Those of a certain age will remember football album stickers fondly – packs opened feverishly in the school playground and “doubles” traded with friends who had the stars you were still missing. Now Anshum Bhambri, the co-founder and CEO of Faze Technologies believes he can recreate this type of excitement in the digital world for sports fans of all ages – and begin to introduce them to the “metaverse”.
Faze has just announced one of the biggest seed funding rounds of the year, picking up just over $17m of funding in a round led by Tiger Global with participation from investors including Coatue and Sequoia Capital India. That money will help the company as it rolls out a new cricket-based collectibles and gaming platform, built on blockchain and featuring the non-fungible tokens (NFTs) that are increasingly popular in art, music and elsewhere in sport.
Faze has already agreed a three-year deal with the International Cricket Council (ICC) for the rights to its back catalogue of video and audio clips, which goes back to 1975. It is creating thousands of NFTs linked to specific clips, which cricket fans will be able to buy in packs and trade on a secondary market.
Bhambri is a Stanford University graduate who went on to work on Wall Street before getting interested in bitcoin and the blockchain. “But I’ve never been particularly interested in financial services infrastructure, which is what you might expect from someone with my background,” he says. “Instead, I thought there was a real opportunity here to do something with cricket.” When he met Sundar Raman, the founding COO of the Indian Premier League, and Kushagra Kohli, a serial entrepreneur, the three men decided to put the idea into practice.
Faze plans to make its NFTs available through “pack drops”. Much like buying unopened packs of football stickers, buyers of Faze’s packs won’t know in advance which NFTs they’ll be receiving. Bhambri explains the tokens will be divided into four categories: with some clips, there will be hundreds or even thousands of the same NFT available, but others will be far rarer or even unique – a clip of Sashin Tendulkar clinching a double-century, say, or an Ashes-winning six.
Once buyers have purchased Faze’s NFTs, they have the option of holding on to them, or trading them on the secondary market, where prices for rarer tokens will obviously be higher. Bhambri sees huge demand, particularly in cricket-mad India – he won’t say exactly how many people have pre-registered to buy packs, but suggests the numbers are large.
Importantly, this isn’t just about collecting. Each NFT will come with meta data embedded – perhaps related to the number of runs the player in the clip has scored, or the wickets taken, say – which will form the basis of a series of games that Faze plans to launch. NFT owners will be able to take part in these games, planning their strategies on the basis of the strengths of their collections.
That could provide further demand on the secondary market, Bhambri points out, as people seek to add to their collections in order to play the games with greater success. There will also be a “play to earn” element to the games, with those who put the time into playing earning points that can be spent on improving their metadata – or sold to other players.
Ultimately, Bhambri sees the community developing into a full-blown metaverse, with both Faze and third parties launching other products, services and experiences that sit around the NFTs. “We’re building virtual cricket stadiums and just as in real life, where those stadiums sit at the centre of malls and other facilities, we’ll do the same in our cricket metaverse.”
It's quite the vision, but the size and calibre of seed funding that Bhambri has attracted suggests investors are taking him very seriously. Those investors include Dapper Labs, on whose Flow blockchain the Faze community will sit – it’s a good fit, given that Dapper is currently building out similar ideas in sports such as basketball, football and martial arts.
Bhambri thinks Faze has the potential to transcend the kind of audience that has taken an interest in NFTs to date. “Cricket has a culture that goes so deep in countries such as India,” he says. “I see this as a way to teach a very large number of people about NFTs, play to earn and, ultimately,” the metaverse,” he says.
With funding in place and more than a year of development work behind it, Faze is now ready to go live. The first pack drops are scheduled to take place around Christmas, with the secondary trading market on Faze due to open in January, and other services, including new games, launching soon after. “We are in a unique position to combine NFTs, gaming, utilities, and money-can't-buy experiences to create a platform for fans to collect, use, play, and interact with cricket through NFTs,” he promises.