It's not lame to be labeled a "geek" in 2023, and Houston's a great place to embrace your geekness. Photo via Jamie McInall/Pexels

Heads up gamers, a new surprising report has deemed Houston one of the geekiest cities in the country, with two other Texas neighbors in the top 10.

Houston ranked No. 6 in the categories for accessibility to collectibles stores (board game, video, comic book, and trading card shops) and variety of "geeky" events, according to the report by Lawn Love. The city also ranked as the fifth-best city for its variety of costume/cosplay stores.

Houston is home to some fantastic board game and comic book stores, like Bedrock City Comic Company, Dragon's Lair, Nan's Games and Comics, and Asgard Games, which all host fun events and meetups for different groups.

Other factors that helped determine Houston's overall rank as the No. 7 geekiest American city include the number of Dungeons and Dragons groups, LARPing groups, comic cons, Renaissance fairs, and much more.

J. Richard Stevens, the department chair of the College of Media, Communication, and Information at the University of Colorado, Boulder, says the rise in "geeky" community spaces and activities can be attributed to social media obscuring the boundaries "between consumption and commentary about entertainment texts."

"Fan conversation is much more visible in a larger-scaled way than it used to be," Stevens said. "While most fans and audiences still don’t comment on the objects of their passion, those who do are increasingly bundled into tight networks, which amplify their taste politics. Finding virtual fan communities is much easier than it used to be, though there are many more flavors of fan networks for any given fandom, making finding the right one tricky."

Other Texas cities that made it in the top 10 are San Antonio (No. 3) and Austin (No. 6), both with high scores in the categories for collectibles and costumes. San Antonio has third highest number of board game and trading card shops, such as Heroes and Fantasies, Texas' largest comic book and collectibles store.

The top 10 geekiest cities in the United States are:

  • No. 1 – New York City
  • No. 2 – Los Angeles
  • No. 3 – San Antonio
  • No. 4 – Chicago
  • No. 5 – Las Vegas
  • No. 6 – Austin
  • No. 7 – Houston
  • No. 8 – Atlanta
  • No. 9 – Orlando
  • No. 10 – Indianapolis

The full report can be found on lawnlove.com.

------

This article originally ran on CultureMap.

It's game on at Hobby Airport, which is one of the first airports in the country to open a premium video game lounge. Photo courtesy of Gameway

Houston airport powers up new gaming lounge for bored and weary travelers

game on and wheels down

Local gamers now have a new option to while away those flight delays and passenger pickup waits at Hobby Airport.

Houston's William P. Hobby Airport is now one the first airports in the country to offer what's dubbed as the "ultimate gaming experience for travelers." The airport has launched a premium video game lounge inside the international terminal called Gameway.

That means weary, bored, or early travelers can chill in the lounge and plug into15 top-of-the-line, luxury gaming stations: six Xbox stations, five Playstation stations, four PC stations, all with the newest games on each platform. Aficionados will surely appreciate the Razer's Iskur Gaming Chairs and Kraken Headsets, along with dedicated high speed internet at each PC station.

The Gameway lounge pays homage to gaming characters, with wall accents that hark to motherboard circuits Crucial for any real gamer: plenty of sweet and savory snacks are available for purchase to fuel up on those fantasy, battle, or sporting endeavors. As for the gaming console stations, players can expect high definition screens, comfortable seating, and plenty of space for belongings.

Make video games a part of your pre-flight ritual. Photo courtesy of Gameway

This gaming addition comes just in time for the holiday rush, when travelers can expect long lines, delays, and are already planning for extended time for trips. As CultureMap previously reported, Hobby will see a big boost in travelers this season — the largest since 2019. Now, those on a long journey can plug in, decompress, and venture on virtual journeys of their own.

Texan travelers may be familiar with Gameway; the company opened its first two locations at Dallas Fort-Worth Airport. The buzzy lounge an industry wave of acclaim: Gameway was awarded Best Traveler Amenity in 2019 at the ACI-NA Awards and in 2020, voted “Most Innovative Customer Experience” at the Airport Experience Traveler Awards, per press materials.

Two new locations followed in 2021: LAX Terminal 6 and Charlotte Douglas International Airport. The first of Gameway's Ultra lounge brand opened in September at Delta's Terminal 3 in LAX.

