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GM’s Maven, citing strategy shift, pulls out of Chicago, New York

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Maven, the mobility brand operated by General Motors, is ceasing operations in several major U.S. markets.

The brand will stop service in New York, Chicago and multiple other markets as part of a “shift in strategy,” a spokeswoman said Monday.

Maven car-sharing will remain in Detroit and Los Angeles but details were unavailable on how the company plans to address services in other markets.

In some markets, the brand will keep car-sharing services available for consumers while shuttering Maven Gig, which provides short-term leases for vehicles used in ride-hailing or delivery services. The opposite will be true in other markets, according to the spokeswoman. In some markets, both branches of the business will cease operations.

Maven car-sharing is available in 12 cities, while Maven Gig is available in 10. It wasn’t immediately clear whether operations will cease immediately.

The restructuring is the first major change for Maven since Julia Steyn, former head of Maven and GM Urban Mobility, left the company in January.

The moves are a result of the company wanting to “concentrate on markets in which we have the strongest current demand and growth potential,” the spokeswoman said.
Maven, launched in January 2016, was GM’s first significant foray into the car-sharing and mobility space. It debuted in Ann Arbor, Mich. GM has broadly used the brand as a laboratory to gather information for its automated-vehicle and connected-car plans.

At its onset, GM saw Maven as a key part of its evolution from an automotive-centered company into one that spread its business across other mobility services.

“We see the emergence of car share and ride sharing, in general, as much of an opportunity for GM than it is a threat,” said Dan Ammann, president of GM at the time. “The thing that really changes between a shared model and a car-owner model is that the car is used in a much more efficient way. Now, cars are idled 95, 96 percent of the time. Utilization in shared can go up quite dramatically, and that makes the economics good for the customer and the company.”

Source: https://www.autonews.com/mobility-report/gms-maven-citing-strategy-shift-pulls-out-chicago-new-york

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2019’s top cash back card is absurdly good

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Cash back is one of the most popular rewards types for credit card users. But often the most generous cards come with large annual fees, limited usage, difficult redemptions, or other mitigating factors.

Rarely is it that a card sports a generous yield, no annual fee, and other benefits like a 0% intro APR program.

But – that’s precisely what the Discover it® Cash Back card promises new users today. When you start to take a closer look it’s easy to see why this card win’s our top rating for cash back cards in 2019. It is a prime example of a card packed with tons of valuable features users appreciate.

Here are some of the most notable:

  • 5% bonus cash back — Discover it® Cash Back pays 1% cash-back on regular purchases, and 5% cash back at different places each quarter like gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, Amazon.com, or wholesale clubs up to the quarterly maximum ($1,500 of spending) each time you activate.
  • Double cash back in the first year — Discover will match all the cash back earned during the first year for new cardholders. Cardholders who max out bonus categories quarterly can expect a total of $600 cash-back in the first year. For the number crunchers out there, that’s $1,500 of quarterly spending in bonus categories ($6,000 per year), which earns cash back at a 5% rate. Add Discover’s match on top, and you’ll receive $300, plus another $300 for the match in your first year — that works out to 10% cash back. Importantly, I excluded spending that earns at a 1% rate, but Discover matches that, too.
  • No annual fee — Credit cards packed with valuable features tend to charge high fees or APRs. Discover it® Cash Back balances this relationship well and doesn’t charge an annual fee, making it a fit for cardholders with modest credit spending needs, who won’t see their rewards get wiped out by an annual fee.
  • 0% intro APR for purchases — The card includes a 0% intro APR for 14 months for purchases, after which the go-to variable rate applies.
  • 0% intro APR for balance transfers — The same length 0% intro APR applies for balance transfers, as does the go-to variable rate as well. Note, the promo period extends for 14 months since the first transfer, not from account opening, as is common for balance-transfer credit cards. Cardholders must execute the transfer by a specific date to qualify, but starting the clock from the date of the first transfer does increase the

