International edition
September 16, 2019

Exclusive interview with Rahul Sood, Unikrn's CEO

"The entire ecosystem needs to adapt to the technology driving today’s entertainment economy"

"I often describe Unikrn as a culturally strong technology company that happens to be building a world-class gambling product, not the other way around," says Rahul Sood. 
United States | 06/05/2019

Sood tells Yogonet that eSports are just getting started, and Unikrn completely upended the idea of a "skill-based slot machines" as there is no element of chance. He welcomes US states allowing regulated wagering to expand, and his company is "very open" to partnering on its entire platform. He says Unikrn Jet blockchain leaves a positive impression for regulators in different areas, and that Crypto will start gaining traction when more blockchain companies provide real uses for tokens.

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nikrn is a technology company that has recently launched Unikrn Virtual, an innovative kind of betting enabling eSports fans to bet on the outcome of top teams from an existing pool of past professional matches, giving users access to key information about an upcoming randomly generated round of Counter-Strike: GO. This allows betting on live eSports match without the delays or waits associated with live matches. Built on game analytics, new AI trading bots & screen-analyzing technology, streamer betting is a non-stop, fully automated future of casual wagering.

The company's CEO, Rahul Sood, was previously General Manager at Microsoft for System Experience in the Interactive Entertainment Business. He then started the first incubation fund for Startups at Microsoft, the Bing Fund, which became Microsoft Ventures, led by Sood until 2014, when he created Unikrn.

Sood tells Yogonet that since 2014, Unikrn has secured its own betting licenses, launched a successful utility token into the blockchain space, helped create a professional CS:GO team, created multiple patent-pending technologies and many unprecedented gaming and eSports experiences. “While there were certainly many successes there were also a number of failures and learnings along the way, we continue to work at the rapid pace of a growing startup,” he adds.

He describes Unikrn as a “surprisingly diverse” business: “We sit at the intersection of eSports and video games, blockchain and cryptocurrency, and regulated gambling.  There isn’t a day that goes by where we aren’t working on something super fun and interesting. Needless to say everybody at this company is proud of our success and our current place in the market. We are optimistic about our future now that we have built a completely stand-alone end to end wagering platform.”

Why exactly can Unikrn UMode and especially Unikrn Virtual be considered groundbreaking technologies for the global gambling industry, and to stand out among your competition? 

Unikrn UMode stands out among the competition because it has no competition! You can bet on yourself on games that you love without a betting opponent in real time with fair odds and trusted, third-party matchmaker any time of the day in all the world’s most popular gaming titles. Unikrn solved the problems of sharks, availability, server hosting, anti-cheat, fair matchmaking, and several other issues in a patent-pending innovative experience. While others are still trying to figure out how to build skill betting around really boring games that no one knows, Unikrn is building the best wagering experiences around games people love to play. We completely upended the idea of a “skill-based slot machines” as there is no element of chance here. It’s all on you.

Unikrn’s streamer betting uses AI odds trading bots and advanced computer vision technology to interpret games happening on stream and predictive analytics to set odds in real time, even updating odds as matches advance. We’re excited for how this will let fans play along with streamers and improve the community thrill of wins. After all, betting is better as a social experience, and there are very few experiences that are as engaging as watching your favorite streamer. The Unikrn Virtual Betting Game is amazing, we’ve ingested over 550,000 hours of content of historical matches, and we randomize them using a regulator-approved RNG. We then produce odds on multiple markets, and there is so much more content coming here, it’s going to be incredible. It’s like digital horse racing terminals for a much younger audience of bettors.

How could these technologies leverage the current and upcoming US sports betting landscape? Have you made partnerships with other gaming companies, media companies, or associations in order to broaden your reach within the global gaming industry?

For skill wagering Unikrn is already live with Unikrn UMode in the majority of the United States, making us pretty much first in the door, and we are obviously supportive of states allowing responsible, regulated wagering to expand. Unikrn has well-established connections with land-based casinos in Las Vegas, where our primary content team is based, and we expect the United States to be a growing market for us looking forward. We’ve also had existing partnerships with US-based casinos, media companies, gaming leagues and teams, and many other entities. That’s likely to ramp up and not down in the coming months and years. We’re very open to partnering on our entire platform.

          Unikrn solved the problems of sharks, availability, server hosting, anti-cheat, fair matchmaking, in a patent-pending innovative experience"

You said highly-regulated environments, including betting, are the perfect breeding pool for the normalization of mainstream blockchain. Why is that, and what role does blockchain play in Unikrn technology, products and prospects for the future?  

