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Friday, January 27, 2023
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Flex NBA: The AR-Enabled Basketball-Themed TCG That’s So Much More

A look at Flex NBA with Sequoia Games CEO and founder Daniel Choi.

 

Flex NBA is a new basketball-themed trading card game that brings augmented reality to the sport’s biggest names. In addition to checking out the game itself, we talked with Sequoia Games founder and CEO, Daniel Choi, about how the company and the game came to life.

What Is Flex?

Flex is a lot. It’s collectible trading cards. It’s also augmented reality artwork and cinematics. It’s also a fun, competitive, stimulating card game that doesn’t even require a huge deal of understanding about basketball.

Flex NBA game

“I have a lot of sports fans playing a turn-based strategy game and they don’t even realize it,” said Choi.

More on that later.

It’s Time to Play the Game

The game comes with a physical board and physical game dice. You can use these to play the game and keep track of all of the action when you go head-to-head in person. Technically, two people could play Flex NBA without any electronics or internet at all. However, through the game’s mobile app, you can also play with anyone anywhere using a virtual board and virtual dice.

“Flexagons” are the character pieces that the game and the AR components are built around. Each Flexagon depicts a character as hand-depicted by one of fourteen artists.

People playing Flex NBA game

The Flexagons also contain stats on the character including their character types, “Confidence Points,” and “Flexes.” Flexes are moves unique to each character that lower the Confidence Points of an opponent’s characters, regenerate the confidence of your own team, or affect gameplay in other ways.

There’s a lot more to the game than that. Teams and characters can be modified through additional plays, and different characters and character types work together differently, so there’s a lot of strategy involved.

Why Flex NBA?

So, what does Flex have to do with the NBA? The NBA is the first organization with a formalized partnership with Flex. So far, all Flex characters are real NBA players, and the ways in which they interact with the games and with other characters are based on the real-life careers of these players.

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Flex is also in talks with UFC and the NFL Players Association. But, there’s no reason that everything in the Flex universe needs to be a sport – that’s just the way that it’s worked out so far. Furthermore, because the game is about scoring flexes rather than about shooting hoops, the game can go on no matter who you’re playing with and how they like to play.

“You could have five point guards against three stormtroopers, Harry Potter, and Iron Man,” said Choi. “I don’t know if that licensing will play out but that is what [Flex] is designed for.”

Where’s AR?

So far, we haven’t explicitly mentioned how AR plays into the game. We’ve even pointed out that the game can be played without any tech at all. So, where is it?

The Flexagons are analog game tiles, yes. But, they’re also image targets that launch AR effects through the game app. When you play the game (or just point a device at the tiles outside of a game), the characters come to life. 3D models interact with one another, do their signature moves, and even interact with other nearby characters.

Flex NBA - basketball AR

“You can do all of these cool things because we control the AR,” said Choi. “Our animations are like Snapchats sometimes: they can disappear. Sometimes, you almost want to record the animations when you see them.”

Some characters even have different outfits so that you can change what the AR characters look like. Right now, this means that NBA players that have played on more than one team can be viewed in more than one jersey. In the future, it could mean that you can view a character from your favorite series in different outfits from across that character’s narrative journeys.

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AR exists outside of the game element as well. When you register your cards with the Flex NBA app, you unlock additional AR features, including the ability to display a 3D model of your characters in your space. This can be the same size that it appears during the game, or you can scale it up and pose with an animated life-sized AR version of your characters.

Flex NBA augmented reality

Where Did Flex Come From?

Choi came up with the idea for Flex around five years ago. First, he got all of the patents for the technology. Then, he made an MVP – not a most valuable player, but a minimum viable product. And it was very minimum. With cards printed at Kinko’s, he brought his game to the NBA.

“They said ‘This is great. You need to build a company,’” Choi said of the early days of Sequoia Games. “These licenses are really hard to get. They’re used to working with Nike, they’re not used to working with Daniel Choi.”

Choi launched a Kickstarter campaign that reached its target within half an hour. The Kickstarter campaign ended early because the small company was struggling to keep up with commitments to donors.

“It’s a good problem to have, in terms of demand,” said Choi.

Where Is Flex Now?

In February of this year, Flex hit the shelves of Walmart. According to Choi, a number of other retailers are currently in the process of filling out purchase orders.

Meanwhile, the second Flex NBA cash tournament took place earlier this month. The highly competitive tournament was streamed on Twitch and even had an NBA announcer on call. Choi is interested in breaking out more into esports, but he’s not sure that the game really fits the bill.

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“I don’t know if we actually fit the definition of esports,” said Choi. “In this situation, it’s more of a tabletop game that is digitized. . . . These pieces are really coming to life off of a physical piece.”

Of course, the company has grown too. The number of artists has more than tripled since the company launched – which makes sense given Choi’s plan to expand to at least two other sports in the near future.

Where Is Flex Going?

Expanding to other sports and other areas of media isn’t the only way that Choi plans to expand Flex. He wants to future-proof the game by having his team work on porting it to hardware platforms beyond the mobile phone.

“You might not even need a phone in the future,” said Choi.

He made a joke about all of us walking around with chips in our brain, but the takeaway is that he has two contingency plans for how consumer AR wearables might play out. The game’s AR is built using common engines, so depending on what the prevailing wearable AR winds are, the game should be ready.

“We’re more focused on AR than VR,” said Choi. “I tell people all the time, I don’t think we’re going to see a PS7. We’re going to be interacting with our environments.”

Hit the Court

You can start to explore the Flex NBA world further by visiting the website. After that, it’s on to starter packs and expansion boxes. For as much innovation as there is here, the most clever bit might be the ability to play with friends or online. If you’re the first person you know to pick up the game, find a match online. It’ll catch on.

Jon Jaehnig
the authorJon Jaehnig
Jon Jaehnig is a freelance journalist with special interest in emerging technologies. Jon has a degree in Scientific and Technical Communication from Michigan Technological University and lives in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. If you have a story suggestion for Jon, you may contact him here.