3 Important Considerations

  • Cash back cards may not be for everyone. If you are a frequent traveler you may be able to find a travel rewards card offers you more bang for your buck, especially if you are careful about when and where you redeem your rewards to maximize your benefit.
  • If you usually carry a balance on your card it can wipe out the benefit you see from receiving rewards in the first place. Make sure you aren’t spending more than you can pay off to avoid this issue.
  • Some cards like the Discover it® Cash Back card have rotating rewards categories. If any of these areas are ones you don’t typically spend in it may not be worth signing up for that card. For example, if your card pays out a high rewards rate for gasoline purchases, but you don’t own a vehicle you may actually be missing out on rewards that you could have had with a different card that has a flat rewards rate on all purchases.

Final take

With all of these on the table we believe the Discover it® Cash Back card is worth a solid look for most users. The best label we can give Discover it® Cash Back is value-packed. The card nicely balances costs with benefits, delivering a credit card that users may find worthy of a prime spot in their wallets, especially those who can maximize 5% bonus rewards categories while avoiding common credit card nuisance fees. You can apply now by clicking here. Approvals typically take less than two minutes.

Source: https://www.usatoday.com/story/sponsor-story/the-ascent/2018/12/24/2019-s-top-cash-back-card-absurdly-good/2407261002/?utm_source=taboola&utm_medium=exchange

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The next big thing: Why NY investors are pouring money into e-sports

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Gino Gigante’s father, Louis, was a community organizer who built a lot of affordable housing in the Bronx. His uncle Vincent, better known as Vinny the Chin, was one of the nation’s most powerful—and dangerous—Mafia bosses.

Gino has pulled off the delicate feat of pursuing a career that would make both men proud.

His father approves because about two years ago Gino opened the Lower East Side’s Waypoint Café, which has become the hub of New York’s community of video-gamers. His uncle would recognize the café’s murder and mayhem, although it happens only on computers rented by customers for $5 per hour. Indeed, parents leave their kids to play Fortnite while they run errands, trusting Gigante to keep an eye on them.

“I won’t let anyone buy a Red Bull here until they’re 16,” said the 28-year-old Gigante, who majored in digital anthropology at the City University of New York and comes to work dressed in a black baseball cap and a PlayStation T-shirt.

His café pulls in about $50,000 in monthly revenue, and he plans to open a second one in upstate Troy, a hot spot for gaming studios such as EA and Warner Brothers. But the Waypoint is more than a spot for people to play video games. It is the city’s prime gathering place for people to watch other people play video games professionally: e-sports.

Almost every week, a group calling itself the 5 Deadly Venoms comes to see the New York Excelsior play Overwatch, a six-on-six-player game filled with blasts and booms that also features “supporters,” who defend teammates from enemy fire, and “healers,” who help them recover from injuries. It might look like chaos to the untrained eye, but there is strategy, and dramatic comebacks are possible—which makes Overwatch one of the most popular games. About 40 million people play it worldwide.

The Excelsior, or NYXL, are part of a league launched last year by Overwatch publisher Activision Blizzard. The team is owned by the Sterling.VC venture-capital fund, run by the family that owns the Mets. The idea is to transform e-sports from a traveling circus that occasionally comes to town into something resembling a major sport, with leagues and teams that have regular home games, road trips, season-ticket holders, corporate sponsors and lucrative media rights.

For now, the nine-player Excelsior squad is New York in name only. It actually plays in a Burbank, Calif., studio. But next year the plan is to play in the city, perhaps at Hammerstein Ballroom, Terminal 5 or the Theater at Madison Square Garden.

“I’m confident we’ll land at one of those,” said Ben Nichol, NYXL’s head of events and business development, who lives in an apartment above the Waypoint.

E-sports arose about a decade ago, when a promoter in Korea began offering top StarCraft players contracts and coaching. Since then the movement has been on a relentless crusade of global conquest. The Overwatch League has 20 teams spanning from Chengou, China, to London to Los Angeles. Top players earn millions of dollars. The biggest e-sports star, Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, has 18 million followers on Instagram and Twitter. That is three times more than New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has.

