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Vinik’s ‘remarkable’ investment could fuel corporate talent pipelines

Margie Manning

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Matt Samost, vice president of New Ventures, Tampa Bay Sports & Entertainment, interviewed Jeff Vinik, Tampa Bay Lightning owner, at the esports summit

Esports are big business, with the global esports industry expected to top $50 billion in revenue this year.

But esports and related video games can also be a pipeline to STEM education, said Jeff Vinik, Tampa Bay Lightning owner and co-executive chairman of aXiomatic, a Los Angeles-based firm with a portfolio of holdings in the esports and video gaming industry.

While there are people who believe that video games are a poor use of time, and incite violence, there also are studies that come to different conclusions, Vinik said at the inaugural eSports Summit, sponsored by the University of South Florida’s Muma College of Business’ Vinik Sport & Entertainment Management Program.

“There are plenty of studies that show it doesn’t incite violence. In terms of learning, quick decision-making, programming, there’s a lot of information that this can be blended into curriculum in high school. There are dozens of colleges that now offer esports. So it is going to get more integrated into education,” Vinik said. “Hopefully when that’s done the games played and the way in which they are played will be geared toward education. It’s definitely an opportunity to get a broad mass of students to learn computer science, math, other skills.”

That could fill a critical need among businesses that are struggling to fill critical skilled roles in STEM occupations. There are up to 2.4 million STEM jobs that go unfilled, according to STEMconnector, a Washington, D.C.-based consortium.

Vinik joined aXiomatic in 2017. The company owns Team Liquid, an esports team, and has invested in esports-related businesses, including Epic Games, the publisher of Fortnite, a popular video game.

He joined largely because of its co-founders —  Peter Guber, who owns the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Golden State Warriors, and Ted Leonsis, owner of the Washington Capitals and the Washington Wizards, as well as a founder and partner in Revolution Growth.

“They’re both such smart guys, I figured even if the esports team didn’t work out I would learn so much from them,” Vinik said.

The business has taken off since he first invested.

“Originally it was just endemic sponsors who were supporting the teams and the games. Now Coke, and General Motors —  you can find the same sponsors who are supporting NFL or NHL or otherwise, now supporting esports games. It’s quite amazing how that has progressed and the industry is growing.”

Hockey and football are different from esports and video games, but the revenue streams from media, sponsorships and tickets are similar, and esports growth is “remarkable,” Vinik said. “I’ve never been involved in an early stage investment before where we have beaten revenue targets in the first two or three years. We’re doubling every year.”

Esports are international in scope, and primarily viewed on the internet, so they are not as venue-driven as traditional sports, Vinik said. But there are esport arenas being built overseas.

“It remains to be seen for weekly matches how many people will come out for them, whether it’s 500 or 5,000. It’s something we are observing. I don’t feel the need to take the risk of building an esports arena right now – an exclusive esports arena – but perhaps we’ll get there at some point in time,” he said.

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