Growing up in Toronto, Edmonton Oilers forward Zach Hyman and his four younger brothers bonded over games—basketball, soccer, and ball hockey outside, ice hockey at local arenas, and whatever Mario or Super Smash Bros. game was on the console hooked up to the family TV.
In 2011, when he was 19, Hyman left home to play hockey at the University of Michigan. Now if he wanted to bond with his brothers, it was via phone, text, and email. His youngest brother was 8, which made that sort of communication a challenge. Then Hyman discovered long-distance gaming.
“Instead of talking on the phone for five minutes, we’d sit there with headsets on and play three hours of video games and just talk about whatever—everything,” Hyman recalls.
It was a revelation, what he describes as an “aha” moment. Gaming could be more than sitting in a basement with your brothers; it could connect you even when you were hundreds of miles away.
Today, gaming is more than just a fun way to pass the time for Hyman—it’s a business. As co-owner of the Toronto-based Eleven Holdings Corp., he helps set the direction for a company that owns and operates a portfolio of esports and gaming businesses, including SoaR Gaming LLC and Eleven Gaming Corp.
The main company, SoaR Gaming, fields a competitive Valorant team, maintains a roster of 20 to 30 content creators, and has amassed a following of more than 21 million fans worldwide, generating more than 400 million impressions across social media platforms on a monthly basis. It supports multiple charities and boasts a growing number of brand affiliates, including Asus, Royal Bank of Canada, and Freetrade.
Hyman isn’t the only athlete with a financial stake in the esports and gaming space—Michael Jordan, Stephen Curry, and Odell Beckham Jr. are among the pros who have invested in companies similar to Eleven Holdings. A handful of NBA stars are part-owners of FaZeClan, which Hyman’s business partner, Oliver Silverstein, considers Eleven Holdings’ most notable competitor.
But it’s safe to say Hyman’s path to the business side of gaming is unique. Simply investing wasn’t enough for him. The son of a businessman, he wanted to learn about the esports and gaming industry from the inside, while playing hockey.
“It’s important, I think, for any athlete to have other interests so that they can kind of decompress and not think about hockey 24/7,” he says.
Here it’s important to point out that Hyman does indeed have other interests. He has a wife, a toddler son, and a baby on the way. He’s been writing best-selling, award-winning children’s books since he was a student at the University of Michigan. Since joining the Oilers as a free agent in the off-season last summer, he’s having the best year of his career, with record numbers of goals and points. So it’s not as if hockey is an afterthought. It’s more that he has a lot of energy in need of an outlet.
“When you’re a hockey player and an athlete, you have a certain amount of time you allocate to the rink and you focus on hockey, and then when you come home from the rink, you take care of your body,” he says. “But really, there’s a lot of downtime.”