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Meet the Latest Startup to Catch Mark Cuban's Eye

Meet the Latest Startup to Catch Mark Cuban's Eye
Image credit: REUTERS | Mario Anzuoni
3 min read
This story originally appeared on Fortune Magazine

Mark Cuban is turning his eye to the eSports world.

The entrepreneur, Shark Tank star, and owner of the Dallas Mavericks is part of a team that has invested $7 million in Seattle startup Unikrn (pronounced “Unicorn”), which offers wagering on competitive video game tournaments. The round, led by Binary Capital, brings the company’s total secured funding to $10 million.

“I did an interview with CNBC a couple of months ago and within two minutes of the interview, Mark Cuban called me,” says Rahul Sood, co-founder of Unikrn and creator of the gaming PC company Voodoo PC. “We exchanged a couple of emails back and forth and within two days he said ‘I’m in’.”

Cuban has had his eye on eSports for a while. In a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session two years ago, he said he had spoken with people in eSports and had looked at Major League Gaming. At the time, he called it “interesting,” but said he hadn’t had time to do a deep dive look at the business.

Cuban joins several other notable names who have invested in the company, including media executives Shari Redstone (daughter of Sumner Redstone) and Elisabeth Murdoch (daughter of Rupert Murdoch), says Sood, who previously served as CTO of HP’s global gaming business and founded and led Microsoft Ventures.

Unikrn was started last November and launched publicly in April. Players can bet on tournaments for games likeLeague of Legends, DOTA 2, and Counter Strike: Global Offensive. Sood says the company plans to use the money from this round to add to its staff and boost marketing and partnerships.

At present, Unikrn’s wagering services are not legal in the U.S.—the company gets most of its customers from the U.K., Ireland, and Australia. (Domestic customers can still access the site to see odds and chat.) However, Sood says the company does plan to find a way into the U.S. soon—though he won’t say how he plans to work around legal hurdles.

“If you are in the U.S., Unikrn Arena will be made available in the next month and it’s going to be awesome,” he says.

eSports has quickly been gathering an audience. Last year, 27 million people tuned in to watch the finals of the League of Legends World Championship. And on game streaming service Twitch viewers watched an average of 16 billion minutes of live gaming streams per month in 2014.

With this growing enthusiasm, Unikrn does not plan to limit itself to its current focus on wagering, says Sood. And its media-centric investors and partners may play a role in that expansion.

“There’s a lot more we’ll offer in the near future,” sais Sood. “We’re clearly partnering with these people and there’s a reason for it. And it goes above and beyond the betting side.”

Cuban, for his part, seems ready.

“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,” Cuban said in a statement. “I’m excited to be involved with a new sport just as it’s poised for huge growth.”

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