[toc]Social esports competition platform Taunt announced it closed a funding round of more than $1.7 million, with participation by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s Vulcan Capital.
The Taunt platform — a spinoff of Pioneer Square Labs (PSL) in Seattle — is essentially proposition esports betting, without actual money on the line.
A closer look at Taunt
Taunt describes itself as “a social competition platform for esports fans,” using “data and machine learning to create companion experiences for fans watching broadcasts.”
That platform is a prediction-based app that asks users to answer real-time challenges while watching League of Legends matches:
The name also plays off the ability to talk smack with friends and fellow fans via the app.
“We’re looking to make watching esports a much richer experience,” PSL co-founder and interim Taunt CEO Ben Glibert said in a press release. “The status quo today is an unreadable river of chat messages and message boards. The fans deserve a real social layer with competition, reputation, and statistics to engage around the game.”
Gilbert, in part, was referring to the chat that is based on Twitch, the popular streaming platform for esports.
There are comps of free-to-play prediction-based games the world of traditional sports, such as WinView Games.
More on Taunt’s new funding round
The seed round of $1.75 million is designed to help Taunt get off the ground officially in 2017 and grow after that.
The platform itself is not yet live, but Taunt reported that it would be releasing an alpha version of the app for the 2017 League of Legends World Championship.
The platform is focusing on LoL. But there doesn’t seem to be any reason that it couldn’t be leveraged for other esports titles down the road.
Foundry Group, which was involved in the round, was also an early-stage investor in Zynga. Foundry Group’s Brad Feld said he sees a similar opportunity in Taunt.
“Zynga built social games on top of the tidal wave of social networks,” Feld said. “The phenomenon of esports provides a new frontier for similar types of interactive experiences.”
And more from Mike Galgon, another PSL co-founder:
“Esports will dwarf traditional sports in global viewership. A competitive social fabric like Taunt will be foundational to this growth as it electrifies the game experience for experts while also providing an on-ramp to esports for new fans. And, importantly, it connects all of these fans in a single experience.”
Capturing the esports fan
Taunt, like a lot of ancillary businesses to the core esports industry, is looking to engage the global esports audience that numbers in the hundreds of millions.
The main way that is being accomplished is via connecting fans and amateur players more closely to the pro competitions they are watching. One example is the partnership between ELEAGUE and Geico to “provide amateur gamers with a series of esports competitions.”
The other way is to get users engaged beyond just watching the actual pro competitions, sometimes via a second screen. Esports betting and fantasy esports are two obvious ways to accomplish that engagement. The upcoming Overwatch League is considering a fantasy esports platform. And in-play, real-time betting is gaining more traction in the betting sector.
Taunt is taking the esports betting/in-play prediction/real-time prediction model, but removes the money from it. Whether it can successfully engage fans, monetize and scale with this model will be the challenge moving forward.