Secretive games studio Elodie stepped out of the shadows in early 2020 to knock down the barriers that stand in the way of gaming with friends across platforms. The Venice-based developer announced Thursday a $32.5 million Series A led by Andreessen Horowitz and Galaxy Interactive, while teasing scarce details about its first game.
Founded by Riot Games veterans Christina Norman and David Banks, the startup's upcoming title will be a co-op action RPG with cross-platform play. "We've been hard at work on our first game," said Banks in a blog post on the raise. "We aren't quite ready to share any details about it yet other than it's in pre-alpha and getting a seat in our daily playtests is always a race," he added.
Major gaming platforms and studios have worked to bridge the gaps that exist between their ecosystems in recent years, however these integrations are often complex and incomplete. Elodie says its games won't suffer that fate because they'll be "purpose-built for cross-play, empowering gamers everywhere to play with their friends across any platform, without ever compromising the player experience."
Brian Cho — another Riot veteran — and Chris Ovitz of Electric Ant, an L.A.-based fund, also participated in Elodie's latest funding round. Andreessen partner Jonathan Lai, a former Riot project manager, joined Elodie's board as part of the deal.
Both Banks and Norman previously worked on League of Legends, Riot's multiplayer battle arena game that was inspired in part by a mod of an earlier Warcraft title. The co-founders now lead a team of 30 and say they'll use the new funds to "sustainably accelerate development within a healthy and inclusive work environment," a nod to the many reports of widespread sexism and "bro culture" inside Riot.
Asked how Elodie intends to establish an in-house culture of inclusivity, Banks said the company is committed to doing so but offered few specifics.
"Simply put, we believe [inclusivity] is fundamental to building a modern studio that produces amazing games. This is certainly easier said than done, and we acknowledge there is no silver bullet solution," Banks said, while pointing to the startup's "thoughtful hiring practices."
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'No Matter What I’m Doing, It's Always Controversial': Cloud9's All-Women Esports Team Talks Sexism in Gaming
The belief that female players aren't tokens in esports is still a radical one. Just as dominant women's teams in traditional sports like the U.S. women's national soccer team struggle with discrimination, women in esports face online harassment and sexism.
When esports giant Cloud9 launched the first all-women team in October 2020, to compete in Riot Games' "Valorant" tournaments, its members were no strangers to misogyny on the internet.
"It's definitely hard to be on the come up if you're a new player and you're female," said Melanie Capone, one of the women on the team. "There's a lot of harassment and definitely some discrimination either consciously or even unconsciously when it comes to tier two teams on who they should pick up."
Since July of that year, Capone, Annie Roberts, Jasmine Manankil, Alexis Guarrasi and Kat had competed on their own "Valorant" team, "MAJKL," and had just won a $50,000 tournament when several companies approached them to sign. But while some esports organizations offered the female players a paltry $500 a month, Cloud9 stood out with its offerings of coaches, salaries and a manager.
"They made it clear to us that we weren't going to be a token," said Kat, speaking to dot.LA in a Zoom alongside her teammates. "They really wanted us to accomplish what we wanted to accomplish and they were willing to give us the resources."
True to their word, Cloud9 has delivered the resources: coaches, managers and salaries (though the team declined to disclose their compensation). And the women of MAJKL, whose team has since been re-christened Cloud9 White, have held up their end of the deal too. In June, they nearly swept the all-women VCT Game Changers Series 2 tournament.
As the women of Cloud9 White rise up in the ranks, they're pushing back against an environment of toxic masculinity in the gaming world. Male players often level bigoted criticism at female players or argue they're not comfortable playing with a girl, the team told dot.LA. And within the gaming workforce, women have contended with blatant sexual harassment. Last month, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing sued Activision Blizzard, the maker of "World of Warcraft" and "Diablo," for sexual harassment, low pay and retaliation against their female employees.
The members of Cloud9's all-women esports team, Cloud9 White.
Since Cloud9 White is well-known in the esports world, its team is somewhat shielded from that provocation during their games. Over the last year, they've proven their mettle against all-male teams. Cloud9 White defeated the pro-squad Renegades in January, marking a huge upset and a turning point in the conversation surrounding women in esports. Those surprising victories are the products of daily scrimmages followed by hours of video reviews, Roberts said.
"The pro community in general has a pretty positive perspective on us," Roberts said, adding that criticism more often comes from outside. "It's people who are not connected to us, it's redditors or people on Twitter, people who are really disconnected from the scene."
That collegial behavior toward Cloud9 White's team has changed when its members go on their alternative accounts, Capone added. When that happens, they either report the harassment in the game publisher Riot's DMs or through a report functionality in the game itself.
