While the U.K. and U.S. try to block Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision over concerns it will kill competition in games distribution, competition appears to be alive and well in another (smaller) area of gaming: modding and analytics.
Wargraphs, a one-man-band startup behind a popular companion app for League of Legends called Porofessor, which helps players track and improve their playing stats, is getting acquired for up to €50 million ($54 million), half up front and half based on meeting certain earnings and growth targets.
MOBA Networks, a company founded out of Sweden that buys, grows and runs online gaming communities (MOBA is short for “multiplayer online battle arena”), is buying the startup and its existing products. The plan is to expand them to more markets, in particular across Asia, and to build analytics for more titles.
I write “startup”, but that might be with the loosest interpretation of the term. There is only a single employee, the mild-mannered Jean-Nicholas, and he has also entirely bootstrapped the business on his own. But that hasn’t held him back.
Wargraphs currently also builds analytics for Legends of Runeterra and Teamfight Tactics, but the League of Legends business has been its biggest it by far. Porofessor has had 10 million downloads of its app on Overwolf — which is where Porofessor was built — and more than 1.25 million daily active users if you combine traffic both from that platform and its own direct website.
The company, such as it is, has been around for some ten years, has pretty much always been profitable with revenues of €12.3 million in its last fiscal year.
The acquisition underscores an interesting leitmotif in the current world of startups. We’re coming out of a particularly bullish 10 years, where startups raised huge amounts of funding at vertiginous valuations, sometimes (okay, let’s be honest, OFTEN) with very little in the way of revenues or sound business models behind them, sometimes without even legitimate products to their name.
Now, valuations are definitely lower, and funding is not as easy to raise, especially for consumer-focused products. But in that context, Wargraphs and Jean-Nicholas are examples of how a completely different approach can be just as lucrative, if not more, in the consumer segment.
The deal also speaks to an interesting evolution in consumer technology.
Gaming is huge business these days. At $68.7 billion Microsoft’s contested Activision acquisition would be not just the biggest in gaming but the biggest deal in the technology sector overall.
But companies like MOBA, Overwolf — last valued, in 2021, at a more modest-sounding $515 million, according to PitchBook data — and Wargraphs are examples of how that’s evolving: games are at the center of larger ecosystems of products and services that can in themselves also become significant areas of value, even if they’re not the blockbusters at the center of those ecosystems.
(Case in point: the transaction closed a month ago, but Overwolf is trumpeting it at the moment to shine some light on its own platform as a ripe place to grow new avenues in gaming.)
Beyond that, new chapters in gaming — courtesy of new interactive headsets like the Vision Pro, and advances in areas like generative AI — will open the door to even more of that ecosystem development, I suspect.
Having said all that, Jean-Nicholas knows what he wants to build next: “a game,” he told me. Specifically, a card game that will compete against Hearthstone, coincidentally published by Activision Blizzard. He has no plans to raise outside funding for this, but he might hire an employee or two.