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Real-world loot boxes are here, and gambling on them is a weird YouTube niche

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Come on down the cryptocurrency rabbit hole

vIRL/YouTube

Buying loot boxes isn’t just for video games. Thanks to a company called WAX, you can buy a loot crate filled with a semi-random assortment of real-world merchandise, including video games, sneakers, streetwear, and game consoles. The tech is just in its infancy, but opening crates is already becoming a popular diversion for game streamers on YouTube.

WAX, short for Worldwide Asset eXchange, began life as a company called OPSkins, previously a “pioneer” in trading digital goods like weapon skins in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Now, users of OPSkins can put up real money for real goods, each one linked to a cryptographic token.

OPSkins

The cryptographic token means that the merchandise exists in both the physical and the virtual world. It’s sort of like the gold standard, but instead of backing a currency with bars of bullion, WAX tokens from OPSkins are backed with Yeezy shoes and Magic: The Gathering cards.

WAX’s technology lets users collect, trade, and speculate on consumer goods without ever actually taking ownership of them. At some point they can cash out and have their stuff shipped to them for an extra charge, or convert their WAX tokens into another form of cryptocurrency and walk away with a kind of cash.

It’s all part of a blockchain, and other companies can integrate that blockchain into their own services. That’s allowed vIRL to create real-life loot crates. They collect a bunch of cryptographic tokens, each one representing a real piece of merchandise, and then sell them as a semi-random, blind box loot crate online

vIRL

Effectively, the crates themselves become the product that vIRL is marketing and selling. That’s created all sorts of interesting opportunities for the company, including paying YouTubers to open crates online and build up hype. A search of YouTube reveals dozens of streamers participating in promotions.

Just last week, vIRL partnered with actor Danny Trejo (Machete, Breaking Bad) to release a new line of limited-edition crates that include signed memorabilia. The promotional video looks like a trailer for a B-grade Hollywood movie, and fits right in with other viral content on YouTube.

Here’s where things get weird.

Another company called ItemUnbox has taken vIRL boxes and created a way to gamble with them. At ItemUnbox’s website, you can opt in to so-called “case battles.” All you have to do is agree to open a set number of vIRL cases with one or more competitors. As the contents of those cases are revealed, the merchandise that could be inside rolls by like a slot machine, before settling on an individual item. Whoever reveals items that add up to the highest total value wins everything.

I stumbled upon ItemUnbox thanks to a video posted by James “Phantoml0rd” Vargas. You might remember him as just one of several high-pitched personalities embroiled in the CS:GO skin-trading and gambling scandal from a few years back. Now he’s back on YouTube where he spends his time playing Fortnite and gambling at ItemUnbox.

On Feb. 28, Vargas went live with a stream titled “$6,250 WORLD RECORD VIRL CASE BATTLE THIS IS INSANEEEEEE!!!!!!” During the stream, which has not been archived online, Vargas and four other contestants each paid $1,250 to buy in.

“Imagine it like a poker table,” Vargas said during the video, before losing. The winner was another YouTuber named Doom13 whose ItemUnbox handle is listed as “Doom13 SKINBET.GG.”

Phantoml0rd/YouTube

It should be noted that both Skinbet.gg and ItemUnbox were listed as sponsors of PhantomL0rd’s unarchived video. Polygon reached out to Vargas for more details, but we haven’t heard back yet. His latest Twitter update says he’s dealing with “lawsuit tasks.”

Going back to the technology behind it all, however, understand that this WAX company is no joke. Management includes William Quigley, the co-founder of the $700 million venture capital firm Clearstone Venture Partners, Lukas Sliwka, the former chief technology officer at Grindr, and Malcolm CasSelle, previously CTO and president at tronc, Inc (formerly Tribune Publishing).

We’ve reached out to WAX to see how, or if, they’re connected to ItemUnbox and how they feel about their technology being used to run a gambling website.