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Tech entrepreneurs aim to grow, diversify local gaming industry

They say rather than just a pastime, eSports encourages economic empowerment and social inclusion.

TAMPA, Fla. — If you’re into video games, chances are someone has said you spend too much time with them. 

However, with eSports growing in popularity and profitability, local tech entrepreneurs Marcus Howard and Derek Watford spend their days trying to change that stigma.

“A lot of us that don't realize you can make money or there's career opportunities within the gaming space. We just know it's entertainment we use to pass time,” said Derek Watford of the Tampa Association of Gaming.

“A majority of what my job is is educating -- educating parents that think, ‘Oh gaming is the kryptonite of my child,” said Watford. “eSports promotes economic empowerment, social inclusion, diversity, peer engagement and friendly competition.”

Watford and several local tech entrepreneurs have pooled their talent and love for video games into lucrative careers, and are working to grow the local gaming industry.

"We've collected a number of gaming and eSports companies in the Tampa area to form the Tampa Association of Gaming,” said Marcus Howard of Project MQ. “It's a non-profit whose mission is to raise the visibility in the eSports industry here in Tampa and support STEM programs here in Tampa.”

The goal is to make Tampa a top-five city for eSports. That means attracting developers and gaming businesses, and also hosting major gaming events that tend to attract thousands of professional gamers.

Marcus already teaches coding classes to minority children in our area, hoping to inspire them to pursue careers in STEM. 

"We want kids growing up seeing us as options for them for careers,” he said. “This is a $138 billion industry, yet less than 2 percent of minorities receive their piece of that pie, but 89 percent contribute to that pie,” said Watford.

Growing the local gaming industry with business and eSports tournaments could also mean big bucks for the city.

“That's jobs and positions for a whole bunch of people,” said Watford. "It would be awesome for the city of Tampa...we have infrastructure, we have the beaches to support it, we have hotels, we have an international airport, we have the convention center. It makes perfect sense from a location standpoint.”

“We have Jeff Vinik coming and building up Channelside, and you know Vinik is invested in eSports, so I know it has to be on his radar,” he said.

Howard and Watford say TAG is in the process of negotiating a major deal that would help grow the local gaming and eSports industry. 

For more information on TAG, click here.

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