30 June 2015 - 11:30

Mark Cuban invests in esports

NBA team owner Mark Cuban just announced an investment in a different type of sport
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NBA team owner Mark Cuban just announced an investment in a different type of sport.

The billionaire, who routinely dashes the hopes of wannabe startups on the TV show Shark Tank, just invested in esports startup Unikrn (that’s unicorn, not uni-kern), a platform currently focused on betting in the growing competitive gaming industry as part of a Series A round of investment worth over $7 million.

Unikrn offers a platform to watch esports titles and bet on them—if you’re in a place where it’s legal. It's well positioned to take advantage of the growing esports phenomenon (more than 27 million people watched the League of Legends world finals last year) and help bring it to an even wider audience.

Unikrn co-founder Rahul Sood, who founded luxury gaming computer company VoodooPC in 1991 before taking over incubator Microsoft Ventures, is certainly no stranger to startups, and with Unikrn he’s off to a great start. He raised $3 million in November to get the company off the ground, and is now receiving a big cash infusion with $7 million coming from investment firm Binary Capital and millions more from what they call an “all-star group of investors,” including Cuban himself.

Outspoken owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, Cuban makes investing itself a sport on Shark Tank and believes Unikrn, which launched on April 28, can tackle the next frontier in sports.

"Hundreds of companies every year try to get me to invest, whether on Shark Tank or off camera. 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," said Mark Cuban. "The rapid growth of eSports has created an entire new category of competition and I am proud to partner with Rahul Sood and his team to help bring eSports to an even greater audience. 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."

Esports, or competitive gaming, may or may not be a sport, depending on your point of view. ESPN president John Skipper declared video game competitions were not sports in November last year, but since then the sports network has increased their esports offering on ESPN3 and even aired a live esports final on ESPN2 earlier this year. Of course, the answer to the question is immaterial—esports is a growing industry and it’s here to stay.

“Millions of people watch competitive gaming globally, 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,” Jonathan Teo of Binary Capital said. “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.”

Unikrn isn’t the first esports startup to receive a double digit round of funding this year. Fantasy esports platform Vulcun raised $12 million in April. One month later, Vulcun competitors Alphadraft announced a $5 million investment. As esports continues to grow, people are certainly taking notice—and showing it with their money.

“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.

Photo via Chris Yunker/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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