Former GameWorks Leaders Form Velocity Esports
by Matt Harding
A “360-degree gaming experience,” Velocity Esports is a new entertainment center launched by co-founders Philip Kaplan, Len Wanger and Josh Rosenbaum – all former leaders at GameWorks, which shut down operations in December 2021.
“We’re a veteran team here in the entertainment and hospitality space,” explained Rosenbaum, the chief marketing officer and director of finance. (Kaplan is executive chairman and Wanger is president.)
They started Velocity Esports by doing esports tournaments online in January and opened the first location in late March/early April in Newport, Ky., just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. “Our idea is that people obviously spend a lot of their time online, but they also want a social, engaging experience.”
Their mission is to merge the in-venue and online gaming experience, which they call Velocity Next – hence the “360-degree experience.”
Velocity Esports currently offers state-of-the-art esports lounges with more than 100 esports titles, in-venue and online tournaments, arcade games and social gaming lounges with pinball, foosball and pool. That space is 21-plus after 5 p.m.
In October, they opened a second location in Las Vegas at the Town Square Mall, which also houses the only smoke-free bowling alley in Vegas. Both locations are in former GameWorks facilities, though that isn’t necessarily the intent moving forward.
“Our concept is centered around the idea that people love to play games in a social context,” Rosenbaum said. “We plan to personalize the experience for each guest based on their preferences both in-venue and online. Our team’s passion for gaming and esports is unsurpassed in the industry.”
Velocity is targeted at Gen Z and Millennials, though it’s ultimately for gamers of all abilities and ages. They get everyone from casual gamers and families to esports enthusiasts and competitive gamers.
The Cincy area location has 22,000 sq. ft. of “refurbished and reimagined” space with a restaurant and banquet area near the front welcoming guests. In addition to the fun, there’s the Velocity Esports Bar & Grill, an elevated culinary experience based on modern American and Mexican classics.
The 130-plus game arcade makes up a large portion of the facility, with the highest-earning games being Jurassic Park, Monster Drop, Big Bass Wheel, Skee-Ball and HYPERshot Basketball. It’s a 50-50 of video games and redemption. About 70% of the business’s revenue comes from games, while the remaining comes from food and beverage.
A redemption and prize area is located in the back of the arcade. Next to that is the esports lounge, filled with professional gaming chairs and high-end machines designed specifically for esports.
Meanwhile, the social gaming lounge has pinball, foosball and pool, as well as some classic video games like Frogger. A bar is at the center of the venue with Reds and Bengals games usually playing, though they also stream esports events.
The Vegas location has a larger square footage but is in essence the same. “Newport was kind of the blueprint. Vegas is obviously a bigger market. We’re looking at Vegas as kind of a flagship space.”
Velocity Esports also plans to expand to other major markets with a current eye on Chicago to be the location of their next facility.
“We are excited about expanding Velocity into additional markets and growing the brand,” Rosenbaum said. “We are currently scouting additional locations in other parts of the country and expect to open additional sites in 2023. The gaming industry broadly and the esports sector, in particular, have experienced phenomenal growth, and we believe that this growth trend will continue for many years to come.”
Stay tuned to the company’s website for future growth and more details: www.velocityesports.com.
Meet the Co-Founders
Philip N. Kaplan, Executive Chairman
Kaplan has 30 years of experience in driving enterprise growth, with specific expertise around delivering innovative digital experiences. In addition to his role at Velocity Esports, he serves as co-CEO and president of Artemis Strategic Investment Corp., a $200 million NASDAQ-listed SPAC. He was chairman and CEO of GameWorks from 2018-2021. Kaplan was also the co-founder and President of VitalStream, a global network for delivering streamed video content.
Leonard Wanger, President
Wanger’s expertise is in software-based systems. He formally served as chief technologist for Impossible Objects and served as technology sector analyst and portfolio manager of the William Harris Investors Technology Fund. Wanger is the founder and co-founder of several technology companies, including Interactive Simulations, Patra Corp and now, Velocity Esports.
Joshua Rosenbaum, CMO/Finance Dir.
Rosenbaum is an entrepreneur, founder, capital markets advisor and marketing expert with a focus on helping startups and emerging companies accelerate growth. He has strong experience in the health/wellness, consumer brands and esports and technology. Rosenbaum has 25 years of experience as an investor and advisor for fast-growth companies, working on structuring cross-order listings, public listings, M&A, turnarounds and corporate development. He is also president of Mindshare Holdings.