Gaming culture is a way of life in the Bayou City , which hosts Comicpalooza, the largest pop culture festival in Texas, and is home to several e-sports teams, including the pro esports squad, the Houston Outlaws.

A delayed flight never seemed so ideal for gamers flying out of Hobby. Photo courtesy of Gameway

“Gameway is the real reason to get to the airport early,” said Co-Founder Jordan Walbridge in a statement. “Our mission is to upgrade the typical wait-at-the-gate experience with a new stimulating, entertaining option for travelers of all ages.”

Here's guessing Hobby might just see an increase in missed or late flight arrivals — as travelers simply must beat those big bosses, solve puzzles, or win sports matches in the lounge.

------

This article originally ran on CultureMap.

A nonprofit organization has rolled out an esports platform and event to raise awareness and funding for those with disabilities. Photo via Getty Images

Houston nonprofit facilitates gaming for a good cause

esports for charity

For many video games is getaway from reality, but for those with disabilities — thanks to a nonprofit organization —gaming can mean a lot more.

On Saturday Dec. 3 from 1 to 9 pm, Easter Seals Greater Houston will be joining forces with ES Gaming for the inaugural Game4Access Streamathon.

The streamathon will be held on International Day of Persons with Disabilities, and feature ESG Ambassador Gamers from the Houston area and nationally gaming, interacting with special celebrity guests, and opportunities for audience participation and shoutouts – all while supporting a good cause. The event will take place on popular streaming platform Twitch.

Gaming helps enhance cognitive skills, motor skills, improve mental well-being, and can help reduce feelings of social isolation due to the interactive nature of playing with others.

“This is really a unique way for (people) to form a community without having to leave their house, and being part of an inclusive environment,” says Kelly Klein, development director of Easter Seals Greater Houston. ”The adaptive equipment and specialized technology just does so many miraculous things for people with disabilities on so many levels — not just gaming. With gaming, it is an entrance into a whole new world.”

Easter Seals is the seventh-largest nonprofit and largest disability service organization in the United States, and helps 1.5 million people per year. ES Gaming was established to create a new standard for equity and inclusion among gamers, and hopes to add to its community building with more tournaments and charity streams. According to the organization, a gaming scholarship program is expected to launch sometime in 2023.

According to ES Gaming, 64 percent of people with disabilities play video games, and 60 percent of disabled gamers play casual games for more than 5 hours per week. Technology has been at the forefront of trying to bridge the developmental gaps with those with disabilities of all kinds.

“The advancements we’ve made over the last 25 years (in technology) ending with the iPad, and everything in between has really made it a level playing field not just for gaming, but for employment and everything,” Klein tells InnovationMap.

Fertitta just had an exit of one of his companies. Photo by J. Thomas Ford

Tilman Fertitta's golden online gaming casino officially sold to major sports company

done deal

The acquisition of Tilman Feritta’s Golden Nugget Online Gaming, Inc. (Nasdaq: GNOG) by digital sports entertainment and gaming company DraftKings Inc. (Nasdaq: DKNG) is complete.

DraftKings announced that it has completed the acquisition, worth at approximately $1.6 billion (dubbed the “GNOG Acquisition”) on Thursday, May 5.

“This will be an alliance unlike any other in the digital sports, entertainment and online gaming industry,” Fertitta said in a statement . “Now that the acquisition is completed, I look forward to what the future will bring for our combined company and am confident this relationship will be a huge success.”

DraftKings notes in a press release that this GNOG Acquisition will allow the company to leverage Golden Nugget’s established brand to “broaden its reach into new customer segments and enhance the combined company’s iGaming product offerings through DraftKings’ vertically integrated tech stack and Golden Nugget Online Gaming’s unique capabilities – including Live Dealer.”

Notably, the GNOG Acquisition will not include brick and mortar Golden Nugget casinos; Fertitta will maintain ownership of those entities.

The GNOG Acquisition will deliver “significant” benefits to DraftKings, as well as expected savings of $300 million, a release notes. The company aims to deploy a multi-brand approach meant to enhance cross-selling opportunities and drive increased revenue.

Additionally, DraftKings and Fertitta Entertainment expect to rebrand some current and future retail sportsbook locations at Fertitta Entertainment-owned Golden Nugget properties into DraftKings sportsbooks.