Currently the biggest winners in the blockchain space are crypto exchanges and speculators or traders. This makes regulators and consumers wary about actually using blockchain applications for real purpose. Real use cases drive demand and create innovation: consider the explosion of Internet technology after it began to be used for online gaming. I believe that our token economy differentiates us to all other wagering operators in the world, since it’s not all about gambling. Customers of Unikrn can earn tokens by connecting their favorite video games to the platform or exchanging virtual items for UnikoinGold (UKG). They can also earn UKG through betting bonuses and custom airdrops. They can use the tokens throughout the site, whether they want to bet on themselves, bet on a professional match, streamer, or virtual game, or just go have fun in the online casino. It’s just so awesome and flexible. When regulators see Unikrn Jet, the blockchain-based tech underpinning Unikrn, they are always stunned by its robustness. There is no better way to handle AML (anti-money laundering), KYC (know your customer), responsible gambling, and even security than through a properly designed blockchain application. Unikrn Jet leaves a positive impression for regulators in different areas. Crypto will start gaining traction when more blockchain companies provide real uses for tokens, like Unikrn has with UnikoinGold.  

What further uses of the technologies you work with can you imagine for the short and long term, applied to the gaming industry?

It’s actually remarkable to think that Unikrn is already building betting technologies with AI, computer vision, predictive analytics, and blockchain. We tend to think big, our team is unparalleled and diverse - and super creative. If it’ll make the experience of gaming better, we want to make it a reality. I’ve been a long time investor and participant in the gaming and entertainment space, and even have my hands in the augmented reality space. Nothing is off the table.

          Unikrn Virtual is like digital horse racing terminals for a much younger audience of bettors"

eSports audience climbed up to 335 million in 2017, and it’s expected to reach 557 million by the end of 2021, according to NJGames. A Newzoo's report projected a global revenue in excess of $1 billion in 2019. Do you consider eSports are having their boom now, and that they will manage to keep their position in the long term? Could it become a massive activity around the world in the near future?

Esports are just getting started. Like any emerging industry, eSports will go through market cycles and have lots of booms interrupted by periods of lesser-growth. Imagine looking at sports in 1920 and asking if they’re hitting a boom and will fade away long-term: it’s a ridiculous proposition. By all market indicators of demographics, growth, interest and ecosystem, there’s no reason to believe eSports is anywhere near capping out for the long-term. The one I’ll say is the wagering business needs to pay attention to eSports now - and not two years from now. If you aren’t speaking to Unikrn customers, then you aren’t speaking to your future customer. We are open to partnering in regions around the world with good operators.  

Are you familiar with the Black Fire Innovation hub announced last month by the UNLV and Caesars to open in Las Vegas? What contributions do you think a resource like this could bring to the global gaming industry, and startups in particular?

I am familiar, in fact we presented our platform to UNLV last month, unsurprisingly they were impressed. I think UNLV is in a very unique space, they are developing an interesting talent pool and putting more emphasis around technology and the future. Something I think the gambling industry desperately needs. I often describe Unikrn as a culturally strong technology company that happens to be building a world-class gambling product, not the other way around.  

          Our token economy differentiates us to all other wagering operators in the world, since it’s not all about gambling"

China and Spain governments recently showed some signals towards professionalization and proper regulations for eSports. What global or local policies do you think are still pending for eSports industry? Which jurisdictions would you identify as models in terms of regulation and resources?

The more regulators and governments come to understand and back eSports as officially sanctioned competitions, the better-protected fans and players will be. There’s no one key policy that will set eSports ahead: the entire ecosystem needs to evolve to adapt to the times and technology driving today’s entertainment economy.

NJGames expects USD 12,9 billion in eSports betting by 2020. Ian Smith, head of the Esport Integrity Coalition (ESIC) estimated a USD 130 billion revenue for eSports bets, and warned last year that wagering at eSports was problematic. What are your policies and resources to prevent fraud and gaming addiction around this business? Could you give us some examples regarding these concepts?

Unikrn Jet is one of the most robust wagering backends, fully designed in-house on blockchain-based technology. As I mentioned earlier, regulators have been routinely stunned by this system’s robustness. We have fully-automated report generation, can process 9000 bets per second per user, automated account flagging, is completely currency-agnostic and has tons of other features putting us lightyears ahead of traditional wagering backends. Unikrn takes responsible wagering to heart: we offer options to limit session length, maximum deposits for days, week and month, wager limites for days, weeks and months, self-exclusion, as well as providing links to resources to help problem gamblers. We also believe it’s incumbent on responsible operators to make a positive impact, which is one reason we accept gaming skins as betting deposits: this way, legal bettors can use their skins on a legal site, reducing traffic to illicit, predatory and unregulated skin-betting sites. We know who our customers are, we know who the pros are. We know this industry very well because we live breath eat and sleep it everyday. We have very good risk management at Unikrn.

          The wagering business needs to pay attention to eSports now - and not two years from now"

What’s your position and expectations regarding the International Olympic Committee’s refusal to include eSports, with its president stating that violence has no place in the Olympics?

I don’t think eSports needs the Olympics, I think the Olympics needs eSports.

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