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Digital revolution: Pittsburgh firm launches eSports venture

Luis Fábregas
| Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017, 1:42 p.m.
Don Marinelli at CES 2017, the world's largest consumer technology trade show, in Las Vegas.
Don Marinelli at CES 2017, the world's largest consumer technology trade show, in Las Vegas.

As an artist and actor, Don Marinelli seems an unlikely participant in the digital revolution.

But Marinelli, 63, has embraced technology by developing a keen appreciation for the post-millennial generation of digital natives — the digitally savvy teens born in a world in which everything is Internet-based.

"Unless you change, you die," Marinelli said. "That doesn't mean I love all the changes that I'm seeing ... but I've always wanted to remain relevant, and I've always been interested in what are the children doing. I look at the digital natives, and I see in many of them the kind of youthful dynamic I thought we had when we were hippies."

Marinelli , who cofounded Carnegie Mellon University's Entertainment Technology Center, recently was appointed director of innovation for 535media, a Pittsburgh-based digital media company affiliated with Trib Total Media.

"Don's experience in digital innovation and contacts within the industry will be integral to our growth moving forward," said Jennifer Bertetto, 535media president and CEO.

One of Marinelli's first projects is the launch of Inven Global , the English version of Inven, a South Korean site focused on the growing competitive gaming industry.

InvenGlobal.com launched in January.

Marinelli said competitive gaming tournaments and matches have emerged as a popular activity in South Korea. Teams of players compete in games such as League of Legends and Defense of the Ancients, he said.

Inven Global, which launched in January, is seeking to attract millions of gamers in the United States. The market for so-called eSports — short for electronic sports — is valued at $747 million, according to market research firm SuperData. The firm projects revenue from eSports will reach $1.4 billion by 2019.

"My job is to introduce Inven Global's people to the movers and shakers here in the English-speaking world," Marinelli said.

Dan Himmelstein, CEO of Premier eSports Academy in Denver, said competitive gaming is here to stay.

"The technology is only getting better, and the industry as a whole is getting more and more attention from the general public," Himmelstein said. "The amount of money and investments that are now being put into eSports will help develop and create a structure that can move eSports into a self-sustaining profitable entity. There will always be players willing to play video games, and with a sustainable career involved, it's only a matter of time before it is more broadly accepted in our society."

Himmelstein said the eSports industry is in the midst of massive growth because society no longer associates gamers with sitting in front of a screen.

"The generation that a lot of professional gamers are in were brought up with exposure to video games and technology at a very early age," he said. "In addition, parents are now at an age where they had exposure to early consoles and are more open to giving their kids exposure to video games than their parents were."

Marinelli retired from Carnegie Mellon in 2012. He is an associate director of Entertainment Technology Management at Columbia University and a visiting professor at Arizona State University.

"I am always reinventing myself to remain current,' he said. "I don't want to do it as a fad. I want to do it so that I can understand how you find meaning in the present."

Luis Fábregas is editor of the Tribune-Review's Pittsburgh digital edition.

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