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Viridian Equity Partners and investor Gayle Jennings-O’Byrne led the new round. The funding comes in addition to the $3 million that Pllay raised in November, when it announced that it raised money from James McGuckin’s Screen Play Ventures and other angel investors including NBA All-Star Bradley Beal, Obsidian Works head Chad Easterling, and GE Power Portfolio CEO Russell Stokes.
The Philadelphia company will use the money to hire people, improve its user experience, develop tech, and accelerate user acquisition. So far this year, new matches played have increased tenfold, new registered users have doubled, and the average wager size per match has increased to over $20, said CEO Shawn Gunn said in an interview with GamesBeat.
“What really drew them to us is our perspective on gaming from a monetization layer, and how that connects into a lot of their relationships with brands, in particular, quick service franchises,” Gunn said. “Part of our roadmap is around not just the wagering aspect, but we believe in finding a multitude of ways to reward gamers as they’re in a match. And so part of that outside of the wagering piece is to pull mainstream brands into that conversation helps that helps the users.”
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The team created a peer-to-peer wagering platform on a mobile phone, where players wager on matches played on other platforms. This kind of skill-based play, which is not considered gambling because it doesn’t have purely random results, is legal in 39 states now. Pllay has hundreds of thousands of users now.
The industry has a lot of competing platforms, but Gunn said that his company has figured out how to verify who won a match in a 1-on-1 duel.
In the past, it was too easy for one player to fail to pay on the wager. But Gunn said Pllay can monitor a match on Twitch with AI and then determine which of the two players won. And after holding the money in escrow before the match, it can make immediate payment as soon as verification is complete.
“We wanted to clean that friction up,” Gunn said. “We can certify the winner.”
Pllay targets only people who are 18 or older with its mobile app, and it runs checks on people ahead of time when they put money into the system. The company abides by anti-money laundering laws to fight against fraud. (This is technology that online gambling sites also use.) Pllay also removes any minors who try to get into matches.
“We help the brands find ways to have a one to one conversation with this really tough demographic when it comes to attracting and engaging,” Gunn said. “They were super interested in our perspective of going after the amateur competitive gaming market. There’s a high level of consumerism in that audience.”
When someone wins, they get 100% of the funds wagered, as Pllay doesn’t claim a fee. But it can make money through advertising and brand partnerships.
Pllay’s AI computer vision specializes in real-time monitoring of matches, making it a kind of virtual referee that certifies wins and losses and creates a safe environment for gamers to wager with confidence while removing any concerns they won’t get paid, Gunn said.
Currently, players can wager on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Madden 21, FIFA 21, NBA 2K21, and Fortnite on Xbox and PlayStation consoles. Compatibility with more titles will be announced soon.
Gunn has 20 years of experience in venture-backed startups and enterprises. He has had five exits over the years that generated $1 billion in value. Christine Krzyzanowski, a 15-year veteran in brand strategy, said in an interview with GamesBeat that she was glad to have the support of a female investor.
Jennings-O’Byrne, the investor in the new round, is the general partner of the WOCstar Fund, which focuses on women-led businesses.
“On the female initiative side, you hear a lot about women starting to break barriers in the esports and gaming,” said Krzyzanowski. “We really focus on the casual amateur gamer too. So to see women supporting other women and funds supporting other women is very important.”
Pllay has about 20 people.
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