A 2018 digital figure of then-Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper stamped on the Ethereum blockchain has sold for $7,300 (25 Eth), while a figure of LA Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw sold for $3,500 (12.2 Eth).
The figures, bought and sold on the secondary market at MLBC.app, are a part of the MLB-licensed game MLBChampions, which was created by the Los Angeles-based Lucid Sight. The company is betting that people will start to understand digital scarcity and ownership.
During the 2018 MLB baseball season, Lucid Sight released MLB Crypto Baseball, a beta version of MLBChampions, a digital collecting game in which fantasy players buy and sell collectibles that earn rewards based on the results of real life baseball games. During the World Series in late October, the company will launch a new version of the continuously-evolving game.
Lucid Sight CEO Randy Saaf and his co-founders grew up in the 1980s. He recalls a time when collector card stores were common. “You could buy baseball cards from 7/11,” he said. Baseball cards date back to the 19th century, and have over the years been packaged with items like tobacco and Cracker Jacks.
“[MLBChampions] is very similar to baseball cards,” said Saaf, a nearly lifelong LA Dodgers fan. “At the core it’s still a collectibles game.”
The new version of the collectables, similar to the Harper and Kershaw figures, will be generated based on a user’s game play. For instance, If the New York Yankees make the World Series, and Yankees slugger Aaron Judge hits a grand slam to win the Fall Classic, MLBChampions memorializes this historic event by creating a token stamped on the Ethereum blockchain to represent it. MLBC uses Statcast, a high-speed, high-accuracy, automated tool developed to analyze player movements and game play to keep track of the events. MLB implemented Statcast into all 30 MLB stadiums in 2015 to track game play.
MLBC has graphics and poses in which it puts the professional player. The fantasy player can then, if they so choose, click “mint” to create an ERC-721 Ethereum token of that player. The ERC-721 token standard makes it possible to create unique digital tokens that can represent valuable collectibles.
“That token is the crypto part that can be traded and sold,” said Saaf, who shared an example of a historic figure generated when former Dodgers player Howie Kendrick hit a grand slam home run in the 10th inning of Game 5 of the National League Division Series, sending the Washington Nationals to the NL Championship Series.
“After the season, the Ethereum contract locks and we are unable to generate new 2019 figures,” said Saaf. “If you want to buy a 2019 player in 2020, you will have to buy it from another fantasy player on the marketplace. What we’re trying to do right now through the World Series is [generate] the collectibles based on the legendary events and you can only get one if you are playing that event and that player.”
The 2019 figures might be particularly desired by some collectors–it is, after all, the 150th anniversary of professional baseball. Here’s the figure generated after former Dodger Howie Kendrick hit a grand slam to help end the Dodgers 2019 season in this year’s NL Division Series.
The secondary market helps to make these digital figures collectible. “You can either grind away and play this game or you can just go buy the stuff on a secondary market from people who didn’t want, say, a Dodgers collectible anymore—they’re just over it,” said Saaf. “It could be any events that were important to you, but maybe not nationally important, [or it could be] the World Series, which is more important nationally.” Users can view your figures in AR on your iPhone and Android.
After the postseason, Lucid Sight will release MLBChampions as an iOS and Android game. Fantasy players will simulate fantasy games in the idle clicker game, which is a type of video game in which they earn currency by playing the game. Fantasy players will play the idle clicker to “train” their MLBC figures and play simulated games with their figures in order to win rare collectibles.
“It’ll be game simulations,” said Saaf. “It’ll look very similar to the other games that they’re used to playing. But, the key feature that we hope they value is that the rewards are these rare, rare, valuable collectibles.”
Saaf said Lucid Sight wanted to create something that people could pass on to their children. “That’s what you can do with Bitcoin. If I have a Bitcoin, I’m not going to throw it away. I’m not going to lose it, because I can literally give it to my kids when I die, and they can sell it and buy a house.”
Lucid Sight, which acquired a dual license for name rights from both MLB and the MLB Players Association, believes those same elements of digital scarcity could reignite collecting. MLB, the second most profitable sports league worldwide trailing only the NFL, has had a lot of success on the digital front. It sold BamTech, its MLB Advanced Media digital media company, to Disney in 2017 for several billion dollars.
Saaf, 43, says MLB’s penchant for innovation led to an open-mindedness towards a crypto game before Crypto Kitties (perhaps the first viral blockchain-based game) had been released. This spirit of innovation trickles down to the teams.
“This is just in their culture and their DNA. And it actually permeates all the way down to when you have that at the top where you’re willing to take chances and big risk, big reward type situations. It permeates to the teams.”
This culture may have already led to a unique night in both baseball and blockchain history. Lucid Sight held a digital bobblehead giveaway in 2018 that was spearheaded when company executives met with Dodgers senior management at an MLB event.
“These were essentially crypto bobbleheads of our [Dodgers players],” said Saaf. “Basically these were cards with the crypto on it. We printed crypto on 40,000 paper wallets that have the private key on them. Your typical Dodgers fan didn’t necessarily know what to do with these. But certain fans were like, these are going to be rare. We wanted to do a physical giveaway because the fans just kind of show up and you’re just given your item as a give away. They’re used to that, it’s the easiest way to give people stuff.”
