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Lionel Messi’s tech investment firm Play Time is betting big on this mobile gaming startup

With $21 million in seed funding, Matchday hopes to draw more soccer fans into gaming, with FIFA-licensed titles for casual gamers.

Lionel Messi’s tech investment firm Play Time is betting big on this mobile gaming startup
[Source photo: Matchday]

Lionel Messi’s performance on the pitch is unmatched. Now the soccer great is testing his skills in the startup world.

Messi’s Play Time investing vehicle is a key investor in a $21 million seed fund raised by Matchday, an interactive entertainment startup which plans to focus on soccer games

The company plans to blend Web3 and mobile gaming to create a suite of soccer games, licensed by FIFA, that cater to fans who might be too intimidated by existing soccer games. The thinking of executives goes like this: There are 5 billion soccer fans on earth, but games like EA’s FIFA only reach roughly 25 million of them. By appealing to the casual gaming fan and incorporating elements like digital player cards, Matchday believes it can capture lots of money being left on the table.

While many Web3 gaming companies have come and gone already, Matchday’s leaders say a big part of the problem has been too much focus on the technology and not enough on the games themselves.

“We believe true ownership is important to creating a new set of experiences for gamers,” says Sebastien de Halleux, chief gaming officer at Matchday. “To us, it’s all about accessibility. We’re talking about bringing on board hundreds of millions of fans into our game without them even knowing what Web3 is. … Our motto is ‘make complexity disappear.’”

De Halleux has some experience with launching a mobile gaming company. He was an early team member at Glu Mobile, which EA bought for $2.1 billion in 2021, and cofounded social gaming company Playfish, which EA also bought in a deal worth up to $400 million in 2009. CEO Derrick Ko has an impressive startup resume of his own, having founded e-bike and e-scooter firm Spin, which Ford bought in 2018 for $100 million.

“Growing up in Singapore, we didn’t have top flight soccer available regularly on the TV when I was young,” says Ko. “My first exposure to soccer was through video games. That ended up turning me into a lifelong fan of the sport and we wanted to recreate that magic.”

The first game is expected to be released in the second quarter. But to build an audience for it, the company launched Matchday Challenge: FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Edition, a social prediction game, during the recent World Cup. The mini-game saw nearly 600,000 signups with 2 million player cards distributed.

Today, the company is preparing to release Matchday Squad, its first mobile title, which will let fans compete against each other with player cards they own.

Upon signup, they’ll receive a free deck of player cards to start building a squad of their own. They can earn more by bringing friends on board or trading (or buying) them from other players. Ko says they’ll potentially be able to buy more from Matchday as well.

Messi’s involvement in the company is fairly hands off for now. The Argentinian legend has a business relationship with Matchday executive chairman Razmig Hovaghimian and together they founded Play Time, Messi’s global investment vehicle. It was one of Matchday’s first investors.

With Messi’s involvement, that opened the door for Matchday to work with FIFA. Two-time Ballon D’or winner Alexia Putellas is also advising the company.

The rapid rise and then fall of NFT gaming is bound to cast a shadow over Matchday as it rolls out, but Ko says the core idea behind not having game assets you’ve earned or purchased disappear when a new version of the game comes out is one in which he still has faith.

“The long-term view we have is digital ownership of games is something for the future,” he says. “It will happen. It will exist. Blockchain is one way to get there. It’s the solution we have now. We don’t consider ourselves a Web 3 company or Web3 game. We [use it] in the same way all games use the latest technologies available to enable new experiences.”

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Chris Morris is a veteran journalist with more than 30 years of experience. Learn more at chrismorrisjournalist.com. More

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