Hockey star Zach Hyman has made esports his off-ice activity

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Growing up in Toronto Edmonton Oilers forward Zach Hyman and his four younger brothers bonded during games—basketball, soccer, and field hockey, field hockey, and so on. Mario or Brothers Super Smash. the game was on a console connected to the family TV.

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In 2011, at the age of 19, Hyman left home to play hockey at the University of Michigan. Now, if he wanted to contact his brothers, it was by phone, text, and email. His younger brother was 8 years old, which made such communication difficult. Hyman then discovered distance games.

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“Instead of talking on the phone for five minutes, we sat with headphones on and played video games for three hours and just talked about anything—everything,” recalls Hyman.

It was a revelation, which he describes as an “aha” moment. The game can be more than sitting in the basement with your brothers; it can connect you even if you are hundreds of miles away.

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Today games for Hyman are not just entertainment, they are business. As part owner of a company in Toronto Eleven Holdings Corp., it helps set the direction for the company, which owns and operates a portfolio of esports and gaming businesses, including SOAR Gaming LLC and Eleven Gaming Corp.

The main company, SoaR Gaming, has a competitive valiant The team maintains a roster of 20-30 content creators and has amassed over 21 million fans worldwide, generating over 400 million social media impressions each month. It supports several charities and boasts a growing number of subsidiaries including Asus, Royal Bank of Canada and Freetrade.

Hyman is not the only athlete with a financial stake in esports and gaming.Michael Jordan, Stephen Curry and Odell Beckham Jr. are among the professionals who have invested in companies like Eleven Holdings. A handful of NBA Stars Co-Own FaZeClanwhich Hyman’s business partner Oliver Silverstein considers Eleven Holdings’ most notable competitor.

But it’s safe to say that Hyman’s path to the business side of gaming is unique. Just investing wasn’t enough for him. The son of a businessman, he wanted to learn about esports and the gaming industry from the inside while playing hockey.

“I think it’s important for any athlete to have other interests so they can kind of relax and not think about hockey 24/7,” he says.

It’s important to note here that Hyman does have other interests. He has a wife, a young son and a baby on the way. He writes award-winning bestsellers. children’s books since he was a student at the University of Michigan. Since joining the Oilers as a free agent in the off-season last summer, he’s had the best year of his career with a career-high goals and points. So it’s not that hockey was something belated. The fact is that he has a lot of energy that needs to be released.

“When you are a hockey player and an athlete, you have a certain amount of time that you devote to playing on the field and you concentrate on hockey, and then when you come home from the field, you take care of your body,” he says. . “But actually, there’s a lot of downtime.”

Photograph: Andy Devlin/Getty Images

Hyman spent two years of his career at his hometown of the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2018 when he decided he wanted to spend that free time in esports and gaming. It was then that he turned to Silverstein. Growing up in the Toronto Jewish community, the two, born three days apart in June 1992, had many friends in common. While Hyman was breaking into the NHL, Silverstein, who earned a business degree from the University of Western Ontario, was breaking into the esports and gaming industry.

In 2014, with Hyman’s final season in Michigan, Silverstein, then 22, got his first job in customer service at WorldGaming, formerly Virgin Gaming. Around the time that Hyman was garnering many awards in Michigan, including the Senior Athlete of the Year award (which Tom Brady won 15 years ago), Silverstein capitalized on what he saw as an untapped opportunity: bringing users to the WorldGaming platform through influencer marketing. He began building relationships with gaming influencers, getting them to use their platforms to drive more traffic to the company.

He eventually left to found his own influencer marketing agency, 3six5Influence, using the connections he had with game creators to solve marketing problems for various brands. In 2019, the Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation, an organization that raises funds for Canada’s largest cancer research center, approached him for advice on getting involved in the play space. Silverstein worked with the foundation to create Quest to Conquer Cancer, bringing together content creators to raise almost $40,000. According to Steve Merker, the foundation’s vice president of corporate and community partnerships, the program has raised nearly a million dollars over the past two years and is expected to raise even more in the future.

By the time Hyman approached him, Silverstein had been consulting with Luminosity for four months. While he was there, Luminosity co-creator Ninja made gaming history when he and Toronto superstar Drake played. fortnite before live audience on Ninja’s Twitch stream.

It suddenly became cool to be a gamer. And now it’s even cooler and more profitable.

Brands like Gucci cooperates with companies such as 100 thieves. Balenciaga and Louis Vuitton introduced their own video games and brought their design and fashion to even more. Other gaming brands to appeal to younger consumers include: Chanel, Marc Jacobs, Prada and Valentino.

