The Global VC

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.

Article image

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

Shawn Chu

Shawn Chu






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: 


Legal Disclaimers: 500 Startups programs (including accelerator programs), investor education services, strategic partnership consulting services and events are operated by 500 Startups Incubator, L.L.C. (together with its affiliates, “500 Startups”) and the funds advised by 500 Startups Management Company, L.L.C. do not participate in any revenue generated by these activities. Such programs and services are provided for educational and informational purposes only and under no circumstances should any content provided as part of any such programs, services or events be construed as investment, legal, tax or accounting advice by 500 startups or any of its affiliates.

The views expressed here are those of the individual 500 Startups personnel, or other individuals quoted and are not the views of 500 Startups or its affiliates. Certain information contained herein may have been obtained from third-party sources, including from portfolio companies of funds managed by 500 Startups. While taken from sources believed to be reliable, 500 Startups has not independently verified such information and makes no representations or warranties as to the accuracy of the information in this post or its appropriateness for a given situation. In addition, this content may include third-party advertisements or links; 500 Startups has not reviewed such advertisements and does not endorse any advertising content contained therein.

This content is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be relied upon as legal, business, investment, tax or accounting advice. You should consult your own advisers as to those matters. References to any securities or digital assets are for illustrative purposes only, and do not constitute an investment recommendation, offer to sell or solicitation to purchase any investment securities, or offer to provide investment advisory services. Furthermore, this content is not directed at nor intended for use by any investors or prospective investors, and may not under any circumstances be relied upon when making a decision to invest in any fund managed by 500 Startups. (An offering to invest in an 500 Startups fund will be made only by the private placement memorandum, subscription agreement, and other relevant documentation of any such fund and should be read in their entirety.) Any investments or portfolio companies mentioned, referred to, or described are not representative of all investments in vehicles managed by 500 Startups, and there can be no assurance that the investments will be profitable or that other investments made in the future will have similar characteristics or results.

Charts and graphs provided herein are for informational purposes solely and should not be relied upon when making any investment decision. Past performance is not indicative of future results. The content speaks only as of the date indicated. Unless otherwise expressly stated, figures are based on internal estimates and have not been independently verified. Any projections, estimates, forecasts, targets, prospects, and/or opinions expressed in these materials are subject to change without notice and may differ or be contrary to opinions expressed by others. All logos and trademarks of third parties referenced herein are the logos and trademarks of their respective owners and any inclusion of such trademarks or logos does not imply or constitute any approval, endorsement or sponsorship of 500 Startups by such owners.

Please see Section 2 of our Terms of Use for additional important information.

Shawn Chu

Shawn Chu


Shawn Chu is a Principal at 500 Global