7 min read

Taking Cues From Professional Poker, Funway Is Taking Mahjong to the Next Level

The company is building an entire ecosystem around the game, which starts with Mahjong Masters, the world’s first mahjong reality tournament aired on an international sports channel.

Founder Calvin Shueh playing at a Mahjong Masters tournament.
Picture courtesy of Funway

Shawn Chu

Principal

Published

25.02.22

Poker is more than just a card game: it has become a professional sport featuring international tournaments, star players and major network coverage. But when it comes to games of skill and luck, poker’s popularity can’t hold a candle to mahjong. Funway, a Taiwan-based company, wants to change that by building a Mahjong gaming platform that includes live televised tournaments, a mainstream league and an online ecosystem for the mahjong community. 

The Nuts & Bolts

Problem: Mahjong traces its roots to China, where the tile-based game evolved in the 1800s and quickly gained a following. Its popularity has endured until this day, with an estimated 700 million players globally. That easily dwarfs poker, which has over 100 million players worldwide. Still, while poker has become a professional sport, mahjong has yet to follow suit. 

The gaming landscape for mahjong remains fragmented across different markets as it doesn’t have universally accepted rules or a centralized global league. But with that kind of popularity, we see an opportunity for mahjong to follow the precedent set by poker. Several gaming companies have capitalized on poker. For example, DraftKings had a recent market valuation of $7.5 billion, and PokerStars’ owner was acquired by Flutter Entertainment, the parent company of brands such as FanDuel, for reportedly about $6 billion.

It helps that mahjong has already proved popular as a mobile game. For instance, in Taiwan, Gametower’s parent company International Games System Co. (IGS) saw more than 90% of its nearly $300 million in revenue in 2020 come from mobile and online games; we estimate that a quarter of that comes from mahjong games. Against that backdrop, we see the dominoes lined up for mahjong to turn pro; it just needs the right platform. 

Solution: Think of Funway as similar to DraftKings or PokerStars, but focused on mahjong. The company is building an entire ecosystem around the game, which starts with Mahjong Masters, the world’s first mahjong reality tournament aired on an international sports channel. Broadcast on Eleven Sports, Mahjong Masters tournaments are played in person, and include professional commentators and plenty of sponsors. Examples: Redbull, GoPro, Thule, Gametower and more. Fans can also watch online through livestreams.

Funway has a multi-year contract with Eleven Sports, paving the way for Mahjong Masters to serve as the foundation for a global league similar to the World Series of Poker. That will see more live tournaments and a ranking system for players, while helping to attract an audience for a broader online gaming platform. Funway is also building an app for mahjong players, which will host a variety of online tournaments and games. That will allow the company to access a broad user base, from casual players to those looking for competitive esport leagues.

Getting to know Funway

Calvin Shueh founded the company in early 2020. A veteran of the gaming industry, who once dabbled in professional poker, Calvin served as the head of Asia for DraftKings for four years, and before that spent six years with PokerStars.  

Why now?

While in-person gaming tournaments slowed down due to COVID-19, there has been a significant increase in esports growth. Looking ahead, the esports market is expected to generate revenues of roughly $1.6 billion by 2023, nearly double what it produced in 2018. From Taiwan, Funway is also positioned to tap into a robust audience, as Asia is home to nearly 660 million esports participants, and the market generated over half of all global esports revenues ($544 million) in 2020. 

The future of Funway

As of this writing, the third season of Mahjong Masters is underway. Interest in a league is already apparent, with over 500 competitors entering the tournament’s second season. Meanwhile, a YouTube channel for Mahjong Masters has racked up millions of views and has over 3 million fans on social media, giving the company the audience it needs to continue expanding its gaming ecosystem. At 500 Global, we look forward to supporting Funway as it raises the stakes for one of the world’s most popular games. 

You can learn more about Funway at: https://funwayesports.com/ 

 

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Shawn Chu

Principal

Shawn Chu is a Principal at 500 Global

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