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Curse, An Under-The-Radar Community For Hard-Core Gamers, Raises $16M

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Not to glorify another high school dropout, but Hubert Thieblot had one of those unusual, circuitous paths toward building a profitable gaming startup. An avid World of Warcraft player, he started a website for his guild under the name Curse about a decade ago.

“I wanted to have something I could do anywhere in the world,” he said nonchalantly. “A website seemed like a good idea.”

Fast forward nearly a decade and the company just picked up $16 million in fresh funding through a Series B round led by GGV Capital and a separate venture debt round intended for acquisitions.

What is Curse today? It’s a network of services for hard-core gamers, covering everything from online forums to guides to statistics. They focus on dedicated gamers that play very involved games like League of Legends.

“When we see a new game that we think is going to be big, we ask ourselves what kinds of services we’d want to see and then we build them,” he said.

That business has grown quietly and handsomely. It now sees 1 billion monthly page views, 28 million monthly unique visitors and is profitable primarily through advertising. It employs about 110 people, primarily in Huntsville, Ala.

But Thieblot wants to take a page from the biggest gaming successes out of mainland China. He wants to pursue more of a premium services and virtual goods model, akin to what Chinese video social network YY has done. Last month, they launched Curse Voice, which lets gamers talk to each other while they’re playing. It’s kind of like a hyper-specialized version of Skype for hard-core gamers.

The new round brings Curse’s total funding to $22 million. GGV Capital, which has a portfolio that criss-crosses between the U.S. and China, seemed like a good fit. Hans Tung, GGV’s managing partner, is joining the board. Curse also raised a $6 million venture debt round from Multiplier Capital for acquisitions.

Venture debt is pretty unusual, but Thieblot said he didn’t want to dilute existing shareholders, including himself, and that the business throws off enough cash to pay back the loan within two years.