Benchmark gets sociable about sport

Powerfootball_2006_screenshot6 Benchmark Capital, the Silicon Valley VC firm, is building itself an interesting portfolio of online gaming and social networking companies, sometimes choosing start-ups that fuse both elements.

On Monday, it announced an $8m investment in the Swedish online sports games publisher and developer Power Challenge.

Power Challenge offers the Power Challenge soccer game with impressive 3D visuals, which can be played for free via a web browser. It also owns Manager Zone – a strategy game for soccer and ice hockey management.

Johan Christenson, chief executive, says Power Challenge has not licensed famous players or clubs for its games but has focused instead on the gamers creating their own stars and playing each other across the world.

It makes money from in-game advertising and premium services such as the ability to create private cup tournaments, leagues and badges for clubs.

Elie Wurtman, a Benchmark general partner, told me: “This is another investment where we see people transitioning into an online experience. Sports is the biggest category in console games and we believe this could be a global online gaming portal. The graphics engine and the way they are delivering the games can be the basis for delivering other major sports.”

Benchmark has invested in Linden Lab, creator of the Second Life virtual world, and San Jose’s Gaia, an online world for teens.

Last December, it invested $18.5m in Red 5 Studios, a developer founded by former employees of the most successful online role-playing game, World of Warcraft. It is also an investor in Funtactix,  “a next-generation fusion of online games and social networks.”