Angry Birds Champions is now available on iOS devices and through the developer's website, allowing players to fling their feathered friends against precarious piles of pigs in a bid to win real money for the first time. The game is accessible through the WorldWinner iOS app or on WorldWinner.com, joining the studio's other real-money tournament games like Wheel of Fortune, Solitaire, Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit.
"It's really the original Angry Birds physics game -- and obviously Rovio's done a number of different derivatives using the iconography -- but this is the core physics game of shooting birds and killing pigs," WorldWinner boss Jeremy Shea told Engadget.
Angry Birds Champions is an officially licensed title, made in conjunction with Rovio. It uses an asynchronous multiplayer format: Someone pays to enter a tournament and completes one of the two modes, best-of-three or progression, and her highest or combined score is recorded. The game finds another similarly skilled player in the tournament and that person plays the same levels. Whoever ends up with the highest score wins the cash prize, and WorldWinner takes a little off the top of each match.
WorldWinner's matchmaking system takes a number of factors into account, including how many games you've played, how well you've performed in specific tournaments, your win-loss ratio, and average or best scores.
These competitions are generally worth a few dollars each and cost less than a dollar to join. Shea wants to be clear that this isn't gambling -- WorldWinner has been building real-money tournament games for 18 years, and it knows the laws inside and out. A handful of big-name games, including Star Wars: Battlefront II and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, have come under scrutiny in recent months over their use of loot boxes and other gambling-adjacent systems. WorldWinner argues games like Angry Birds Champions are skill-based competitions, eliminating the element of chance that would turn them into gambling.
Still, 10 states have regulations that make WorldWinner's lawyers squirm, so cash tournaments aren't available in those areas (Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Montana, South Carolina, South Dakota and Tennessee).
"We're always in conversations with members of different states, and obviously there are players that want to play from certain states that we don't allow and they're disappointed when they find out," Shea said. "But in terms of gambling laws and regulations on a state-by-state or country-by-country basis -- we spend a considerable amount of money on attorneys and we're absolutely in line with the regulations as they are today and will be tomorrow."
Angry Birds Champions also isn't trying to become the next big esport -- though Shea would forgive you for thinking so. Players do win real money by playing Angry Birds Champions, but it simply isn't built to be a spectator sport.
"We clearly deliver competitions for money, from small two-player tournaments up to thousands of people participating," Shea said. "We deliver the entry fee and the prize model that most of your eSports competition deliver. But ... we've never been in the viewership model. So I think that's the one area where we evolve our lingo from saying we are esports to we are really on the edge of esports."
Angry Birds comes with a built-in player base, with 4 billion downloads (and at least one movie) since the franchise's launch in 2009. Shea expects Angry Birds Champions to have tens of thousands of players, easily.
"That is one of reasons that we went with the partnership with Rovio, in particular at this stage of our development: In the past six months we have shifted our focus from being very committed to delivering a PC-based consumer experience where we've had our success for close to two decades, to trying to enter the mobile space," Shea said. "Our expectation is that this week, we hit all of our launch targets and this will quickly scale to be one of our top-performing games, which would put it in the thousands of players playing in a given day."
And that's just on iOS -- WorldWinner is working on an Android version of the game as well, though there's no launch window just yet.