Champions Round, a fantasy league startup that caters to Gen Z sports fans, announced today that it raised $7 million in new Series A funding.
The funding round will go toward developing a new “Creator Rooms” feature, which gives sports content creators the opportunity to engage further with younger players by creating content and fantasy sports games, whether that be hosting a combined two-week NHL and NBA snake draft, creating polls and more.
The Series A was co-led by Point72 Ventures and Goodwater Capital, with additional investments from Pipeline Capital, Quest Venture Partners, Mana Ventures, Band of Angels and Gaingels. To date, the company has raised $10 million.
Users, particularly Gen Z users, are moving away from traditional fantasy sports, where leagues are tied to entire seasons. Instead, many users are opting for daily fantasy sports (DFS), a subcategory of fantasy sports games, where players compete over short-term periods rather than an entire season. The Fantasy Sports & Gaming Association (FSGA) reported that more than 30 million people in the U.S. participate in DFS, up 12% from 2019.
Champions Round offers a version of this that it has dubbed "micro fantasy sports," which are short-form games users can play daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly. For instance, users can draft and manage a team around a single event like the NFL draft, removing the need for a season-long commitment.
FanDuel and DraftKings currently dominate the daily fantasy sports industry. However, the majority of DFS games require money to play. Meanwhile, Champions Round offers two options -- free or buy-in.
“Fantasy sports historically demand lengthy commitments, seldom reward their players, and can be very tricky and cumbersome to play,” co-founder and CEO of Champions Round Carter Russ said in a statement. “With a rock-solid game loop, we’ve developed short-form games that beckon for friends to play with one another over and over again.”
As Champions Round continues to invest in its Gen Z-focused app, it will launch a new Creator Rooms feature in July 2023. The upcoming feature will help creators monetize larger audiences, the company claims.
Champions Round explained to TechCrunch that it rewards content creators for playing fantasy league games with their followers. The company didn't specify how much the influencers earn, but said they are based on engagement and number of sign ups.
Eventually, Champions Round will automatically pay creators within the platform for "engagement, sign ups, cosmetic items sold within their rooms, revenue share and ad revenue," the company told us.
"[Gen Z] doesn’t watch full sports games, but rather consumes sports on social media by following content creators, athletes, teams, personalities, and highlights. By making games that match this bite-sized serialized sports fandom, we’re really appealing to their needs," the company added.
Champions Round has also received backing from professional sports players, according to the company. This includes former NBA point guard Baron Davis, Kansas City Chiefs running back Melvin Gordon, New Orleans Saints safety Tyrann Mathieu and basketball player Zaire Wade (the son of former Miami Heat shooting guard Dwayne Wade), among others.
Additionally, it will allow the company to build a new marketing department, as well as double its overall team size from approximately 30 to 60 employees. Recently, former president and COO of Activision Blizzard, Coddy Johnson, joined the board of directors.
Carter Russ (left) and Chase Payne (right). Image Credits: Champions Round
Champions Round was founded in 2018 by Russ, an entrepreneur who has commissioned his fantasy basketball league for over a decade, and Chase Payne, who has over 15 years of experience with gaming companies like Electronic Arts and Zynga. Payne was also a founding member of Major League Fantasy, a daily fantasy sports network that was acquired by Latitude 360 in 2015.
“We wanted to find ways to recreate social moments for sports at any and all times of the year,” Russ told us. “We felt empowered to return to the core that provided sports games with the most meaning: Playing with our friends. What was previously an annual cadence, fantasy sports, we firmly believed should be available at any time, irrespective of cash prizes.”
The app launched to the public in September 2021. In 2022, the app averaged 28% month-over-month growth, which Champions Round claims was organic growth. The new marketing department will likely help increase its user base. The average user is 22 years old.
Data.ai estimates that Champions Round has seen over 10,000 downloads to date across the App Store and Google Play.
The company also touted that it became profitable recently. "We did something that very few fantasy sports operators have ever done: turn a profit,” noted Russ and Payne.
Image Credits: Champions Round
Champions Round has six game modes—"Daily Dozen,” where users can choose from 12 props each day; “Boost Ball,” which is the typical snake draft format; “Big Board,” which allows users to snake draft a selection of incoming prospects; “Spicy Slips,” a prediction game; “7 Stakes,” where players answer questions to earn points; and “Sunday’s Best,” a game dedicated to draft players from NFL teams that only play on Sundays.
Users can play private contests with up to 16 friends or get assigned to public leagues with strangers.
Currently, Champions Round mainly offers games for the NFL and NBA. It also provides games for esports fans. By 2024, it will expand to more leagues, like the English Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga, Formula 1, League of Legends, Rocket League, Apex Legends, Fortnite and more.
Like sports-betting apps, Champions Round users in the U.S. can only play for cash in 35+ states, including Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Virginia and more.
In addition to cash prizes, Champions Round offers in-game memorabilia and digital collectibles like jerseys and helmets, as well as rankings, other gamification features and more. As users participate in more leagues, earn points or make in-app purchases, they’ll eventually qualify for exclusive leagues that offer larger cash prizes.
Plus, Champions Round plans to add more “personalization, progression, and metagame achievements” for its game modes.