Entertainment / Gaming / Sports / Startups

Meet PLLAY, a skill-based wagering app for amateur gamers that got backing from an NBA player

Sports betting laws — including esports — have expanded in recent years. This Philly-cofounded app allows players to bet on themselves.

PLLAY. (Courtesy image)

The world of wagering has opened up locally in the past few years to include more opportunity within esports. But an oft-overlooked section of the sports betting community is those who play for fun and friendly competition.

In 2018, betting laws expanded to include skill-based sports wagering — including esports — in Pennsylvania and other states. Instead of placing a bet on your hometown team, why not place a bet on yourself?

This was the thinking of PLLAY cofounders Christine Krzyzanowski and Shawn Gunn, creators of the video game wagering and data platform. The app gives what they call “casual gamers” a chance to cash in on some competitive face-offs, and a secure platform to make the monetary exchange.

The pair spent some of 2018, 2019 and the first part of 2020 building and testing the app, and launched a beta version this past summer. Krzyzanowski, who’s based here in Philly, and Gunn, who’s in Los Angelos, run a distributed team of around nine full-timers and a handful of engineering contractors.

There’s a handful of companies in this space, but PLLAY’s AI technology offers some match oversight, real-time data monitoring and an escrow service to legitimize the betting process that usually happens in Facebook groups or in WhatsApp, the founders said. The app integrates with Twitch or other streaming services to capture data, monitor the match, record wins and direct the money to the winner.

The company’s core audience is between 18 and 35, and the lower end of that age bracket is “super under-banked,” Gunn said. The app’s fintech aspect — which allows users to submit their wagers, which are then held in escrow during the game — ensures folks don’t get ripped off.

Krzyzanowski said the pair had been friends for about eight years when the law passed in 2018, and her background at FanDuel Sportsbook, plus Gunn’s interests as a gamer, pushed them to act on the idea.

“Being a gamer himself, he had this notion to roll up their world that was kind of kept underground into a safe environment,” she said of Gunn.

And they could see the potential from a B2C and B2B standpoint, Gunn said. The app has also gained interest from companies throwing gaming tournaments for its monitoring and match recording capabilities.

“We also realized there was this opportunity to own the data side of this industry, and offer the premium capabilities for users to get paid,” Gunn said. “We took what usually happens in office pools and Facebook chat boards and gave it a safe set of rules and brought it to the mainstream.”

The cofounders said PLLAY is in the process of closing a seed round worth nearly $4 million, led by Screen Play Ventures. Other investors include NBA All-Star Bradley Beal, Obsidian Works Managing Director Chad Easterling, and GE Power Portfolio President and CEO Russell Stokes. The funding will go toward enhancing the user experience, expanding its tech with new features, hiring, and accelerating user acquisition.

Currently, players can wager on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Madden 21, FIFA 21, NBA 2K21, and Fortnite on both Xbox and PlayStation consoles. Throughout the rest of the year, the team looks forward to releasing more titles, aiming for 20 to 40 more, and possibly adding PC-based games.

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