Stacked gets $13M to be the Twitch for web3 gamers

Few areas in tech today are as polarized as the blockchain gaming space. Legacy developers and gamers are calling play-to-earn games Ponzi schemes, while crypto-believers say games that incorporate "tokenomics" are the future for empowering players and creators.

Before the debate is settled, the ecosystem around blockchain games is already getting built and funded.

Los Angeles-based Stacked, co-founded by serial entrepreneur Alex Lin, is making a video streaming platform for gaming content -- basically Twitch for web3 users, the founder and CEO told TechCrunch. The idea is to turn creators into shareholders of the platform by giving them governance tokens, a model that will "align the interests of content operators and creators for the first time," Lin suggested.

Creators won't need to be crypto-savvy to use the service. The platform, available on both mobile and desktop, will look similar to a conventional video streaming platform, Lin said. Tokens will be awarded based on performance metrics, and the management team will ensure Stacked is always majority owned by creators rather than investors.

Stacked's vision has attracted a group of investors to pump $12.9 million into its Series A funding round. Pantera Capital, which made its name by investing in digital assets and crypto ventures early on, led the financing.

Other institutional investors include Z Venture Capital, a merger between LINE Ventures, which is associated with the Japanese messaging giant LINE, and YJ Capital, the owner of Yahoo! Japan. GFR Fund, owned by Japan's mobile gaming firm GREE, also participated.

Alexandr Wang, founder of Scale AI, Eddy Lu, CEO of GOAT and Carl Pei, co-founder of OnePlus and Nothing, joined as angel investors.

Lin didn't set out to develop Stacked for the crypto crowd, but Pantera Capital convinced the founder that blockchain will play a critical role in next-gen mobile games. The founder remains skeptical of certain P2E games that tend to exploit users, but he's bullish that high-quality titles will eventually emerge, akin to how free-to-play went from a widely despised monetization strategy to a genre with successful hits.

Infused with fresh capital, one-year-old Stacked is reconfiguring its video streaming service with crypto and NFT features. It's scheduled to launch in North America in December before entering Southeast Asia and Latin America.

Though the Series A round is a purely financial raise, it's not hard to see potential synergies between Stacked and some of its investors. LINE, for instance, has a solid user base across Southeast Asia that can benefit Stacked's expansion, and Nothing, the buzzy Android phone maker, has shown a strong interest in NFTs. Aside from its content streaming service, Stacked is also working on an NFT profile picture project that is targeting "gaming and streetwear enthusiasts."

Having founded two ventures before -- YC-backed mobile gaming company LVL6 and social shopping mobile app Hush -- Lin has seen enough market ups and downs to not fret too much over the current crypto bear market. "We've definitely seen company valuations compressed for now," the founder said. "But prices are being normalized."