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Grilla has raised $3 million in funding for its skill-based gaming tournament platform. The company has also formally launched its product.
During the beta test, the platform grew to more than 15,000 registered users. Tusk Venture Partners led the funding round.
Miami-based Grilla is an all-in-one platform where eligible users can easily create, manage and compete in any type of tournaments. Players can compete in over 100 video game titles across mobile, PC, Xbox, VR, and more. Grilla lets players create tournaments, collect entry fees, manage brackets and pay prize pools.
With a built-in wallet and proprietary real-money gaming features, Grilla unlocks consumers’ ability to wager in any type of video game or skill-based competition such as golf, backgammon, bowling, chess, basketball or just about anything else, said Evan Kaylin, CEO of Grilla, in an interview with GamesBeat.
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It’s not about professional esports. Today, when a community of non-professional skill-based gamers wants to organize a tournament, they face challenges due to a dispersed player base, a lack of tournament organizing infrastructure, and a limited understanding of the regulatory landscape, the company said.
How it works
Grilla’s platform provides players with the tools to create tournaments through features like player-versus-player matches, crowdsourced prize pools and the ability for fans to contribute players’ entry fees.
Grilla lets players set up their own tournaments, and so players can launch amateur tournaments for games such as Call of Duty, Madden NFL, Street Fighter and NBA2K, and hundreds of other game titles. It has built the infrastructure to support various tournament formats and game genres.
In beta testing, amateurs have hosted over 1,000 tournaments on the platform, and due to the demand from video games alone, Grilla is launching additional features this spring for skill-based games played in-person.
The most important feature is unlocking earning potential by adding real-money wagering, Kaylin said.
You can find opponents in the Grilla lobby. When you make a wager, the money is taken from your in-platform wallet and goes into an escrow account. If you win, you get paid. The platform relies on the organizer of the event to police any disagreements. Players can share screen shots of the match results to prove who won. The company has a mobile app to support the web experience, and all transactions on the website are FDIC insured. If someone quits a match while losing, it’s up to the tournament organizer to make a decision about that.
“As someone who has always enjoyed competing against friends playing video games, shooting pool or playing a round of golf, it never made sense to me that there was no place to organize competitions and facilitate transactions. Grilla was founded on the principle that you don’t have to be a pro to compete like one,” said Kaylin. “We want to make it easy for anyone to organize competitions for their communities while enhancing the experience for players with real-money features. Whether you challenge your opponent to a cash match in a video game competition, create a side pool in your golf tournament or simply collect entry fees and pay prize pools for any skill-based games of your choosing, Grilla will have you covered.”
Skill-based gaming regulations
The company can legally operate in 46 states, not including Connecticut, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Delaware. And when it comes to real-money wagering against an opponent, the company can operate in 39 states.
Bob Greenlee, COO of Grilla and its regulatory counsel, said in an interview with GamesBeat that almost all the states have figured out a legal framework for skill-based gaming. Grilla doesn’t operate where it’s not legal, he said. Underlying laws have not changed dramatically in most states, though New York had to go through a lot of litigation with the daily fantasy sports companies to arrive at its conclusion, he said.
Kaylin said the company does not have specific approval from game companies to use its games for tournaments. He noted that all the operators on the platform are abiding by the community guidelines that the game publishers have put in place.
“We’re in active dialogue with a handful of them,” he said. “And we’re also expanding into skill-based games that no one owns the IP.”
For the most part, game companies haven’t said anything about Grilla’s platform. so far, the company is focused on the U.S. market, and it will likely expand to Canada.
There are a few companies out there that offer PvP wagering and let players create and manage competitions, they focus either on head-to-head matches or solo competition with no real-money features. Grilla offers the opportunity to go head to head or or take part in a competition with hundreds of players with a variety of real money features to increase potential winnings if a player chooses. Skillz is the biggest skill-gaming company, valued at hundreds of millions of dollars. Others include Players Lounge, Face-It and Battlefy.
Grilla said it is the only competition platform where you can create your own competition and offer real-money features like peer vs peer wagers into the experience. The team has gone through an arduous compliance and regulatory process to be able to facilitate these features and hold customer funds through our FDIC-insured wallet.
With the new round of funding, the platform will replace archaic forms of tracking games such as spreadsheets, white boards, cash boxes, and provide players with a digital solution to keep score and a digital wallet for prize payouts at the end of the competition. By offering these features, players can wager real money with their friends or other players in the community in various different game formats.
“The skill-based game industry is massive and encapsulates everything from golfing to drone racing to traditional video and mobile games, but there hasn’t been a platform that allows non-professionals to monetize their skills, said Bradley Tusk, managing partner at Tusk Venture Partners, in a statement. “Grilla is the first company to build the critical infrastructure needed to host tournaments in real life and through video games.”
Tusk Venture Partners has a lot of expertise and experience in daily fantasy sports and navigating the regulatory landscape. Anyone in the world can organize and compete in a cashless tournament on Grilla’s platform.
“Gambling legalizations tend to happen in waves because politicians fear electoral repercussions for supporting more casinos or sports betting or horse racing or whatever it is, so it becomes a herd like mentality where each state makes it easier for the next,” said Tusk. “We’re in the midst of that now with sports betting. The next wave will be esports and because it’s an entirely new industry. How to regulate it will be a very active debate. Grilla is positioned to be the spear of all of it.”
Kaylin said Tusk, a former regulator, is quite useful in providing the regulatory expertise for the company.
For tournaments in which money is transacted, players must be 18 or older and located in a U.S. state with laws that permit skill-based competitions. Grilla will expand into additional markets and launch different tournaments for mobile games, tabletop games, VR/AR Games, and IRL games.
Kaylin is relatively new to gaming. He spent about a decade working in traditional sports, consulting for leagues such as the NBA and the NFL. In 2019, he transitioned into gaming and joined Face-It, an esports tournament company now owned by Savvy Gaming Group.
“When I got into the industry, I quickly realized that there was a massive opportunity that no one was really solving for,” Kaylin said. “Everybody was looking at the professional scene. And I saw an opportunity with the hundreds of millions of people who were playing competitive games with their friends, as part of different groups of all skill levels.”
He added, “You could organize competitions. But in my opinion, the most exciting part about playing any skill-based game is the opportunity to win money. If you look at competitions like golf, poker, backgammon, chess, and some of the older skill-based games, you don’t necessarily have to be the best in the world to make money. You just have to be better than your friends you’re playing against.”
So Kaylin started the company in September 2021 and brought some of those features to wagering on amateur video game tournaments. The first step was building a platform that made it easy for anyone to create a tournament, whether it was with a few friends or 2,000 people.