FaZe Clan is still giddy from its Art Basel premiere event, “FaZe Forever Powered by MoonPay,” in Miami. Days after a Saturday premiere brimming with digital art, NFTs and virtual fashion, the esports brand announced a multiyear deal on Tuesday that turns its event cohort, cryptocurrency start-up MoonPay, into its official crypto and NFT partner.
If this seems like a metaverse play, that’s because it is: According to the announcement, the partners plan to give the community “a unique opportunity to interact with the metaverse as it takes shape.”
Essentially, MoonPay’s crypto infrastructure will act as the fintech backbone for a new NFT and digital goods business operating under the “FaZe Forever” umbrella. Its three tentpoles, the company said, will be “Curating & Collecting,” “Creating & Collaborating” and “Spotlighting & Elevating.”
Lee Trink, FaZe Clan’s chief executive officer, offered context: “We’re focused on building a culture and community-led digital goods and NFT business that excites our fans and expresses the FaZe brand in new and innovative ways,” he said.
“As a leading voice in youth culture, it’s vital that we also deliver on our responsibility to protect our community as the world starts to embrace Web3.”
The announcement is thick with buzzwords like crypto, NFTs, metaverse and Web3, hewing to a sort of high-tech lingua franca between tech companies, investors, creatives and younger, digitally native consumers, like FaZe’s fans. For everyone else, simply understanding the terms may be an uphill battle, though.
But they must, if they want a stake in the new digital economy.
A quick primer: The foundation of this movement is blockchain, a technology that’s difficult, if nearly impossible, to fake because all transactions or movements are recorded in a shared ledger. The technology spawned digital money, or cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, as well as virtual goods via NFTs, which are bits of tokenized code tied to virtual valuables (and sometimes physical products). Think exclusive 3D sneakers, one-of-a-kind electronic murals and other digital rarities.
NFT sales exploded this year, with individual fashion and art transactions nabbing millions and fueling monthly growth from $400 million in early 2021 to $2 billion, according to JPMorgan, creating a market that’s worth over $7 billion. Meanwhile crypto, which is typically used to buy NFTs, triggered a feeding frenzy among investors.
A CB Insights report for the third quarter noted a record-smashing year for crypto and blockchain financing, with funding skyrocketing 384 percent versus 2020. Venture capitalists funneled more into crypto-related projects in 2021 than the entire last decade, to the tune of $27 billion, Pitchbook data said.
Much of this momentum was already underway before the metaverse proposition unloaded accelerant on it.
Enthusiasts, like Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg, hype this interconnected virtual world as an “embodied internet,” the successor to today’s web. Others believe the online future lies in Web3, a third version of the internet following its messy early days and the current era of Big Tech dominance. This new iteration promises to be a more secure, blockchain-based environment free from the control of a handful of major platforms like Google or Facebook.
In either case, tech experts and VCs expect NFTs and cryptocurrency to be crucial drivers of commerce. Gaming and fan communities already prove powerful vectors for that, putting esports organizations like FaZe Clan in the spotlight.
But for most consumers, this type of commerce experience remains too esoteric and complicated, usually requiring a crypto wallet to make transactions. If companies could only make it more intuitive, they could widen the net.
MoonPay’s appeal in this context makes sense. It wants to simplify cryptocurrency payments, and it built an infrastructure around that concept.
The company faces competition from a stampede of rivals, from freshman crypto businesses to established platforms like PayPal and Venmo. And it’s not clear if it worked out all the kinks. One account from a reporter in September noted a frustrating sign-up experience, with two of the users’ three credit cards flagged for fraud.
The crypto mania described by CB Insights and Pitchbook remains in full force. Just two years after its launch, MoonPay emerged from its Series A round in November with $555 million in funding and a valuation of $3.4 billion.
Its approach may have something to do with that. Consumers can use credit cards, bank transfers or even mobile wallets like Apple Pay to buy and sell cryptocurrencies. In a blog post on Monday, the company introduced a new NFT Checkout solution for NFT purchases via credit or debit card, calling it “a huge improvement over the current process.”
High-profile clients get the white glove treatment, with new concierge services set up to help them. So far, the company has transacted with stars like Jimmy Fallon, Post Malone, Diplo, DJ Khaled, Future and Martin Garrix.
For businesses, it promises to help companies like NFT marketplace OpenSea and Bitcoin.com transact more easily. MoonPay claims that it helped the latter multiply revenue by as much as six times.
Last month Ivan Soto-Wright, MoonPay’s cofounder and CEO, explained to crypto site Coin Rivet that “what differentiates MoonPay is the fact that this tech is enabling emerging wallets, exchanges, DeFi platforms and NFT marketplaces to hit the ground running, so they can focus entirely on core business rather than infrastructure.”
Now it’s FaZe Clan’s turn.
The partners’ first effort, at the Art Basel event on Saturday, looked like a promising start. Attended by prominent NFT creators and collectors, the event drew famed rapper Gunna, who popped in for a surprise performance. A drop with virtual fashion company Rtfkt for a physical, limited-edition jersey with customizable embroidery sold out quickly, with the promise of a future virtual experience via a QR code available on the garment. Marriott Bonvoy also debuted its first NFTs, which were created by artists from the FaZe Clan community.
To show how media relations could work in Web3, the esports company also minted 50 “FaZe Press Pass” NFTs for reporters that grant access to future embargoed announcements.
The plan is to unveil a series of content and media early next year, with MoonPay handling crypto transactions and helping to develop content customized for FaZe’s esports community. Somewhere in the midst of that, FaZe will work in a SPAC merger that imputes a $1 billion equity value on the business and get publicly listed on the Nasdaq.
“MoonPay and FaZe Clan are united by a common goal: we both aim to empower the creator and gaming economies,” explained MoonPay’s Soto-Wright. The partnership “holds the potential to create a crypto-gaming juggernaut the likes of which the world has never seen.”
As grandiose as that sounds, it could be the sort of bravado pioneers need when breaking new ground. In tech, where the rules are often shaped and rewritten by ambitious upstarts, it’s all too familiar.
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