As gaming industry veteran and crypto convert Marcus Bläsche tracked last year’s blockchain boom, he could see three distinct trends, as well as an opportunity.
There was the growth of NBA Top Shot, introducing a world of basketball fans to the new technology. There was Bored Ape Yacht Club, which showed the demand for so-called PFPs, the digital collectibles regularly used as profile pictures on Twitter. And in another realm, Axie infinity popularized play-to-earn mechanics, rewarding the game’s players with cryptocurrency.
Bläsche, who spent time at Activision Blizzard and has been the marketing director for digital gaming platform The Sandbox, and co-founder Nick Vale endeavored to combine all three of those elements in one project. They called it Rumble Kong League.
They launched RKL in July, offering 10,000 NFTs, each tied to a unique cartoon image that would correspond to characters in a play-to-earn basketball game the group promised to build. The concept also shared similarities with the Zed Run horses that gained popularity earlier in 2021. In that case, digital horses can run in online races for prizes. Here, Rumble Kongs would compete in 3-on-3 basketball games with a multi-level league structure.
The 10,000 Kongs, initially offered at $200, sold out in a matter of days. Then Steph Curry wore an RKL beanie to a November press conference. Paul George used his Rumble Kong for his Twitter profile picture. The price of a Kong on the secondary market rose and rose; by December, the cheapest ones were selling for $10,000 each with about $45 million in total secondary sales volume. RKL called itself “The Metaverse Sports League.”
Before the end of the year, a user named KingChads set a Rumble Kong price record, buying Kong #5868 for 39.69 ETH or roughly $140,000. In an interview, KingChads, who requested he be referred to by his online name, said he’d spent roughly $500,000 on his collection of Rumble Kong League NFTs. The 29-year-old said he wasn’t a basketball fan (“at all”), but that he sees play-to-earn gaming as the next big crypto trend. Each Rumble Kong comes with ratings in defense, vision, shooting and finishing ability. The record-setter boasts a 94 on defense, though only a 30 in shooting.
Now KingChads has his eye on buying an RKL team, the first batch of which will be auctioned off soon. With the game still in development, he said his bet is largely a belief in RKL’s leadership successfully navigating a rapidly changing industry. But he’s not the only one backing them.
Rumble League Studios recently raised $4.5 million in seed funding to build RKL. Money came from crypto-focused funds like SkyVision Capital and Animoca Brands, but also from sports powerhouses. Paul George invested, as did CAA Sports. JDS Crypto led the round, joined by IDEO CoLab Ventures, Framework Ventures, Victory Creative Group, and others.
“It was really the first project that we had seen that brought together the excitement of an NFT community like Bored Apes had developed, but also had the gamification/fantasy sports element and the potential upsides with regard to utilization and even crossover with sports gambling,” CAA Sports co-head Mike Levine said in an interview. “It was something that the more we saw, the more we loved and were excited about it.”
CAA is now helping the RKL develop in areas that make it sound a lot like a traditional sports league—sponsorship, media rights, merchandise. “The most analogous situation for us is the experience we had about five or six years ago working with the founders of Riot Games,” Levine said. Riot Games was founded in 2006 to develop League of Legends, which has since generated over $20 billion in revenue. The game helped popularize freemium gaming, making the base version free while charging for in-game items and characters. A decade later, RKL hopes to be on the vanguard of a Web3 revolution in gaming.
Rumble League Studios has partnered with iLogos Game Studios to help create the game for web and mobile platforms, with plans to launch this year. Until then, RKL’s creators will have to maintain community enthusiasm as a seemingly limitless number of other crypto projects vie for collector attention. In fact, there’s even another NFT set, Ballerz, built around basketball culture and promising a game down the line. Dapper Labs has also talked about adding gaming elements to the NBA Top Shot experience.
But none of that competition or uncertainty has stopped Rumble Kong’s biggest believers. On Friday, another potential star Kong, #9802, sold for $125,000.