Business & Tech, Features

BU student co-creates celebrity gaming start-up for charity

Watching friends and streamers play Fortnite, NBA 2K and other popular games online has boomed over the past few years, as platforms such as Discord and Twitch grow, facilitating communication between players.

Kleos Live video gaming app. CEO Max Keating and Boston University senior Eli Bebinger created the app, which launched Monday and allows celebrities to play video games with their fans. ILLUSTRATION BY HANNAH YOSHINAGA/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

Actors, musicians and celebrities love gaming as much as anyone, and now, with a new app, they are ready to enter this conversation and play with their fans — and for a good cause.

Kleos Live is an app connecting celebrities to play with their fans. The app, which launched Monday, will fulfill a demand for celebrities to play esports with fans, according to CEO Max Keating.

Keating said he was inspired after seeing celebrities — particularly athletes such as Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and former Detroit Pistons point guard Isiah Thomas — post their Xbox username on social media and choose a player at random to play with.

“We thought this is an untapped niche,” Keating said. “We want to fulfill and create this pathway for celebrities [to] play video games with their fans.”

Eli Bebinger, Kleos Live’s CPO, is a student in Boston University’s College of Arts and Sciences. He said he was supposed to graduate this Spring with a bachelor’s degree in economics, but was inspired to take a gap year while he works on the app.

He and Keating thought of the idea for the app in April of last year, but have been “working” side-by-side for much longer.

“We grew up together and we always would try to scheme business ideas together,” Bebinger said. “We lived right by Boston, and we have been working out of Brookline for the past year.”

One component of the app is its charitable contributions — 1% of each game’s “sticker price” is donated to a cause, and celebrities can determine how much of their earnings they donate, according to Kleos Live’s website.

Kleos Live, which is available on the App Store and Google Play, allows users to download the app and watch streams for free, but costs to play with the celebrities for charity.

“If you’re watching the stream and there’s an open slot and say, Joel McHale, our partner, is playing, you can be like, ‘Oh I want to play with him,’ and then I’ll pay X dollars, whatever it is, to hop into this game with Joel,” he said, “and banter over the headset and have this cool experience.”

The app derives its name from the ancient Greek term, referring to Greek heroes’ “notoriety, in a good sense,” Keating said.

“Our thinking is that our modern-day heroes, these athletes, actors, celebrities,” he said, “by taking the time to connect with fans and also raise some money for charity … they’d be also deservant of ‘kleos’ by doing these good deeds.”

Current partners include comedian and “Community” TV star Joel McHale, New England Patriots defensive end Chase Winovich and musician Carter Reeves.

McHale, Winovich and Reeves are all financial and talent partners with Keating and Bebinger. Keating said the three are the official talent on the app, in addition to other celebrities that have signed on to play.

“We have talent signed up from all four of the U.S. major sports leagues: MLB, NBA, NHL, NFL, as well as the MLS, the PLL, Professional Lacrosse League, the UFC, musicians, entertainers and professional streamers,” he said, “as well as pro-gamers.”

Kleos Live hopes to reach new celebrities and donors and be a “leading force” in the video game industry, according to their press release.

Bebinger said many of the app’s partners are Boston-based, though their reach extends to the West Coast and even Nigeria, where they are working with two developers.

As the pair worked on the app through 2020, they experienced the movement for racial justice and the lack of pandemic relief throughout the country. Keating and Bebinger said including the social change within the app was an important part of its creation and mission.

“We view this as a luxury good in a sense, you don’t need to pay to play video games with someone you look up to,” Bebinger said. “We wanted some portion of the revenue to be giving back to communities that people care about.”

While games such as Fortnite, Call of Duty: Warzone and sports games are some of the popular options to stream or play with talent, Bebinger said all of the partners signed on to play a variety of games. Not only will this give fans a great experience, but it will also help the celebrities expand their reach, he said.

“These pro-football players, they’re not only playing football video games, for sure,” Bebinger said. “They’re playing all sorts of video games and that allows them to connect with an audience [they] might not have already been connected with or connect with a more niche audience and launch their larger fan group.”

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