Skillz is turning indie mobile games into eSports

San Francisco-based start-up Skillz is broadening the definition of eSports by allowing mobile game developers to implement tournaments into any of their games, regardless of whether the games are single-player, multiplayer or traditionally competitive experiences. And the idea is gaining traction: as of this week, Skillz players have won more than $1 million in cash prizes.

The real-money, multiplayer platform launched last year for Android devices, with the iOS version launching last October. Developers who integrated the Skillz SDK into their games were able to create asynchronous multiplayer modes and leaderboards, allowing players to compete with each other. The platform gives players the option to play for free, or to buy into more competitive tournaments with real-world money.

The platform launched with the games of 10 independent developers, and today has more than 300 developer partners.

"When you look at games, whether it's Blizzard titles like Hearthstone or Riot with League of Legends, without having the tournament system in a given game, there isn't really an opportunity for people to compete, or an opportunity for a game to become a widely-played eSport," said Skillz founder and CEO Andrew Paradise. "Skillz is really changing that because we're delivering this vision of eSports for everyone."

Skillz allows developers to make any game competitive. A single-player game like Flappy Bird could hypothetically become a tournament game because the Skillz platform would allow players to challenge each other. If they're extra competitive, they could buy into a tournament and win money if they perform better than the challenger. Players who choose to compete with real money can buy in for as little as 60 cents per match. Skillz currently pays out more than $10,000 in prizes each day.

The platform also gives developers an alternative revenue stream. Early adopters of the platform, like indie studio DMW, told Polygon last year that premium games don't always sell well and the free-to-play model doesn't necessarily work for every game, so the option to create tournaments that players can buy into makes sense for a lot of studios.

For Paradise, he sees Skillz as an opportunity to bring eSports to a broader audience. The start-up is currently looking at the possibility of bringing Skillz to other devices, too.

"Traditional eSports were limited to physical spaces where only really hardcore players would be, and it's just not really economical or feasible for players to participate in those types of competitions," Paradise said. "So you'd end up with a subset of the total gaming population who could participate in these tournaments.

"In Skillz, we're broadening it so everyone can compete, whether it be in the living room or, admittedly, some people at work. It's definitely all about broadening eSports to something that's in every game and everyone can participate."

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