As CultureMap previously reported, DraftKings' agreement with Fertitta Entertainment will provide for it to become the exclusive daily fantasy sports, sports betting, and iGaming partner of the Houston Rockets. Additionally, if sports betting becomes legal in Texas, DraftKings will open a sportsbook at the Toyota Center.

As the Houston Chroniclereports, DraftKings, headquartered in Boston, more than doubled its revenues to nearly $1.3 billion in 2021 from about $615 million in 2020, according to SEC filings. Its net loss widened to about $1.5 billion from $1.2 billion in 2020.

“Acquiring Golden Nugget Online Gaming gives us synergies across our business,” said Jason Robins, chairman and CEO of DraftKings, in a statement. “We anticipate that this acquisition will provide meaningful revenue uplift by utilizing our data-driven marketing capabilities and a dual brand iGaming strategy, gross margin improvement opportunities, and cost savings across external marketing and SG&A. I am proud to welcome the Golden Nugget Online Gaming team to the DraftKings family.”

------

This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Watch elite gamers face off in League of Legends. Photo by Jamie McInall/Pexels

Popular esports tournament powers up at NRG Stadium with a historic twist

game on

Heads up, gamers. The most popular esport is coming to the Bayou City. The League Championship Series (LCS), will host its marquee championship event at NRG Stadium (8825 Kirby Dr.) on April 23 and 24, the organization announced.

Not only is this the first time the tournament will be held in Texas, it’s also the first time the prestigious League of Legends competition — the LCS Spring Finals — will be hosted in an NFL stadium. For the uninitiated, League of Legends is a wildly popular, team-based multiplayer strategy game.

Houston fans are invited to attend both the pregame Fan Fest celebration and the LCS Finals, a first since the pandemic. The Fan Fest starts at 10 am Saturday, April 23, and the first match starts at 2:30 pm.

As the league’s first seasonal championship event of the year, the competition will see North America’s top three teams vie for an LCS trophy, a banner in the LCS Studio rafters, and an invite to the international Mid-Season Invitational in Busan, South Korea next month, per a release.

Developed and run by influential and prolific developer and publisher Riot Games, this championship will be held in North America across four cities — Mexico City, New York City, Toronto and San Francisco, a first since 2016, a release notes.

As the most-watched esport in the world with 12 international leagues, the 10-year-old LCS is actually the third-most popular major professional sports league among 18- to 34-year-olds in the U.S., per industry insiders.

For some perspective, more than 465 million people watched esports in 2021. Esports generated more than $1 billion in revenue, according to a Newzoo report.

For more information on the Fan Fest and tournament, visit the official site.

------

This article originally ran on CultureMap.

The University of St. Thomas has opened its esports center on its campus. Photo courtesy of UST

Houston university opens esports facility on campus

game on

Houston's University of St. Thomas has taken a big step into the esports arena.

On August 31, the school held a grand opening for its on-campus esports facility. The facility features 13 gaming stations decked out with high-end tech equipment, including three 70-inch TV screens and Alienware monitors. The university recently gained an esports sponsorship from Monster Energy.

Beena George, chief innovation officer at UST, introduced esports to the school. It's the first university in Houston to launch a competitive esports team and esports academic program. UST teamed up with Houston-based Mainline, an esports platform and media company, to develop the curriculum.

"Our university is educating youth to take advantage of the tremendous career opportunities that are presented by esports," George says.

Esports is one of the world's fasting-growing industries, with global revenue projected to hit $1 billion this year and $1.8 billion in 2022. North America accounts for nearly one-third of this year's projected revenue.

According to Next College Student Athlete, UST joins about 175 colleges and universities that are members of the National Association of Collegiate Esports. The website lists eight schools in Texas with esports programs:

  • Concordia University - Texas in Austin.
  • McMurry University in Abilene.
  • Schreiner University in Kerrville.
  • Texas A&M University - San Antonio.
  • Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth.
  • University of North Texas in Denton.
  • University of Texas at Dallas in Richardson.
  • Wayland Baptist University in Plainview.

Anthony Dominguez, a 20-year-old computer science major from Puerto Rico, competes on UST's varsity esports team, which started last year. He's pondering a career in esports after earning his degree.

"After college, I see myself pursuing a future in one of the two fields, either computer science or esports," Dominguez says in a UST news release. "As a competitive esports player, I consider myself to be very good. I may consider pursuing gaming as a professional."

