HONG KONG -- Animoca Brands, a Hong Kong-based blockchain gaming company and an active player in the nonfungible tokens market, said on Thursday that it raised the auspicious amount of $88,888,888 from investors that it claimed gives it a valuation of $1 billion, which will make it the newest crypto unicorn in Asia.
Both traditional financial institutions and crypto funds participated in the funding round, including RIT Capital Partners of the U.K., Australia's Ellerston Capital, Hong Kong-based Kingsway Capital, Taipei-based venture capital firm AppWorks Fund, blockchain investors including HashKey and Huobi, and other participants.
Yat Siu, chairman and co-founder of Animoca Brands, told Nikkei Asia in an interview that the inflow of traditional money is "a vote of confidence" for crypto businesses, in which currently just a small pool of individuals -- such as investors, buyers and gamers -- take part despite digital assets' soaring prices.
Siu added although the company has ample financial strength itself, the latest round of investment will have important implications for the wider adoption of blockchain technologies. "The general public will start saying, 'Let's take a look and investigate what it is,'" he said.
The fundraising figure of $88,888,888 is "deliberate," he said. Eight is regarded as the luckiest number in Chinese culture, with a connotation of prosperity and wealth.
Animoca Brands pulled in $12 million over a period of three days in April, when it sold digital real estate and virtual Formula 1 race car events through its blockchain games, F1 Delta Time and The Sandbox. The transactions were conducted with the platform's own utility token on a blockchain.
Apart from gaming, various industries have been assessing how they might capitalize on the skyrocketing demand for nonfungible tokens, known as NFTs, which are unique lines of code used to certify the ownership of digital assets, such as artwork, photos and videos. In March, a token representing a digital work by the American artist Beeple sold for nearly $70 million.
Sports leagues around the world also are turning to NFTs to hunt for new revenue streams.
In the U.S., the National Basketball Association has partnered with a consumer blockchain company to sell game highlights to fans as digital tokens. Earlier this year, a 12-second video clip of a dunk by Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James was resold for more than $200,000, while the English Premier League is also reportedly looking into the NFT market.
While these recent sales have grabbed the attention of investors, some warn that the red-hot market could create asset bubbles.
Animoca Brands will use its new funds for further acquisitions in the blockchain and NFT space, developing new products and making strategic investments in order to "grow the industry's ecosystem," Siu said. In 2018, Animoca Brands invested in Dapper Labs, the creator of digital products CryptoKitties and NBA Top Shot.
Siu said the gaming industry in Asia has immense potential for the monetization of NFTs, with which gamers purchase game items with digital property rights.
"For traditional video games, all the in-game assets belong to the game developer," Siu said. "With NFTs, gamers can claim ownership to the digital assets and be rewarded for their time and effort spent in the game," he said, adding that gaming companies will be "forced" to adopt this new model as NFTs gain greater acceptance.
Still, the limitations of blockchain transactions -- inefficient validation processes and their associated heavy carbon footprints -- also apply to NFT games. Siu said he believes the continuing development of blockchain technology, like the second generation of Ethereum blockchain, could eventually solve these problems.
"We always maintained that gaming would be one of the first massive adopters of blockchain," Deng Chao, CEO of HashKey Group, said in a statement. The company "is redefining property rights for gamers."
Meanwhile, Huobi Group, a blockchain company, also announced on Thursday the launch of Huobi Ventures. The new venture arm is set to deploy $100 million into early-stage blockchain and decentralized finance projects, as well as establishing a separate $10 million NFT fund.
Founded in 2014, Animoca Brands came 324th in the annual ranking of 500 highest-growth companies in the Asia-Pacific region in 2021, a list compiled by the Financial Times in partnership with Nikkei Asia and research provider Statista.
The company originally was listed on the Australian Securities Exchange in 2015, but it was delisted in March 2020 due to noncompliance issues.