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Hearo.Live has launched its open beta for viewing esports events online in virtual rooms with your friends, and that’s happening on the heels of its $1.8 million in funding.

CEO Edward “Ned” Lerner thinks of Hearo.Live as a revival of the ancient Greek amphitheater, a place where fans can gather in the same virtual space to cheer for online esports events or otherwise participate in a shared social experience, with their real voices.

Fans can make friend groups and then log into an esports match, using Hearo.Live, which lets people speak to each other in a group, rather than type messages in an online chat as normally happens in a livestreamed gathering on Twitch. Hearo.Live is a platform that creates online groups where players can watch something together and actually hear their friends in a virtual venue.

“With esports today, game companies have created football,” Lerner said in an interview with GamesBeat. “The audience is left out. We are creating the football stadium.”

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Lerner spoke at our GamesBeat Summit 2019 event last year.

Above: A screenshot of Hearo.Live

Image Credit: Hearo.Live

A more appropriate analogy might be comparing it to a VIP suite in a stadium where friends can hang out. San Francisco-based Hearo.Live lets friends talk about or just watch livestreams on Twitch, YouTube or Mixer. They can do this on their phones, PCs or tablets, watching esports or other online events.

“We think we’re the best app to watch these an esports match or game,” Lerner said. “We’ve now added PC support, since so much esports content is consumed on the PC.”

Raising a round

Above: Edward “Ned” Lerner is CEO of Hearo.Live

The investors include 500 Startups, Harmonix creative director Alex Rigopulos, and angel investors Michael Dornbrook, Tim Chae, Ross Koningstein, Richard Melmon, Charles Martin, and Gady Nemirovsky.

Lerner has been making games for decades and is a former director of engineering on the PlayStation 4 at Sony. I met him way back when he cofounded Multitude, an early internet multiplayer gaming startup born in 1997. His game, Fire Team, was ahead of its time, with online connectivity and voice conferencing. He also served as chief technology officer for Electronic Arts’ The Sims, and he worked at Looking Glass.

“Our mission is to change watching from solo to multiplayer, starting with esports,” he said.

Hearo.Live has nine employees.

Hearo.Live also can be embedded in a web site, so media makers can recapture their own audiences. Hearo.Live has already signed a dozen esports partners including GameTree, Waves eGaming, Meta.US, Ryge, Sangal, and Jamaica esports Initiative.

To make watching as social as playing, Hearos either can join a public talk+watch party, or create a private talk+watch party and invite their friends. Instead of cramming everyone into one silent but visually noisy ‘hall’, Hearo simply gives each group of friends or fans their own “box’” within a scalable online venue, Lerner said.

How it works

Hearo.Live

Above: Hearo.Live lets you use your voice to chat with friends in a virtual room.

Image Credit: Hearo.Live

We talked inside a Hearo.Live room while watching a Counter-Strike: Global Offensive esports match. Setting up the room took a few seconds.

It worked like a conference call, and it didn’t have input delay. You can talk openly or using “push to talk” like a walkie talkie. Each room can hold around 20 or 25 people. But Hearo.Live can create lots of rooms for viewing the same event. We were viewing a match in high definition at about 60 frames per second.

The service has about 4,000 beta users now. Right now, you can watch esports broadcasts, but that will change over time.

“Esports companies have great games, but the audience is kind of a leftover,” Lerner said. “We’re doing this for them.”

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