“There are a lot of crossovers with traditional brands, big, non-endemic players that come into the space and want to create something special with game creators, and we’re in the middle of that crossover,” says Silverstein. “Every day it gets bigger and bigger and the creators are becoming more and more powerful celebrities in the space. It’s exciting.”

The esports space today reminds Silverstein of the traditional sports world he grew up in. “I would be very nervous and excited before meeting the players if I had the opportunity,” he recalls. “And I see the same look in young children when they meet the players and creators of the games on my list. They are shaking. They get nervous. They are smiling. It’s the same excitement as meeting professional athletes and I think it’s going to be the new normal now.”

The opportunity to grow in a nascent industry with so much potential is a big part of what prompted Hyman to turn to Silverstein. His original plan was to invest in an already existing gaming company, but the more they talked, the more they realized they wanted to start something new together. They named their company after the number Hyman wore on his Maple Leafs jersey.

“Trying to create something sustainable and have a long-term impact on the industry and space is exciting,” Hyman says. “I’m really excited about the potential and the future of this. I love being in a space that I really enjoy and am interested in, and I love meeting gamers and helping them on their journey, and working with a bunch of great people.”

These people include Michael “Mac” McNogia and Mustafa “Crudes” Aijaz, president and vice president of SoaR Gaming, which Eleven Holdings acquired in 2019. SoaR started in 2011 when Aijaz, McNogia and a few teenage gamers around the world started a YouTube channel to share cool tricks they did during the game Call of Duty.

The goal was to become the “Kobes of Video Games,” says Aijaz.

Focus on basketball, not hockey. Hockey was not on Aijaz’s radar, which is understandable considering he was born in Pakistan and lived in Dubai until the age of 11, when his family moved to Toronto.

Hockey is Canada’s game, but Call of Duty belonged to Aijaz. And playing with SoaR children scattered around the world helped him feel at home in a new country.

“Games were the one platform where everyone was about equal,” recalls Aijaz. “There was no race – you were just trying to get the best clips, and that’s how we all grew up.”

That he now makes a living from a business in a teenage pastime that gave him a sense of belonging, and does so as part of a creative team that includes a sports professional he didn’t know as a child and doesn’t care about an adult is an irony that does not escape him.

“It’s crazy how all the stars aligned,” he says, pointing out that his lack of interest in hockey hasn’t hurt his relationship with Hyman. “He’s a great guy.”

Along with a built-in fan base and social media presence, Hyman and Silverstein appreciated in SoaR her commitment to charity, which began 10 years ago when the company produced around $1,000 worth of clothing and Aijaz came up with the idea to donate it to a homeless shelter, and don’t let it go to waste. Since coming under the umbrella of Eleven Holdings, SoaR has raised over $50,000 for causes such as Australia’s wildfires, Gamers Outreach and the Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation.

The philanthropic arm of Eleven Holdings is a priority for Hyman, who has begun Fund in the name of his family several years ago and raised money for various causes, from the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto to the United Jewish Conscription.

“I think in our company we all want to give back and that is always extremely important to us,” he says. “And even more than that, being an athlete and the position I’m in has only reinforced that. We are just very lucky and honored to be where we are and people look up to you as an athlete. Giving back is what most athletes would like to do.”

Hyman is a team player who understands and appreciates the knowledge, experience and contributions that others bring both on the ice (in his day job) and at the table (in his business life).

Photograph: Andy Devlin/Getty Images

On the ice, those others include Oilers teammates Conor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, two of the best hockey players in the world. Hyman regularly pairs up with them, sometimes as a line-mate, and often in most games or penalties, where he has a well-deserved reputation as a consistent, hard-working and reliable player.

Hyman treats business the same way he treats hockey. Although he cannot be physically present at Eleven Holdings, he checks in daily and is always available to his colleagues.

“He always works,” Silverstein says. “He never takes anything for granted. Every day he goes out and proves himself. There are a lot of people in the business world who love to talk and may not be able to get out and act, but I think in the last three years we have seen that we can go and build something big. We have a very similar approach to managing people, we push each other every day to be better, and it shows through our entire team.”

When Hyman talks about games and Eleven Holdings, he inevitably talks about his passion for games. But the truth is, between hockey, business, and family life, he hasn’t played in months. His wife, a lawyer he started dating in high school, has no interest in video games. His son, who turned one in December, is not quite ready to operate the joystick. And although he uses a list full of valiant players he could probably pick up for a couple of games, he quickly dismisses the idea. He may be a professional athlete, but he knows his limits.

“It’s just not possible,” he says, laughing. “It’s like a beer league player playing an NHL player. It won’t work.”

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