In the wake of the unicorn, Sorare sneaks the eel Unagi. Its co-founder, Rémy Pellerin, explains in 20 Mint au Carré how his fantasy football platform, Ultimate Champions, was born…
Unagi reminds us of eel sushi or Ross Geller’s mantra, but not necessarily sports. Why did you choose this name?
For the reference to Japan, the land of games, because Unagi is a video game development studio that specializes in Play To Earn (games that reward the player for his performance) and blockchain technology. We founded it with the aim of making this new type of game available to as many people as possible. And the first thing we developed was called Ultimate Champions. It is a fantasy sports platform where real-world athletes, such as soccer players, are represented by digital cards in the form of NFTs. The user will assemble a team of eleven of these players and based on their real-world performance will accumulate points. At the end of the weekend, the points are added up, and if he has performed, he gets rewards, especially player cards, which will be added to his collection, which he can trade, resell, etc.
Is it a bit like Sorare?
Of course, we admire what Sorare has done. But we had a hard time getting people to come and play with us because there are high entry costs. We come from free to play (games that are free to use but often offer micropayments to enhance the experience). We worked at Ubisoft for a long time in this sector and we wanted to create this type of game that does not require any investment to start having fun. We also have a different gameplay with eleven players on his team, a bench of substitutes, to try to fully settle into the role of manager. We have created our own tokens that allow us to give out token rewards in addition to cards that we can use to improve our team.
And you don’t offer the same teams. Have you signed your own partnerships?
Yes, it is important. We currently have agreements with around forty clubs. We started with Arsenal in particular. We are very happy with this long-term, exclusive partnership and we have also signed a few clubs in France, in Ligue 1 and in Ligue 2. And recently we signed a partnership with the Romanian Federation to have all the clubs that live in this country.
How do you negotiate with a union? Others had already tried before you?
Not in Romania, no… There is a first stage where you have to explain what you are doing. A little education about what blockchain brings. We managed to build a prototype pretty early on that allowed us to demonstrate what we wanted to do, and the federation really liked our vision. It gives them an additional revenue channel and they can reach a new generation of fans who are perhaps less used to spending two hours watching a match and consume football differently on social networks in particular.
Do you also participate in other sports?
Absolutely. Our vision is to become a multi-sport platform. We started with football because it is the biggest sport. The one we know best. Then we will integrate basketball. We have entered into a long-term partnership with the Euroleague, which brings together super teams such as Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern and Milan. These 38 clubs are somewhat reminiscent of the European Basketball Champions League. There are more than 500 matches a year.
With the same mechanics as for football?
The gameplay has not yet been defined in detail. But we want to do something a little more dynamic. Offer users to manage their team live, e.g. We know that basketball fans are more used to statistics than football fans. For a game like ours that is data driven, that’s great. There are tons of things to do and our game designers conceptualize it all.
What blockchain is Ultimate Champions based on?
On polygon. But we wanted to be super accessible, so we can just buy NFTs with credit cards in euros. Before you pay, however, you must first come and try the game for free. All players starting have the same virtual budget with which they build their team. Our goal as a developer is to create a game that people find fun. They come to have fun with their friends, make new connections, etc. And only if they want to progress faster, they will spend a few euros…
What does Web 3 ultimately bring to a game like this?
The problem with games and the traditional game model, especially free to play, is that users don’t actually own what’s in the game. For example, this is the case for FIFA every year – all the money that the player spent in FIFA in the previous year is lost forever. Our NFTs truly belong to the players. They can sell them, trade them, even destroy them if they want.
But if the game disappears, so does the value of the NFT. It is no longer useful. Are we really changing the rules of the game with this?
We are changing the rules of the game for the user. NFT is a collectible that can be played with. Even if the game stops, the card retains its value to a collector. Zidane’s 98 Panini cards still hold a lot of value today.
You worked at Ubisoft, that had setbacks at the launch of its NFT sales platform. Many players have made it clear that they do not want these paid tokens. How do you explain NFTs getting such a bad press among some players?
We still need an education phase so that people understand the interest in NFTs. This interest is ownership. With NFTs, the player can trade or sell all the things he earns in a game. There is a lack of knowledge on the subject. I think we are at a similar point in the beginning of free to play, where many players rejected this model and preferred to pay €60 for their game, own the box and have no additional expenses to pay. Today, free to play is installed by default. We are convinced that games to earn will become more democratic and that there will be more and more games with this model.