Fintech

Will fun save NFTs? This fantasy sports startup thinks so.

With an expansion into baseball digital collectibles, NFT game-maker Sorare is prioritizing fans over speculators.

Sorare

Sorare is looking to make its games more social, a nod to the fact that many fantasy games are played by groups of friends over many years.

Image: Sorare

The crypto market is in a massive downturn, and NFTs aren’t immune to the meltdown, with even Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs selling for fractions of their previous prices.

Despite that, a new genre of NFTs is taking hold, which fuses together fantasy sports and collectibles. The challenge for this emerging market is how to make the games attractive for gamers, and not dependent on investor speculation. If it works, it could establish a sector of the NFT market that’s resistant to market swings.

Startup Sorare, which raised $680 million at a $4.3 billion valuation last year, has built a popular NFT-based fantasy soccer game that is being widely played internationally with 350 million monthly active users. Now it’s taking that model to the U.S. through a deal with MLB and the MLB Players Association to create an NFT-based fantasy baseball game.

The growth of NFT fantasy sports is an example of the ways that NFTs can have utility in a range of applications outside of just investing and speculation for which it is often known. Fantasy NFT sports games are and aren’t like other fantasy sports games: The addition of NFTs adds unique features.

Sorare Marketplace Sorare's NFT-based fantasy soccer game includes a marketplace to buy or sell the NFTs. The company is now preparing to launch a similar game for Major League Baseball.Image: Sorare

Sorare’s soccer game has users acquire “cards” of real-life players and receive points when the player does something, such as score a goal. Users can play in tournaments against other managers for prizes such as rarer cards or ether.

In Sorare’s case, the cards are NFTs, which consumers own. And the NFTs can be bought, sold or traded. That also means that if a certain player is performing very well, that NFT might rise in price on the marketplace.

Users can play a free game, but more advanced leagues require rarer cards that users can buy or win. Sorare did $325 million in NFT card sales in 2021, compared to $8 million in 2020, said Ryan Spoon, COO at Sorare and a former BetMGM and ESPN executive. Sorare has a range of different types of games within its soccer game, such as games with only rookie cards, or geographic leagues or underdog games for lower-level players. There are also more-advanced games for users with more-rare cards.

Sorare is looking to make its games more social, a nod to the fact that many fantasy games are played by groups of friends over many years.

Ryan Spoon, COO at Sorare Sorare COO Ryan Spoon is a former BetMGM and ESPN executive. Photo: Sorare

There’s also a collectible part of the game. Spoon said he owns “cases” of traditional physical R.J. Barrett and Red Sox cards. “Those are there purely because I love those players and love those things. For no other reason.” But it’s not just about collecting, since the NFTs are used in game play, too.

Baseball is a natural first major U.S. sport for Sorare — it had a deal with MLS for its soccer game — because of its stat-heavy games and long-standing fantasy audience. Sorare’s MLB game will have overall similarities to its soccer game in terms of NFTs, but will have some features unique to baseball such as pitcher match-ups.

Sorare, which wants to expand into more sports, is increasingly competing with Dapper Labs, which has popular NFT collectibles products for the NBA, NFL and UFC. One challenge Dapper has faced is ensuring its games are fun for fans and not just a place for speculators to flip NFTs.

Sorare is hoping to expand to more sports after baseball. “We aspire to build out a roster, if you will, of more than two sports,” Spoon said. Meanwhile, the company hopes to cross-pollinate its games and users so that, for example, fans of baseball in the U.S. could become fans of soccer through Sorare.

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