distribute them through the Dash Radio network. That goes to millions of users through multiple car manufacturers and things like that. He was a big distribution engine, and he’s a popular person himself.
This is a first for us, facilitating that content, but we’re creating Unikrn Radio, which is going to be all about crypto and esports, two of the bleeding-edge industries. There’s a lot of interest in what we do, so we’re going to bring in special guests in the crypto space, the gaming space, and the esports space to talk about those subjects. I’ll be involved. I’ll be one of the hosts of the show. I like talking to people. We have Kingsley Edwards as well, who works at Unikrn, as another [host]. We’ll be bringing in all types of people in the industry to come talk to us.
GamesBeat: Are you finding that people in more mainstream parts of the game industry are getting interested in what you’re doing?
Sood: Oh, yeah. At the beginning, when we started the company, people weren’t sure if they wanted to talk to us at all because of the wagering side of the business. But over time, people have become a lot more open. We’re more than just a betting company. We’re a way for game developers to look at new ways of monetizing their games and exposing their games. People are taking us more seriously, which is nice. They’re willing to have conversations with us. We’re a little over three years old now, and we’ve built a pretty strong brand for ourselves.
GamesBeat: I guess there are still quite a few game companies that still draw a line around gambling, though?
Sood: Right. That’s why, when I talk about Unikrn, I say that we’re the Disneyland of esports. Disney has cruise ships with casinos on them, but they also have their theme parks where there’s no such thing. We’re the same way. Most of what we do is not related to betting. We’re in markets like Korea and across Asia where online gambling is completely prohibited, and we don’t allow it from there. You can’t bet with Unikoin Gold in any markets like that, skill or not skill. In the U.S., soon you’ll be able to use Unikoin Gold for different types of regulated betting, but there are lots of other things you can do on the platform.
On that note, game developers a few years ago didn’t want to talk about this. Some of them were ambivalent, and some were completely against it. But now, they’re starting to explore the possibilities, knowing that their demographic is getting older and many of them want to do this. It’s a way to increase the engagement of their games. They’re starting to look at it now and consider whether it might be a benefit.
GamesBeat: As far as the more mainstream parts of your business, can you predict where that’s going to be in the next few years?
Sood: Everything we do around esports is going to be mainstream. Esports are getting more popular. Traditional sports are becoming less relevant. If you look at the PGA Tour, the average age of a fan [is] 69 years old. Major League Baseball, the average fan is 55. Traditional sports fans are dying, and esports fans are being born. Everything we do is going mainstream. Whether that’s our token, using our token on the platform or using it across other platforms, or whether that’s just learning about esports through our content. It’s all becoming mainstream.
It’s going to be interesting to see what happens to our company a year from now, 18 months from now. Our growth has been incredible so far.
GamesBeat: As far as the money raised through this process, what’s the best use for that?
Sood: We sold about 130 million Unikoins during our token sale and collected something in the range of 112,000 Ethereum. That said, we haven’t really sold any of it. We look at this as an opportunity to make acquisitions in the space. If there are any interesting companies, we’re considering a fund. Given my Microsoft Ventures days, I have a lot of experience there. I’m always open to incubating interesting ideas that are relevant to what we do. We’ll see.
For the moment, we have enough money to continue building the business the way we’re going. We have a whole bunch of new products that are coming out around the corner. We’re releasing new updates to our existing products. We’ll see where it goes. But our number one thing is trying to cater to our customers and make them love our platform even more.
GamesBeat: How much usage are you seeing, how many users overall?
Sood: There are certain things we share and certain things we don’t share. The betting side of the business is highly competitive. But what I will say is that we have about 4 million active users in our community. On top of that, we have — our Unikrn Wallet is used in nearly 200 countries. More than 50 percent of the people who buy Unikoins are customers, which is pretty good. The rest are speculators or people backing us, helping us build our platform, but it’s more than 50 percent users, and that’s growing.
GamesBeat: Do you guys find that hardcore gaming fans are your bread and butter?
Sood: They really are. We’re still only PC. We’re heavily PC-centric, although the tournaments that we’re running at the MGM Grand are on PS4. The PC guys are the hardcore, the ones that like to buy virtual items, that like to buy hardware. They’re more tech-savvy when it comes to things like crypto.
When we created the Unikoin and we were debating when we’d start putting it on blockchain and turn it into crypto, we interviewed our customers and asked them, “Hey, are you familiar with wallets and things like that?” Most of our customers already had wallets and were very aware of crypto. We’re in the ideal market. Our customers get it.
I think many other tokens are trying to solve problems in areas where they have a real issue getting people to adopt crypto. That’s still very difficult. I don’t know if you’ve tried to buy and sell bitcoin and exchange it for cash, but it’s still very hard to do. There are plenty of problems to be solved in the space, but it’s nice that our customers are into the future. They love this stuff.
GamesBeat: It’s very different from the days at HP and Microsoft, I’m sure.
Sood: [Laughs] A big change from HP, no doubt. It’s been interesting. I’m sure you’ve been watching HP with the Omen and things like that. Getting involved with Maingear has been nice because it brings back what I loved in the past. Some of the stuff we’re doing with Maingear is pretty awesome. You’ll see more about that in the near future. And I was involved with Vrvana, the VR company. I helped them do their first raise, and they recently sold to a big company in Cupertino. I’ve been heavily involved in AR, VR, and gaming, even during my time at Microsoft and HP. I just wanted to get back in the space, which is why I started Unikrn.