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Shawn Gunn has been waiting for gaming to get to this moment for 20 years.
He ran e-tournaments from his college dorm in the 1990s, long before esports exploded. Since then, Gunn has worked on Wall Street as a trader, at Nokia as the head of monetization and at HERE Technologies, before founding his first company, GUNN Inc, in 2008.
All the while, he watched as video games became lucrative for top competitors. And he decided to find a way to make them profitable for average gamers like himself.
Last year, Gunn founded PLLAY Labs Inc. with Christine Krzyzanowski. The video game wagering app lets users play video games like Fortnite and Call of Duty against each other for money. Since its launch in June, PLLAY has added 10,000 users, bringing its total user base to 60,000.
"Gaming has always been a big part of our demographic's life. And I think now with the ability to not just gain but derive revenue, cash from your skill level and your competitions, is going to be an interesting thesis," said Gunn. now the chief executive at the company. "We've already seen users that today are, you know, literally generating or augmenting their current revenue stream with playing matches on PLLAY. In some cases, depending on your situation, you can be doing well in those matches and paying your rent or just having extra cash in your pocket."
PLLAY Labs Inc. raised a $3 million seed round to add more games, consoles and platforms to their service. This round of funding was led by Screen Play Ventures and included investors such as NBA all-star Bradley Beal, Obsidian Works Managing Director Chad Easterling and GE Power Portfolio Chief Executive Officer and President Russell Stokes.
PLLAY uses an artificial intelligence-driven platform to monitor video game matches, detect cheating and guarantee payment to winners. It is not considered gambling under federal law because players make bets on their own performance in a skill-based game.
Gunn said there is already a lot of peer-to-peer betting happening online, with or without the app. The wagering is often informal and done through game chats, with no guarantee the other player will send money via CashApp or PayPal. PLLAY ensures that each player is paid appropriately from pooled money that PLLAY secures in escrow.
PLLAY's background check process also ensures wagering laws in users' states are honored and confirms users are 18 or older.
Beal — a PLLAY investor, two-time NBA All-Star and shooting guard for the Washington Wizards — is a gamer off the court and away from his day job, as is Easterling.
"They're both gamers, in their own regard, and they fit our profile. So they're not professional gamers, obviously, they have other really cool day jobs," said Gunn. "But they know how big the gaming market is and where it's going."
Gunn said he sought out high net-worth investors that were passionate about gaming.
"I'm not just investing in a product; I'm investing in people. I believe in supporting minority- and women-owned businesses," said Beal in a statement, adding that Gunn and Krzyzanowski "have built more than a gaming platform, they've built a diverse and creative culture at PLLAY that fuels their vision."
All of PLLAY's employees are gamers. Gunn is a longtime fan of Electronic Arts' Madden franchise and Krzyzanowski plays Epic Games' Fortnite and Activision Blizzard's Call of Duty. As a result, all three games are part of the five that PLLAY initially offered. The other two are Electronic Arts' FIFA 21 and 2K Sports's NBA 2K21.
"There's been a lot of attention on the esports sector, or part of the industry, which we really look at as the more professional level of gaming," said Gunn. "But we have always believed that there's a much bigger opportunity for what we call the competitive amateur, which are those users that gaming is not going to be their profession, but they use it as an entertainment mechanism and the ability to unwind and have some competition."
Gunn anticipates PLLAY will release five more games early next year, some chosen to attract PC gamers. He said the company receives several emails daily requesting games like Riot Games' League of Legends and Valve Corporation's Dota2.
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