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Huge eSports Summit happening today at USF

The inaugural eSports Summit is hosted by Jeff Vinik’s sports and entertainment management program at USF.

TAMPA, Fla. — Long gone are the days of playing video games just for fun. 

Today’s eSports market is a competitive, nearly billion-dollar industry teeming with entrepreneurs, professional gamers and high-profile tournaments top leaders in Tampa hope to take advantage of -- and hope they communities can cash in, too.

“We have so many events here, and eSports is intricately tied to a sporting community,” Mayor Jane Castor said. “I'm here to do everything I can to help grow these innovative companies, these entrepreneurs.”

Castor spoke at the inaugural eSports Summit, hosted by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik’s sports and entertainment management program at USF. The event is geared toward gamers and entrepreneurs in the industry.

“I never knew that you could make a living and a successful career as an entrepreneur in eSports,” said Marcus Howard, founder of the Tampa Association of Gaming. “Now what I’m able to do is not only help grow the ecosystem, but educate parents about all the opportunities for their kids. 

"Science, technology, engineering and mathematics all go into making everything the eSports industry is about, and so it’s creating technological entrepreneurs and technological opportunities for the local community.”

Howard’s business partner, Derek Watford said the eSports industry opens up unique opportunities for local economies and for populations traditionally left out of business development. 

“eSports is an industry that allows people to participate from a competitive standpoint, from a business standpoint, and if you're able to participate from a business standpoint, that means economic empowerment,” he said. “This is something that hopefully opens the eyes from the business community that, 'Hey, eSports isn't about gaming, but about providing opportunity for, economic empowerment, social inclusion, diversity, teamwork and friendly competition."

Mark Stockhoff, a gaming entrepreneur who now works for DCE productions said he sees tremendous value in the local eSports industry. His experience got him hired to help the company infiltrate the eSports world. 

“When I was 18, I was Top 10 in the world for World of Warcraft, and I got to top 500 for Call of Duty. At that same time, I created my own YouTube channel...we sold it to Disney, but it had a million subscribers. We were creating video game trailers for global video game companies,” Stockhoff said.

Howard said his goal is to make Tampa a Top 5 city for eSports over the next 18 months.

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