"Virat Kohli has entered the metaverse" sounds like something Ravi Shastri might have said had he been on commentary when Kohli smashed Haris Rauf for two consecutive sixes in the penultimate over of India's heart-stopping chase against Pakistan at the MCG. But Kohli is literally now a part of the metaverse as he enters the world of digital collectibles through an exclusive partnership with FanCraze.
What the deal means is that fans of Kohli will be able to buy a number of collectibles - the new, digital version of a signed bat or poster - directly licensed from Kohli and then display them on their social media handles, trade them and use them in various games (for a full explainer on digital collectibles, click here). While physical player cards don't have the legacy in cricket that they do in American sports, FanCraze's digital collectibles have quickly gained popularity among collectors, with some trading above USD 10,000.
Kohli joins a number of other cricketers in entering the collectibles space - Rohit Sharma, Hardik Pandya, Suryakumar Yadav, Ravindra Jadeja, Shikhar Dhawan, Ravichandran Ashwin, Yuzvendra Chahal and Shreyas Iyer are among the others who have partnered with FanCraze.
Several Kohli moments are already available on the FanCraze marketplace thanks to their exclusive partnership with the ICC. A lofted extra cover drive against Pakistan from his fifty against them in the 2019 World Cup is currently on the market with a lowest price of USD 270 (INR 22,300 approx), while his six down the ground off Rauf at the MCG was part of the Crictos of the Game pack that fans could pre-buy ahead of the India-Pakistan clash.
FanCraze CEO Anshum Bhambri said signing Kohli was a massive step in their effort to build a direct connect between fans and cricketers. "We view marquee athletes as artists who create their art on the field of play. We are very excited to partner with Virat Kohli, one of the biggest stars cricket has ever produced, to build the new paradigm of engagement between cricketers and their fans," he said.
Bhambri has said one of the driving forces of FanCraze is to create a route for the money fans spend to reach cricketers directly rather than go to boards and rights holders. He also sees player collectibles eventually leading to access for their owners to the players. "You may be able to get on a Zoom call with a player whose collectibles you own, go to a nets session with them, interview them, or have access to signed merchandise."
There are also several gaming applications for player cards and moments. "We have video games where the gameplay is based on the player cards and player moments you own," Bhambri said. "So let's say you have a Virat Kohli moment from the early part of his career, where he was predominantly a leg-side player, that's going to be less valuable than a 2018 Kohli moment, where he was playing his cover drive and was a 360-degree player."
FanCraze is ESPNcricinfo's digital collectibles partner