Pro gaming is a small part of the video-game business, on which U.S. consumers spent $43 billion last year, four times more than on movies. Still, the fledgling world of e-sports is expected to generate $1.1 billion in revenue this year, according to research firm Newzoo, a 27% increase over 2018. Goldman Sachs predicts revenue will nearly triple by 2022 as viewership approaches 300 million—on par with the NFL.

That has caught the attention of the owners of the Mets, the Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams, who have invested a reported $20 million each in Overwatch franchises.

“We see e-sports as a huge opportunity,” said Sterling.VC co-founder Scott Wilpon, a cousin of the Mets’ chief operating officer, Jeff Wilpon. “It’s by far the fastest- growing space in sports, and it’s on a global scale.”

Sterling.VC doubled down last month, paying an undisclosed sum to acquire a team in a newly created Call of Duty league.

For the Wilpons, e-sports represent an opportunity to win the hearts, minds and wallets of young people who are not the least bit interested in the Mets.

“I don’t like watching sports at all,” said Tiffany Chang, a foreign- currency analyst who heads the 5 Deadly Venoms and in addition to Overwatch likes playing StarCraft II, Cadence of Hyrule, Super Mario Odyssey and Smash Ultimate. “I game in a wide range.”

One recent evening in Midtown, the Paley Center for Media was transformed into an arcade for the Overwatch League all-stars viewing party. Many of the 200 20-somethings who paid $15 to attend got into the mood by doing the e-sports version of tailgating: playing video games on the first floor. Downstairs in the auditorium, fans who’d dressed as their favorite game heroes trickled in to watch the undercard, a couple of guys playing Super Smash Bros. The loser, a fellow named Gabe, had his beard shaved onstage while his mother waved from the audience. “There she is!” announced Nichol, the master of ceremonies, channeling the spirit of wrestling impresario Vince McMahon.

Then it was time for a little trash-talking from the Overwatch all-stars, most of whom are Korean teenagers.

“I truly believe the Pacific team is far better than the Atlantic team,” one player was translated as saying, “so I didn’t prep anything.”

“You shut your mouth!” someone in the crowd shouted.

Next came the main event, on the big screen. Most sports have broadcasters describing the play-by-play; e-sports has “shoutcasters,” whose job is to call the action and rev up the crowd, which hooted and hollered with great brio.

“It was a good small event,” said Nichol, who is putting on watch parties and other events several times a month to help build a fan base for NYXL.

Many others are chasing the same audience. They include Microsoft, which promotes its Xbox game console and software by regularly holding e-sports events at its retail outlet on Fifth Avenue, where four of the seven floors are devoted to gaming. On Tuesday nights players of fight-themed games are invited. There are also Fortnite Fridays. Saturdays are for another blockbuster game: League of Legends. Lucky players and fans get access to a state-of-the-art studio filled with computers, consoles, cameras, teleprompters and even a green room.

Andres Cardona, a Microsoft gaming-community development specialist, said most top gamers play professionally for about six years before their fingers lose the requisite twitchiness. He estimated it takes 1,000 hours to get proficient at a game, though most gamers practice several times as much.

“Some games are so intense,” Cardona said, “that you play another game afterward to ease your mind.”

There’s no doubt that the audience for e-sports is big. The question is How much money can be made, given that many of its fans have little disposable income?

“The truth is, most are poor college students,” said Gigante, who likens the industry to a rubber band stretched thin by investors pouring in so much money.

Some owners reportedly have paid upward of $30 million for their e-sports franchise—in the same ballpark as the price of a top minor- league baseball team. But like the music industry, video games are a hit-driven business where popular titles disappear quickly. Nearly three years after its release, there are signs that interest in Overwatch is dimming. Last month Activision reported a drop in the game’s monthly average users due to “increased choice in the team-based category,” although officials insist the league is thriving.

“If you look at the top five e-sports now, will it be the same in five years? It’s fairly obvious it won’t be,” said Brandon Ross, a media analyst at brokerage firm BTIG. “A couple of years ago, the big thing was PUBG, then it was Fortnite, and this year it’s Apex Legends. There are no signs of real stability yet.”

