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 sport. Why did you choose this name?
For the reference to Japan, country of gaming because Unagi is a video game development studio specializing in Play To Earn (game that rewards the player for his performance) and blockchain technology. We founded it with the objective of making this new type of game accessible to as many people as possible. And the first one we developed was called Ultimate Champions. It is a fantasy sports platform where real-world athletes, such as footballers, are represented by digital cards in the form of NFTs. The user will compose a team of eleven of these players and based on their performance in the real world, he will accumulate points. At the end of the weekend, the points are added up and if he has performed, he is given rewards, in particular player cards which will be added to his collection, which he can exchange, resell, etc.
Is it a bit like Sorare?
We are very admiring of what Sorare has done, of course. But we had a hard time getting people to come and play with us because there is a high entry cost. We come from free to play (games that are free to use but often offer micropayments to improve the experience). We worked at Ubisoft for a long time in this sector and we wanted to create this type of game, which requires no investment to start having fun. We also have a different gameplay with eleven players in his team, a bench of substitutes, to try to put himself fully in the role of the manager. We’ve created our own tokens that allow us to distribute token rewards in addition to cards, which we can spend to improve our team.
And you don’t offer the same teams. Have you signed your own partnerships?
Yes it’s important. For the moment, we 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 with a few clubs in France, in Ligue 1 and in Ligue 2. And more recently, we signed a partnership with the Romanian federation to have all the clubs who live in this country.
How do you negotiate with a federation? Others had already tried before you?
Not in Romania, no… There is a first phase where you have to explain what you are doing. A little education on what blockchain brings. We managed to build a prototype quite 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 may be less used to spending two hours watching a match and consume football differently on social networks, in particular.
Do you also join other sports?
Absolutely. Our vision is to become a multisport platform. We started with football because it’s the biggest sport. The one we know best. Then we will integrate basketball. We have signed a long-term partnership with the Euroleague, which brings together super teams like Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern and Milan. These 38 clubs are a bit like the European Basketball Champions League. There are more than 500 matches per year.
With the same mechanics as for football?
The gameplay is not yet defined in detail. But we want to do something a little more dynamic. Offer users to manage their team live, for example. We know that basketball fans are more used to statistics than football fans. For a game like ours that’s data driven, that’s great. There are plenty of things to do and our game designers are conceptualizing it all.
What blockchain is Ultimate Champions based on?
On Polygon. But we wanted to be super accessible and we can therefore simply buy NFTs by credit card in euros. However, before paying, you must first come and try the game for free. All players who start have the same virtual budget with which they compose their team. Our goal as a developer is to create a game that people find fun. They will 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 the users don’t actually own what’s in the game. the case for example for FIFA every year -, all the money that the player spent in the FIFA of the previous year is lost forever. Our NFTs really 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 of any use. Are we really changing the rules of the game with this?
We change the rules of the game for the user. The NFT is a collectible item that can be played with. Even if the game stops, the card retains its value for a collector. Zidane’s 98 Panini card still holds a lot of value today.
You worked at Ubisoft, who had setbacks when launching its NFT sales platform. Many players have made it clear that they do not want these paid tokens. How to explain that NFTs have such a bad press among some gamers?
We still need an education phase so that people understand the interest of NFTs. This interest is ownership. With NFTs, the player can trade or sell all the items he earns in a game. There is a lack of knowledge on the subject. I think we are at a similar time at the very beginning of free to play, when many players rejected this model and preferred to pay their game €60, own the box and not have any additional expense to make. Today free to play is installed as a standard. We are convinced that play to earn will become more democratic and that there will be more and more games with this model.