TheoryCraft gaming

Riot Games Veterans Have Big Plans for Their Startup TheoryCraft

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.

Subscribe to our newsletter to catch every headline.

Despite — or in many cases because of — the raging pandemic, 2020 was a great year for many tech startups. It turned out to be an ideal time to be in the video game business, developing a streaming ecommerce platform for Gen Z, or helping restaurants with their online ordering.

But which companies in Southern California had the best year? That is highly subjective of course. But in an attempt to highlight who's hot, we asked dozens of the region's top VCs to weigh in.

We wanted to know what companies they wish they would have invested in if they could go back and do it all over again.

Read more Show less
Ben Bergman

Ben Bergman is the newsroom's senior finance reporter. Previously he was a senior business reporter and host at KPCC, a senior producer at Gimlet Media, a producer at NPR's Morning Edition, and produced two investigative documentaries for KCET. He has been a frequent on-air contributor to business coverage on NPR and Marketplace and has written for The New York Times and Columbia Journalism Review. Ben was a 2017-2018 Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economic and Business Journalism at Columbia Business School. In his free time, he enjoys skiing, playing poker, and cheering on The Seattle Seahawks.