Justin Pelt, UST's esports coach and program director, says the academic element of the esports initiative offers an array of professional opportunities for students like Dominguez. A UST student currently can receive a minor in esports coaching, an academic specialty that launched this fall. In the near future, UST plans to introduce more esports minors (in communication and business).

The North America Scholastic Esports Federation partnered last year with UST to enable high school students to earn college credit while learning about the business of esports.

"UST provides students with the foundational pieces of the industry, the production, the business aspect, and the professional side," Pelt says in the news release.

Potential jobs in esports include broadcaster, player, coach, entrepreneur, events manager, sales professional, social media coordinator, talent manager, and contract attorney.

Some UST graduates may be able to stay in Houston to pursue esports careers, as the industry is expanding here. The Houston Outlaws esports team was founded in 2017, and Belong Gaming Arenas said in June that its first U.S. esports location will be in Houston. In addition, several esports startups are based in the Houston area, including Mainline, Enterprise Gaming, and Uconnect Esports.

"The more Houston innovates and grows in the esports space and starts hosting big events, people around the world in the esports demographic will inevitably take notice and potentially create more interest in our city," Pelt says.

UST is one of about 175 colleges that has an esports team. Photo courtesy of UST

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Early-stage accelerator returns to Houston, announces finalists

prepare for take-off

CodeLaunch, a traveling seed-stage accelerator, is returning to Houston for its latest cohort.

The startup competition sponsored by software development company Improving will have its ultimate showdown on February 28. The final competition pairs six startups with six startup consulting companies.

Jason W. Taylor, CodeLaunch president and founder, says CodeLaunch isn’t your typical startup showcase, as it incorporates music acts, comedy, and crowd networking. Mirroring the set-up of a TV show, the six finalists all present their working products in front of an audience amid these performances.

“I would describe CodeLaunch as the next generation of venture-tainment in North America and the greatest startup show on earth,” Taylor explains.

The 2024 Houston CodeLaunch participant startups — and their mentor partners — are as follows:

Prior to pitch day, all six teams will receive hands-on instruction from CodeLaunch mentors on how to construct their pitches and free professional software development from their partners. Taylor says the strong relationships between CodeLaunch and these developers played a major role in setting the competition in Houston.

“We love Houston and we’re back for a third year in a row because the Houston startup ecosystem works together better than other major startup ecosystems I’ve seen,” Taylor says. “We have some great software development partners in Houston that are building code for those startups.”

Last year, Houston-based startup Energy360, with the mentorship and help of Honeycomb Software, took home the Championship belt and a $100,000 investment offer from Cyrannus VC fund for their energy management system Matt Bonasera, Energy360’s enterprise architect, says he is grateful for the entrepreneurial community CodeLaunch provides, in particular the team’s mentor Oleg Lysiak, Honeycomb VP of Partnerships and Business Development.

“I happened along this great community of people who are really passionate about supporting each other,” Bonasera says.

Lysiak agrees that CodeLaunch is an ideal opportunity for young entrepreneurs looking to hone their skills and expand their product capabilities. Lysiak says he is looking forward to defending Honeycomb’s title as top consultant development team.

“My whole philosophy is to connect people and have different collisions and collaborations,” Lysiak says.

Houston startup completes testing, prepares biosimilar insulin drug for clinical trials

next steps

A Houston biotech startup is one step closer to releasing its marquee drug for the global insulin market, which is projected to break the $90 billion threshold by 2029.

rBIO says it recently completed testing of the properties of R-biolin, an insulin drug that’s biologically identical to Novo Nordisk’s Novolin drug. The patent for Novolin about two decades ago. In March 2023, the Dutch drugmaker announced it was slashing the list price of Novolin by 65 percent to $48.20 per vial and $91.09 per FlexPen.

Executives at rBIO are now pursuing a partnership with a contract research organization to manage clinical trials of R-biolin. If those trials go well, R-biolin will seek approval to supply its insulin therapy to diabetes patients around the world.

Washington University in St. Louis is rBIO’s academic partner for the R-biolin project.

The rBIO platform produces insulin at greater yields that traditional manufacturing techniques do. The company is striving to drive down the cost of insulin by 30 percent.

About 38 million Americans have diabetes, with the vast majority being treated for type 2 diabetes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Many people with diabetes must take insulin to control their blood sugar levels.

Research company iHealthcareAnalyst predicts the global market for insulin will surpass the $90 billion mark in 2029.

