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Cinemark and SoftBank invest in video-gaming league that takes over theaters

Cinemark and SoftBank invest in video-gaming league that takes over theaters
Fans of the computer game "Minecraft" gather at the iPic Theater in Westwood in June for a Super League Gaming event. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Super League Gaming Inc., a Santa Monica start-up that temporarily turns movie theaters into makeshift arenas for competitive video-gaming, is ready to go global.

Theater chain Cinemark USA Inc., with a big footprint in Brazil, and a venture arm of SoftBank Group Corp., the Japanese diversified technology giant, are investing in Super League Gaming, the start-up announced Tuesday. Venture capital funds in Singapore and Hong Kong also will ante up on the company's second funding round, the sum of which was not disclosed.

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Super League Gaming rents out theaters at slow times, using networking gear to create an ad-hoc Internet cafe in front of the big screen. Players bring their computers to battle each other while the contest is simulcast on the big screen.

In October, Super League plans to launch a gaming league, its first, for the hugely popular "Minecraft" across 70 locations in the U.S.

The nascent market for competitive gaming, known as esports, is expected to generate $143 million in revenue in the U.S. this year, mostly from advertising, according to SuperData Research. Investors see big potential though, and Super League sees league sign-up fees as a new line of revenue. Private-equity firm Quadrant Management earlier invested in Super League.

Like many companies in the video game industry, Super League plans to target Asia, with a competitive video-gaming market three times larger than in the U.S.

"We know if we want to be a powerhouse as a gaming company, we need to be able to bring this very quickly to the Asia-Pacific region," Super League Chief Executive Ann Hand said. "So that's our mission: Extend the game library, extend the U.S. footprint and start taking this into international markets."

Even as Asian economies see slower growth, she said she considers gaming as one thing likely to withstand belt-tightening.

Chat with me on Twitter @peard33

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