Nor does the arrival of e-sports teams with deep-pocketed owners, plus sponsors such as Intel and Coca-Cola, sit well with some gaming fans.

“My fear is the community will go to the parties the e-sports teams are putting on, but they’ll find it too corporate, too paid off, and we’ll lose the grass roots,” Gigante said.

Richard Ng, who founded the 5 Deadly Venoms early last year, agrees that rooting for an e-sports team controlled by a big software company can be a challenge.

“The sport isn’t public domain—which means you have to buy it and consume it and love it in only the way the company says you can,” Ng said. “That is antithetical to human behavior.”

Still, he said, the arrival of organized e-sports brings undeniable benefits. It offers gamers a chance to rise from their lair, put on some clothes and hang out.

“Technology promises connection but makes us live separately,” he said. “I believe one of the challenges facing young people is they’re disconnected from peers and from one’s self.”

This past weekend some 5 Deadly Venoms members met in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, to catch some sun. They also have gotten together at the movies, attended conventions and held potluck dinners.

“My friend brought 30 items from Taco Bell,” Chang said.

Last year the group found a photographer who took head shots of gamers for a $10 donation. The proceeds went to University Settlement, a nonprofit. That has Gigante thinking about how he might entice other groups to the Waypoint Café.

“Last year we focused the fundraiser on the e-sports community,” he said. “This year we might target the nerd community.”

Source: https://www.crainsnewyork.com/features/next-big-thing-why-ny-investors-are-pouring-money-e-sports

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Bitcoin vaults above $7,000 level as crypto rally gathers steam

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Bitcoin jumped above $7,000 and didn’t look back, as its longest winning streak since 2013 continued to rekindle the global cryptocurrency market.

Monday’s 16% advance comes only a few days after the digital asset broke through $6,000 and looks set to boost investor interest in conferences on the technology underlying the biggest crypto asset that are taking place in New York this week. Bitcoin’s latest surge happened on Saturday, when the two U.S. exchanges carrying futures are closed, making it potentially difficult for short sellers to cover their wagers.

“Bitcoin is acting differently since moving above its 200-day moving average” and the gains are occurring on strong volume, Fundstrat co-founder Tom Lee, a noted Bitcoin bull, wrote in an email. Blockchain Week is underway, co-sponsored by the New York City Economic Development Corp., and the Consensus forum is set to start, where people are “expecting a higher-quality conference,” Lee said.

With fundamental analysts often struggling to explain crypto markets, traders have recently pointed to institutions increasingly embracing digital coins. The likes of Fidelity Investments plans to buy and sell Bitcoin for institutional customers soon, and E*Trade is dipping into the trading space.
Earlier this month, the Bank of Canada and Monetary Authority of Singapore announced that they had sent each other digital currencies using blockchain technology.

The most well-known digital token to as high as $7,324.64, up 16% from Friday, according to composite prices compiled by Bloomberg at 7:52 a.m. New York time. Rival coins surged in a broad rally, with Bitcoin Cash up 26%, and Litecoin and Ether both at least 12% higher.

Hedge funds and other investors had increased their net short bet against Bitcoin in the week through May 7, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commissions said Friday. When trading opened on Monday, futures traded on CME opened 12% higher.

While Bitcoin has more than doubled from its post-crash low, the crypto space is by no means free of headaches.

Binance, a large crypto exchange, reported a hack of 7,000 Bitcoins with about $40 million. The companies behind the digital exchange Bitfinex and the cryptocurrency Tether recently said that the so-called stablecoin is backed by cash and short-term securities only equal to 74% of the outstanding coins rather than completely pegged to the U.S. dollar.

And that’s aside from the volatility—Bitcoin peaked above $19,000 in December 2017 before crashing back to earth in the succeeding months.

Source: https://www.crainsnewyork.com/finance/bitcoin-vaults-above-7000-level-crypto-rally-gathers-steam

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