What do the rapper Ja Rule, the former National Football League (NFL) player Tiki Barber, and the actor Jerry Ferrara (“Turtle” from “Entourage”) have in common? They’re all part of a community called the “Knights of Degen,” a non-fungible token-based club that’s obsessed with sports, gambling and anything related to sports and gambling.
“The year is 2088,” explains the Knights website. “It’s a raucous Sunday at the renowned medieval sports bar, the Degen Tavern, where sports degens gather in their finest Knight gear to bet on sports, trade NFTs, share alpha and be their truest degen selves.”
To the uninitiated, as is the case with so much in crypto, that string of words can sound like gobbledygook. So co-founder Drew Austin has a simpler explanation. “What’s your ideal Vegas sports bar experience?” Austin asks. “You hang out, you talk with your friends, eat, drink and bet on games.”
The goal of Knights is to replicate that boozy and chummy sports bar experience – both online and IRL.
Here’s how it works. There are a total of 8,888 non-fungible token (NFT) “knights,” cartoon drawings that can be aliens, robots or punchable-looking men. If you buy one of these NFTs, you join the club and get certain perks. (The cheapest of these NFTs goes for 0.23 ether [ETH], or around US$385, at the time of this writing.)
Austin had the idea for Knights during the depths of COVID-19. He realized he was talking with his buddies about the same kinds of things again and again: sports, crypto, NFTs, betting, and more sports and more betting. They liked to “share alpha” and try to find a betting edge. (Think of a sportier version of Wall Street Bets.) Austin realized, “There have got to be other people like us having these same conversations.”
It turns out there were. There are nearly 3,000 members of the Knights community, according to Austin, a crypto entrepreneur who has been scooping up NFTs since 2018 (he owns some of the most valuables steeds in the “Zed Run” horse racing game; for example, a horse he bought for $200 is now worth $10,000). He says the Knights have driven $10 million in total sales (primarily from NFTs), which helps fund a team of 14 and pays for the many events, parties and perks showered on the community.
A vocal member of this community is Celso Porto, a 40-year-old father of two who works in sales and marketing. “This is what I do anyways, for my life,” says Porto. “Watching football on Sundays. Talking to my buddies through a text chat.”
The Knights felt like his people. A die-hard New York Knicks basketball team fan, Porto was surprised to find himself talking hoops with celebrities, or watching football games (virtually) with [former NFL players] Brandon Jacobs or Marshall Faulk. “I’m like, okay, here I am talking Knicks in the Discord with Jerry [Ferrara],” says Porto. “The Discord events are great.”
Read more: Jeff Wilser – For the Fans: How DAOs Could Change Sports
Often, the Knights hang out in the Discord, but sometimes they meet in real life. The Knights threw a party for March Madness in Vegas, a party at NFT.NYC, a party at the Super Bowl. “We’re pretty much at every major sporting event and major NFT events,” says Austin.
They even create their own sporting events. On April 16, 2022, the Knights were involved in perhaps the most “meta” game in the history of football. The game kicked off play for the second season of “Fan Controlled Football,” or FCF, meaning that fans actually run the teams and manage the rosters and even call the plays. It’s a game of 7-on-7 on a 50-yard field.
The Knights had bought a partial share in one of the teams, meaning its NFT-holders could act as de facto general managers. Many of the Knights (including Austin and Porto, who streamed it on Twitch) attended the game in person. “Everyone has their mobile app out, and we’re calling the plays together,” says Porto.
He also had real-time contact with the team’s quarterback and offensive coordinator. “Our quarterback would reach out to me and be like, ‘They’re killing us on the pass-run option, let’s go pass!’ And I would relay it to the community.” (For football nerds, this is nirvana.) The Knights’ opponents? The Bored Ape Yacht Club (which also bought an FCF team), pitting one NFT project against another NFT project in a bizarro real-life manifestation of Web3.
The Fan Controlled Football team is part of a grander strategy. “We wanted to build this decentralized Disney for degens,” says Austin, explaining that just as Disney (DIS) has its own clear brand identity and intellectual property (IP), it also thrives across many verticals, from theme parks to ESPN to “Star Wars.” So the Knights are targeting new verticals. They’re now part owners in two sports teams – the FCF team and a soccer team called Crawley Town, in the U.K. With “KOD media” they’re creating online shows like “The Knight Shift” (started by Porto, a weekly recap of the knight’s “kingdom”), Yankees Morning Brew and KoD P2E (play to earn) gaming night.
But why stop at football? Somewhat incredibly, the Knights have a partnership with Bronx Brewery and will roll out their first beer – an IPA called “Degen Haze.” They’re working with local restaurants to somehow create a “degen sauce” that you can order on Seamless. As Austin puts it, “we’re basically putting vodka sauce on a bunch of [stuff] we really love,” and he hopes to roll this out to over 50 cities during the upcoming NFL season. The goal is to bridge the online and offline. “Now you can eat with your friends, drink with your friends, watch our teams, bet on games but do it globally with your digital friends at scale,” he said.
Zooming out the lens, there are many reasons to be skeptical about various corners of the crypto ecosystem. So much is bunk. But one thing crypto does well – for better or for worse – is build and unite communities. Some of these communities are inspiring and some are toxic, but they’re almost always connected, engaged and impassioned. This is the case even when the only thing the community has in common is a cartoon ape. But when there’s already a connective tissue to the tribe, like sports and gambling? Then Web3 can put it on steroids.
Just ask Porto, the father of two kids who loves the communal vibe so much – the betting, the sports, the camaraderie – that he views joining the Knights as a rare gift to himself. “I do everything for the kids,” he says with a laugh, “and now it’s my turn.”
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