He says bobbleheads in general have some monetary value as a collectible. For instance, the digital bobbleheads from the Dodger giveaway are selling for between as much as $100 on eBay, or given to somebody else who values it. “What you saw at the game is certain people were collecting them up. People valued them, and collected them like a physical bobblehead.” Some people were even offering to buy the crypto tokens for $2.
One Dodger fan at the event didn’t understand the process and stopped another fan who explained what was going on. “I was really confused walking in,” he told YouTube influencers the Crypto Cafe. “We gotta download this, do this, do that. It seems like a lot of work, but what are you gonna do?” The Dodger fan, Jesse, said he thought he would end up redeeming the token.
To do so, he would download the MLBC app and then scan the QR code on the Dodgers Digital Bobblehead Card. The Crypto Cafe scanned the card for him and found that he had received a Justin Turner, the team’s red-bearded star third-basemen. “Oh, cool, I’ll take that,” said an excited Jesse.
This was the first time a digital bobblehead night had ever been done. “These are out there now in the wild,” said Saaf. “We don’t control them.”
Lucid Sight didn’t host such a night with the Dodgers in 2019, and they are not sure there will be one in 2020. “40,000 cards was a huge effort, making sure that we had the right quantities and making sure that the security was tight,” Saaf said.
Search the MLBC marketplace for Chicago Cubs players, and you’ll find Ian Happ and Anthony Rizzo figures. In order to purchase them, I would sign into Metamask and pay in ETH. Happ was going for .04250 ETH ($8.16) and Rizzo was going for .07500 ETH ($14.40). For some reason, Happ was wearing a “red wine glove”—perhaps a reference to his discussions with Former Cubs Manager Joe Maddon on the subject of fine wines. Less explicably, Rizzo had a nacho glove – his favorite food, however, is probably pasta cooked by his mom.
“The visual attributes of red wine glove and nacho glove are part of the game play and the tiers of figure scarcity,” said Saaf.
The rarity of figures is a combination of player, base attributes (gold, silver, common, etc.), pose, and other visual attributes,” he said. “We have a broad range of visual attributes. Some traditional, like a black wood bat. Some are fun like nacho glove. Rarity can stack when you get a very rare visual attribute combining with a very rare event like a grand slam.” The MLBC figures are generated in various stances, such as catching, batting, and more.
The figures also contain a ‘Population’ number, which only applies to figures that have been minted to Ethereum. It says how many of the player and attributes are in the total population.
“The variety of visual attributes combined with legendary events (grand slam, no hitter, etc.) creates a huge variety of scarcity,” said Saaf. “There might be 100 Aaron Judge Grand Slams from the World series but only one Gold Bat Aaron Judge Grand Slam figure.”
The Anthony Rizzo Game Event was a stolen base—not a likely scenario for the 240-pound first baseman. Imagine how, if the 2015 first-round draft pick Happ lived up to expectations, his MLBChampions figure could increase in perceived value.
“Different people value different things,” said Saaf. “I might get a bunch of Yankees players, but I’m not a Yankees fan. I want to just get rid of those and I’ll sell them at whatever the clearance price is. Well, there’s somebody in New York who is a huge Yankee fan, and they want to buy them up. Or there’s this one figure that you want to find and maybe you have to pay extra to get that one figure.”
His generation grew up with an intuition around digital as being likened to a copy. “If I give you a JPEG, if I texted you a picture of my kids, that’s a copy. There’s no value to that.”
But that changed with Bitcoin. “Bitcoin basically invented digital scarcity and digital ownership. If I give you a Bitcoin, I don’t have my bitcoin anymore.”
Despite the potential of blockchain, Lucid Sight has had to manage some of Ethereum’s limitations. While minting to the Ethereum blockchain had been mandatory in Lucid Sight games in 2018, the company found the cost and speed of Ethereum was prohibitive to many players. The company also wanted MLB Champions to work on iOS and Android.
Pure-blockchain Web 3.0 games won’t ever work with native iOS apps, said Saaf. Web 3.0 refers to a future version of the internet which incorporates technology like artificial intelligence.
“There are some Web3 browser-based games you can play in mobile crypto wallets with Web3 browsers, but we wanted to make native games that are up to average consumer expectation of iOS/Android gaming.”
Lucid Sight developed an Ethereum emulator called Scarcity Engine, a software developer tool designed to make blockchain and traditional gaming platforms compatible with each other. The Scarcity Engine powers all of the company’s games.
Lucid Sight says Scarcity Engine is the best balance for gamers, said Saaf. “Players unfamiliar with crypto can still jump in our games and get started playing on a familiar platform like iOS and ease into the crypto stuff when they are ready.” He says optional minting is the preferred solution for the vast majority of consumers.
“Most players choose to mint some items, but they don’t mint everything,” Saaf said. “Some mint everything, but many just mint players from their favorite team or the rarest MLBC figures.”
Ultimately, as any humble baseball fan knows, whether or not crypto brings back the age-old tradition of trading cards might be up to the “Baseball Gods.”