“There has been a lot of talk in the media about reducing the cost of insulin for diabetic patients, but what is often overlooked is that the domestic demand for insulin will soon outpace the supply, leading to a new host of issues,” Cameron Owen, co-founder and CEO of rBIO, says in a news release.

“We’re dedicated to addressing the growing demand for accessible insulin therapies, and … we’re thrilled to announce the viability of our highly scalable manufacturing process.”

Professionals from the University of California San Diego and Johns Hopkins University established rBIO in 2020. The startup moved its headquarters from San Diego to Houston in 2022.

CEO Cameron Owen and Chief Scientific Officer Deenadayalan Bakthavatsalam work on insulin purification in the Houston lab. Photo courtesy

How AI is changing product management and what you need to know

guest column

For the past 14 months, everyone has been talking about ways artificial intelligence is changing the world, and product management is not an exception. The challenge, as with every new technology, is not only adopting it but understanding what old habits, workflows, and processes are affected by it.

Product managers — as well as startup founders leading a product function — more than any other role, face a challenge of bringing new life-changing products to market that may or may not be received well by their users. A product manager’s goal is complex — bring value, stay ahead of the competition, be innovative. Yet, the "behind the scenes" grind requires endless decision making and trade offs to inspire stakeholders to move forward and deliver.

As we dive into 2024, it is obvious that AI tools do not only transform the way we work but also help product managers create products that exceed customer expectation and drive businesses forward.

Market research and trends analysis

As product managers, we process enormous amounts of market data — from reviewing global and industry trend analysis, to social media posts, predictions, competition, and company goals. AI, however, can now replace hours, if not days, of analyzing massive amounts of data in an instant, revealing market trends, anticipating needs, and foreseeing what's coming next. As a result, it is easier to make effective product decisions and identify new market opportunities.

Competitive analysis

Constantly following competitors, reviewing their new releases, product updates, or monitoring reviews to identify competitor strengths and weaknesses is an overwhelming and time consuming task. With AI, you can quickly analyze competitors’ products, pricing, promotions, and feedback. You can easily compare multiple attributes, including metrics, and identify gaps and areas for improvement — all the insights that are otherwise much harder to reveal quickly and efficiently.

Customer and product discovery

Of course, the most intuitive use case that comes to mind is the adoption of AI in product and customer discovery. For example:

  • Use AI for customer segmentation and persona creation to help visualize personas, prioritize user motivations and expectations, and uncover hidden behavior and needs. You can then create and simplify customer questionnaires for interviews and user groups and target customers more accurately.
  • Analyze quantitative and qualitative data from surveys, support tickets, reviews, and in-person interviews to identify pain points and unmet user needs and help prioritize features for future updates and releases.

Roadmap and sprint management

AI provides value in simplifying roadmap planning and sprint management. Resource optimization is often a gruesome task and AI can help with feature prioritization and resource allocation. It helps teams focus on critical work and increase their productivity. You can even analyze and manage dependencies and improve results across multiple sprints months in advance.

Prototyping and mockup generation

There is no product manager’s routine without multiple mockups, wireframes, and prototypes that explain concepts and collect feedback among stakeholders. AI has become a critical tool in simplifying this process and bringing ideas to life from concept to visualization.

Today, you can use textual or voice descriptions to instantly create multiple visuals with slight variations, run A/B tests and gather valuable feedback at the earliest stage of a product life cycle.

Job search and job interviews

Consider it as a bonus but one of the less obvious but crucial advantages of AI is using it in job search. With the vulnerable and unstable job market, especially for product roles, AI is a valuable assistant. From getting the latest news and updates on a company you want to join, to summarizing insights on the executive team, or company goals, compiling lists of interview questions, and running mock interviews, AI has become a non-judgmental assistant in a distressing and often discouraging job search process.

Use AI to draft cold emails to recruiters and hiring managers, compare your skills to open positions’ requirements, identify gaps, and outline ideas for test assignments.

We already know that AI is not a hype; it is here to stay. However, remember that customers do not consume AI, they consume your product for its value. Customers care whether your product gets their need, solves their problem, and makes their lives easier. The goal of a product manager is to create magic combining human brain capabilities and latest technology. And the best result is with a human at the core of any product.

------

Natasha Gorodetsky is the founder and CEO of Product Pursuits, a Houston company that helps early stage and venture-backed startups build products and create impact.