Japanese Esports Content Creator PlayBrain Raises US$6M Series A

PlayBrain will use the fresh funds to expand into additional esports and entertainment properties and build on its partnership with Riot Games

Japanese esports content provider and event organizer PlayBrain has raised US$6 million in a Series A financing round, to produce content and manage esports competitions in Japan, the startup reported on Tuesday.

BITKRAFT Esports Ventures, which had led PlayBrain’s $1.9 million seed round in February 2019, participated in the new financing round, Playbrain said.

The latest investment brings PlayBrain’s total funding to $7.9 million, according to Crunchbase data.

PlayBrain will utilize the fresh funds to expand into additional esports and entertainment properties and expand on its second year of partnership with Riot Games in the League of Legends Japan League, according to Reuters.

PlayBrain also announced the appointment of manga subscription service Mangamo’s Founder and CEO Buddy Marini to its Advisory Board, The Esports Observer reported. Marini has previous experience in esports as Managing Director of Supercell Japan, and merged esports with mainstream entertainment as CEO at Hulu Japan.

Founded in January 2016 by Founder and CEO Michael Sheetal, PlayBrain was built as an alternative approach to marketing and advertising for games. It helps brands reach gamers and game fans with esports targeted communication and content marketing, according to its website.

The startup works with renowned game publishers like Electronic Arts, Blizzard Entertainment, Supercell, Twitch, Alienware, and Intel.

In an email to GamesBeat, Sheetal said the PlayBrain team has been working remotely since March, except for some limited events at the venue.

“Despite needing to cancel or reduce some smaller events where sponsors wanted to push their marketing budgets to later in the year, we have switched most of our events that were previously held offline, such as LJL, to being online events,” he said.

“So far, this has been a successful operation, and we have also seen a significant uptick in viewership, so sponsors who have stuck with it have actually been rewarded,” he added.

“Our staff has been great at adjusting to remote work, and we are still pushing ahead with our goals to expand content and intellectual property in the industry,” Sheetal said.

Japan’s lockdown restrictions have been lifted and 20% of PlayBrain’s 30 employees have resumed work at office, he said.

The startup is planning both online and offline options for larger events, with an online-only contingency plan, he added.

Although Japan has been a late entrant to the esports market, PlayBrain believes the market is set to grow quickly, even with events being pushed online due to the global pandemic. In 2019, PlayBrain’s events grew 2.5X in terms of audiences reached, according to the startup.

Market research and news service company BCN Inc. reported that Japan’s esports market is estimated to grow from $56.7 million in 2019 to $142 million in 2023, fuelled by the greater use of 5G communication and more game makers in the market.

According to the startup’s website, more than 60 million people play games on a regular basis in Japan, and the stability of the country’s dominant middle class means that gamers are willing and able to invest in experiences and products that they connect with at a greater rate compared to many other major markets around the globe.

“Although the Japanese esports market had a late start in comparison to the rest of the world, the esports market in Japan is expected to grow 250% over the next four years,” Sheetal said.

Founding General Partner of BITKRAFT Malte Barth said, “We not only saw the momentum and growth of the Japanese esports market as a whole but also witnessed PlayBrain’s instrumental role in establishing the esports-ecosystem in Japan. We are very excited to be backing the next phase of growth with this financing and our active support.”

Header Image courtesy of PlayBrain

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