Skillz, the mobile eSports tech disruptor that has largely set its sites on casual gamers, is targeting an even more enthusiastic audience. The company has partnered with Beeline Interactive, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Capcom, to bring the classic fighting game "Street Fighter" to its platform.
"Street Fighter" is a 30-year-old franchise that's still a favorite among competitive gamers. Life to date, more than 390 million copies of the series have sold worldwide. And TBS recently wrapped up a two-month televised eSports tournament centering around the game, with a prize pool of $250,000.
Skillz founder and CEO Andrew Paradise says he thinks this is the beginning of a larger movement in the video game industry.
"[Big game publishers] haven't been building [eSports] content for mobile devices," he says. "This is a pivotal moment in the industry, where one of the biggest competitive games is being built for mobile."
Beeline and Skillz have not yet announced when the mobile, competitive version of "Street Fighter" will go live for players and spectators.
The partnership is a notable departure for Skillz. Historically, the company has largely focused on casual gamers, with its top draw being a bubble-popping game called "Bubble Shooter." That focus has attracted more than 12 million players from 180 countries.
While there are some titles Skillz offers that might appeal to hardcore, or enthusiast, players, they're all made by independent developers and don't have widespread name recognition. Paradise says he believes the entry of "Street Fighter" into the mobile eSports market will lead to others joining. (In fact, he says, Skillz has other deals that will be announced in the weeks and months to come.)
"We're going to see more of that 'traditional' hardcore gaming experience," he says. "More and more studios will be doing that with Skillz in the future."
Why Skillz and why mobile? It could come down to hardware. About 4.3 billion people currently have mobile broadband subscriptions, according to the most recent Ericsson Mobility Report. That's notably higher than the total number of computers, the preferred system of professional competitive gamers.
"For the last five years, we've been building out a fully featured eSports [platform]," says Paradise. "Mobile eSports will push eSports into the mainstream much faster than what's happened with computers."
Skillz, meanwhile, has quietly become one of the biggest eSports companies, awarding $50 million to players in 2016 and raising $28 million from venture firms, including Sequoia Capital and The Kraft Group, founded by Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots.
The push to attract the core gamer demographic is about more than boosting annual revenues and the total number of users. It's also a drive to widen the larger playing field for eSports, says Paradise.
At present, there's really no chance for the average fan to earn any cash playing a competitive game of "Street Fighter." Tournaments are won by people who practice several hours a day — at a professional level.
Paradise says he envisions a future of eSports where all levels can compete. So rather than having to play in the gaming equivalent of the NBA, fans of a title could also compete on a college basketball level or even a recreational league. Opening up big games to different tiers of players will widen the appeal, he says.
"I think you can now expect a lot more larger partnerships from the company now that the software and platform have proven themselves," says Paradise.
This story has been updated to reflect that, to date, more than 390 million copies of the "Street Fighter" series have sold worldwide.
— By Chris Morris, special to CNBC.com