Web3 gaming company Unagi today announced a €4.7 million ($5 million) seed round of funding, as the French startup prepares to expand its NFT fantasy sports platform beyond football (“soccer”) and into the basketball realm.
Unagi, which doesn’t yet have its own website, was founded out of Paris by Charlie Guillemot, son of Ubisoft co-founder Yves Guillemot and formerly studio manager at Owlient, a free-to-play game studio acquired by Ubisoft back in 2011; and Remi Pellerin, also formerly of Owlient.
Both Guillemot and Pellerin left Owlient in 2021 to kickstart Unagi, serving as co-CEOs, and launched their first game last April.
Ultimate Champions, as their inaugural title is called, allows players to create and manage their own football teams using players from multiple clubs across the continent. To date, Unagi has inked deals with some 45 clubs in Europe, including current English Premier League title contenders Arsenal, and the games within Ultimate Champions are synchronized with real matches allowing gamers to earn rewards based on their chosen players’ real-world performances.
As a self-proclaimed web3 company, these rewards include an in-game currency called Champ Tokens that can be bought, earned and spent on the platform, as well as NFTs (non-fungible tokens) in the form of digital player cards that can be collected and sold. Unagi takes a 5% commission from all financial transactions on the platform.
Unagi said that its user base has now flown past the 220,000 mark, a trajectory that led crypto giant Binance to invest $4 million in the startup back in November via its VC and accelerator off-shoot Binance Labs, though this constituted a private token sale, rather than an equity investment — Binance bought $4 million in Champ Tokens. At the same time, Binance also confirmed plans to deploy Ultimate Champions on the Binance-led BNB Chain, something that Unagi confirmed today quietly happened in late January.
Off the back of this traction, Unagi has entered into a partnership with European basketball competition EuroLeague and plans to introduce a basketball version of Ultimate Champions next month.
Its latest €4.7 million cash injection is entirely equity-based and was led by Finnish early-stage VC firm Sisu Game Ventures, with participation from Sfermion, UOB Ventures, Signum Capital, 2B Ventures, and Machame.
Previously, Unagi raised a €1.5 million pre-seed round of equity funding last April from several VCs and angels, including German international footballer Mario Götze. and in late 2021, Unagi also completed a $1.7 million private token sale from crypto-focused investors such as Polygon and GSR.
So this effectively means that Unagi has raised a total €6.1 million ($6.5 million) in equity financing, and $5.7 million through token sales.
Of its 220,000 registered users, Pelleri said that around 70,000 play actively each month — the vast majority via free-to-play, rather than paying for in-game assets. But he was quick to stress that is still very early days, and with its fresh cash injection, the company plans to grow its international team from 25 to 40 personnel, and develop partnerships with more sports clubs and leagues.
Moreover, in the future there is scope to expand beyond sports into the broader gaming sphere. What form that ultimately takes isn’t clear, whether it’s a role-playing game, first-person shooter, or something completely different.
“What’s really cool about web3 is that it’s super early, the industry hasn’t really found a compelling business model yet, there’s a lot of trial and error, a lot of experimentation,” Pelleri told TechCrunch. “Any type of existing game can be transformed into web3, because the essence of web3 gaming is ownership, of in-game assets, and that’s what we’re exploring.”