"Riot has been a really good developer because they're very hands on at tackling this issue, while other developers like Valve notably from CS Go ["Counter-Strike: Global Offensive"] will kind of ignore it and the report functionality to report in these games doesn't work," Capone said. "But with Riot they do seem to cut down and make it a more inclusive space for everyone involved."
The team has seen firsthand how sexism in esports has spawned from the narrative that women can't compete in traditional sports. Kat argues that there are fewer women in the scene not because they don't have the skills but because they aren't given the time to develop them, and are pushed out before they can rise in the ranks. When Guarrasi first started playing Counter Strike, she said there were only a handful of women competing at a high level. If Guarrasi joined a first-person shooter team and they lost, her male teammates would assume it was because they had a woman.
"Teams like us change that narrative and make it: 'maybe we have a better chance because we have a girl on our team or that gender means nothing in this game.'"
Even the presumption that trans women should not be allowed to compete on a women's team has migrated from traditional sports to esports, according to Roberts, who identifies as trans.
"Whenever I'm not performing well, nobody really cares but the second I start performing well is when people start saying it's unfair for me," Roberts said. "The criticism still carries over, I feel like it's going to carry over. No matter what I'm doing it's always going to be controversial."
Though an all-women team is a novel concept, its members are ecstatic that they can freely identify as female gamers. That wasn't the case when its members were in high school and middle school, when they had to hide their secret identity for fear that their classmates might shun them if they found out they loved gaming. When asked about how they got into esports, Capone and her teammates collectively realized it wasn't an open discussion when they were younger.
"When I look back, it was like a secret," Capone said.
In middle school, Manankil's peers had no clue she was playing CS GO for almost 6 hours a day. When Roberts was in high school, she was terrified to tell her girlfriend that she loved gaming and built her own PC. Capone remembered that she kept her gaming a secret after a popular girl at her high school was ridiculed for playing "World of Warcraft."
"I kind of sleep on the fact that it's pretty freeing to actually live our lives like this and embrace this part of ourselves," Capone said. "It's our core identity now, that we are the pioneering team in esports that are pushing the boundaries of what it means to be a girl that plays at a high level. It's very freeing to embrace that part of ourselves because in the past it was kind of suppressed."
Even after chalking up all the wins over the past few months, the team said they're still looking at a long road ahead. Most of Cloud9 White is fresh out of college or high school, but they have their sights set on competing at the highest levels of play.
"I'm in high school going into my senior year," Manankil said. "I'm pretty happy where I'm at right now, I'm sure a lot of things will happen in the future for me."
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Six gaming industry veterans have created a new game studio, Theorycraft, and closed a $37.5 million Series A round this week to help them get started.
They're looking to grow their team and develop games that are "deep, 10,000 hour games … worthy of being theory crafted," said Joe Tung, founder and chief executive, in an interview with GamesBeat. Tung was formerly the executive vice president of Riot Games' "League of Legends" franchise, where he worked on the game for seven years.
Theorycraft's team members have worked on some of the biggest titles in gaming, including "Halo," "League of Legends," "Valorant," "Overwatch" and "Team Fortress 2." The team is comprised of Chief Technical Officer Michael Evans, who was formerly distinguished engineer and technical lead for "Valorant" at Riot, and Chief Creative Officer Mike Tipul, who founded Marauder Interactive and formerly worked at Bungie. Riot veterans Moby Francke and Areeb Pirani serve as Theorycraft's art director and chief operating officer, respectively.
Eventually, Tung wants the team to expand to 30 or 40 people when the first game releases, he told GamesBeat. This is far fewer members than are on development teams at Riot and other studios, but he said, "it's really exciting that there are clear benefits to keeping the core dev team as small as possible."
The studio got its name from the term theorycrafting, which its website defines as "an honor players reserve for the deepest games in the world… when a game is worthy of endless speculation and debate about how best to play." The studio aims to make player-versus-player games that consumers continue to return to.
"We feel pretty damn fortunate," said Tung in a statement announcing the raise. "Not only to have gotten off to such a great start to the studio — but to have found a group of such like-minded partners who believe like we do that games serve fundamental human needs; who support our goal of getting the game in players' hands quickly and developing the game with them; and most importantly, who understand that we are in this for the long-term."
The round was led by Chinese internet technology and entertainment company NetEase. Theorycraft did not respond to a request for an interview, but Tung told GamesBeat that NetEase is willing to share resources and "go big … [and play] the long game." NetEase's resources will help supercharge their ambitions of making long, complex games that can take 10,000 hours to complete. Investors NEA, BitKraft Ventures, Griffin Gaming Partners and SISU Game Ventures also participated in the round.