Tuesday, January 18, 2022

The Fantastic Four: Ben Spoont, The Game Slayer

Meet a few people who are reshaping Boca, from business to government to academics and the arts

IT’S A NEW DAY IN BOCA RATON. The city may still bask in the reflected light of its resort status, but its bold trajectory toward the future is a mix of innovators and visionaries, educatorsand entrepreneurs, people who believe in possibility—and don’t take no for an answer. Meet a few of them.

Unless you know who Faker is, or Ogre 2 is, you may be a little foggy about what Misfits Gaming does. Oh, we know it’s the new kid on the block in Boca, a substantial business now headquartered here on Yamato Road, but it was CEO Ben Spoont who told us clearly what Misfits does—and why a kid named Faker is a very big deal.

“We are sports for the digital age,” Spoont says. “Think of what we do at this company in the same vein as what the Miami Heat does in basketball. We are a multi-sport franchise owner—just as the Madison Square Garden Group owns the NY Knicks and the NY Rangers, we own the Florida Mayhem and the Florida Mutineers. But instead of playing basketball and hockey, our teams are playing ‘Overwatch’ and ‘Call of Duty’ . The structure and setup of these leagues is very similar to traditional sports, but instead of being watched on television, our matches are watched online in places like YouTube and a platform called Twitch. Truly, this is sports for the digital age—it’s the future of sports entertainment.”

Spoont, who started playing video games with his brothers when he was 6 or 7 growing up in Miami, recalls the old days when he would come home after school and turn on “Saved by the Bell” on TV every day like clockwork. After dinner it was Sun Sports to watch the Miami Heat play in its heyday, with names like Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway.

“For me, personally, I watched sports and I still do because it’s either entertaining or inspirational or aspirational. Those were the drivers of media consumption for me as a kid.”

Fast forward to 2021, and Spoont says the principle may be the same, but no kid is coming home after school and switching on the TV.

”What they are doing is switching on their devices to play video games.”

He says the concept of esports—the notion that other people are watching other people play video games—“may sound batshit crazy,” but it’s not so different than the reasons he watched sports as a kid.

“Today’s youth are spending their free time playing video games. It would make sense that there is a subset of people who will want to aspire and be entertained by watching the best of the best in the world playing video games.”

Enter leagues of top-rated players so good at playing—and entertaining—that they garner their own followings, and can make hundreds of thousands of dollars. Some of them, like Misfits’ Tom Ryan, aka “Ogre 2,” or the all-time greatest, a Korean kid known as “Faker,” become celebrities in their own right.

“This is the future of sports and media and entertainment,” Spoont says. “It is watched by more people in the U.S. than any traditional sport other than football.” In fact, the gaming industry was worth more than $90 billion in 2020.

Spoont, 36, started Misfits Gaming five years ago after a career in banking (“banking was a slog”) when he theorized that the open video game tournaments he saw at the time would eventually become more formalized, and that forming leagues was the next logical step. The reason leagues were important was financial; league media rights and league sponsorships were key revenue drivers.

“So our business model is very much like traditional sports where we have revenue that flows from the leagues through league revenue share and then we have our own sponsorship business. Much like the Miami Heat has a Jersey Patch partner, our “Jersey Patch partner” is SoFi [an online personal finance company known for student loans and home financing]. Our business is built upon this digital consumer, and we’ve been able to thrive it.”

Misfits Gaming also offers a mentorship and networking program for women, Women of Misfts Gaming, a wellness program and an academy targeted at training up-and-coming gamers.

Spoont, married with two children (including a 7-year-old named Asher who now beats his dad at video games) chose Boca because he grew up in South Florida and he wanted to come home; he loves the quality of life. The company has the whole second floor of a building at The Park at Broken Sound, and now employs 70 people. Its community outreach includes partnerships with Baptist Health and local schools, and it hopes to do more as well as host in-person gaming matches at local stadiums.

“I’ve lived in Boston, I’ve lived and worked in Miami and I’m telling you I love being in Boca,” Spoont says. “It is the best quality of life—and there is a vibrant and emerging tech scene here. We’re part of that. It’s working out great.”

This story is from the November/December 2021 issue of Boca magazine. For more like this, click here to subscribe to the magazine.

Marie Speed
Marie Speed is group editor of all JES publications, including Boca Raton, Delray Beach, Worth Avenue, Mizner’s Dream and the annual publication for the Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce. She also oversees editorial operations of the company’s Salt Lake City magazines. Her community involvement has ranged from work with the Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce to a longtime board member position at Caridad Center. She is also on the George Snow Scholarship Fund review committee. She is a past officer of the Florida Magazine Association and a member of Class XVII of Leadership Florida. In her spare time, Marie enjoys South Florida’s natural world through hiking and kayaking, and she is an avid reader and an enthusiastic cook.

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