Local franchise connects gamers, helping grow esports scene

Local franchise connects gamers, helping grow esports scene

As some sports have struggled to get off the ground in 2020, esports have soared to new heights.

Brett Payne, founder of the locally based gaming center franchise Contender eSports, has been working to build a brand that is capitalizing on that enormous growth, and the aim is to make it, and the area, synonymous with competitive gaming on a global scale.

“Springfield will always be known for Andy’s, Brad Pitt and the Cardinals, but there’s also a good chance we’re going to be known as the esports center of the country,” Payne said.

“Our goal is to be the Starbucks of esports; I want our brand to be synonymous with [it]. It’s a lofty goal, but that brand awareness and high-level thinking of those places [like Starbucks] are top-notch. The people, equipment, atmosphere, service … that’s what I want people to think [of us].”

Payne and his team are busy launching new stores nationwide. There was one in Lubbock, Texas, recently, and a location in Cary, North Carolina, will open in the coming weeks. But no matter where rapid expansion may take it, Contender’s location at the corner of National and Battlefield, which opened at the beginning of February, is already proving itself a winner for the community.

“Brett loves this city more than anyone I’ve met in my life,” said Jesse Skaggs, who runs the Springfield store. “He’ll do anything to give something to the city and [provide] a safe place for kids.”

Skaggs, who graduated from Rolla High School and enjoyed a brief stint playing baseball at Southwest Baptist University, played Halo professionally. Then, while working as a retail manager, he connected with Payne.

Later, they met for breakfast, and Skaggs’ leadership qualities made him an ideal candidate to lead the Springfield location, but in detailing their meeting, Payne emphasized how common an interest video games have become in our culture after operating on the fringes for several decades.

Payne calls his initial idea for Contender an accident, bred from conversations in southeast Asia several years ago. “In the middle of it, they mentioned work in esports facilities,” he said. “My first response was ‘What is esports?’ because I’d never heard the word. It was very intriguing, and I started looking into the industry on what was happening with it and trends.

“I started to look to see what facilities were serving customers in the U.S., and there were mom-and-pop places, but nothing standardized. I was able to filter through the process and saw the customer base was going to get bigger and bigger every year; because of the [COVID-19] pandemic, it’s probably grown exponentially.”

Indeed, gaming has unsurprisingly been surging while people of all ages have seen themselves spending more time than usual indoors. Twitch, the leading platform for streaming gaming, saw engagement in the U.S. doubled from January to March. Research from Nielsen found that the number of American gamers who were playing more due to COVID-19 had increased by 46% since near the end of March. Visibility for esports, thanks to events like the NBA 2K Players Tournament that aired on ESPN, rose dramatically with no major live sports on TV.

After being open for just eight weeks, Contender had to close temporarily but still managed to thrive by nature of the gaming community through mediums like Facebook and Discord.

“When the shutdown hit, we did not lose a connection with our customers or people already connected with us,” Payne said. “Even though our doors were closed, we kept those conversations active, and we were able to shift the gaming experience online where they were still interacting with staff. We were running tournaments, events, nonprofit fundraisers. It’s nothing ideal that we want to do long-term, but in the interim, it kept connections so that when the doors opened up again, everyone wanted to see each other again.”

When the store reopened in the middle of May, the seats were filled again to play Super Smash Bros., Valorant, Overwatch and other currently popular titles.

“We’ve maxed our capacity almost every day,” Skaggs said. “It’s either half-full or completely full every day; it’s not really in between.”

Its doors welcome a variety of visitors. The Ozark Community Center’s summer fitness camp has taken a trip, and one recent Call of Duty tournament drew players from as far as Kansas City and St. Louis. Student-athletes are also a big part of Contender’s plans. In addition to working with universities like Drury who are forming esports teams as collegiate involvement in the scene is quickly expanding, Springfield Public Schools will compete in a high school esports league beginning in September provided school is in session. Each program will have a 25-man roster, split across varsity and JV squads and three games (Overwatch, Super Smash Bros. and Rocket League).

Don’t expect high school organizations like MSHSAA or the NCAA to get involved any time soon, but Contender will provide a format for those who excel at activities beyond conventional ones as scholarships to play esports continue to increase.

And that’s what Contender eSports is about: opportunity and involvement, for Springfield, surrounding communities and the greater region.

“We look at our location as a hub to bring people together,” Payne said. “Gamers are known as playing online and with someone in 10 different cities, but not locally. We help to simply do the introductions.

“The reach is certainly beyond Springfield. This is for southwest Missouri … and really for everybody. It’s not elitist; it’s just a super-happy place. We tell our staff, when people walk in the door, your job is [to make it] the best two hours of their day. That’s the goal.”

By Bryan Everson
August 12, 2020
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For more information about Contender eSports, check out our FAQ

Virtual schooling options available at Lubbock gaming facility

Virtual schooling options available at Lubbock gaming facility

LUBBOCK, Texas — Contender eSports in Lubbock said Wednesday it would share their resources with students in the community with an online school location for families who may not be ready to send their children back to a busy school just yet.

The business opened up in July as a video game facility. With the landscape of education quickly changing, management decided they could use their facility to help out the community.

Contender eSports Lubbock

“When we saw there might be a need in the community for virtual schooling locations, we immediately were like, yes, let’s jump in there and see what we can do to help,” said owner Rachel Kiwior.

Management explained the program could serve as a possible solution for parents who may not be ready to send their children back to a busy school who also may not have the necessary resources or time to keep them focused at home.

“If you’re a parent, maybe you’re working from home, it’s hard to do your work and teach your child throughout the day, ” said Kiwior. “We’ve got someone here to help all day. If they have any questions, we’ve got a dedicated person to help them with their schooling.”

The facility is available for students in grades three through 12 and would be open during regular school hours, but with flexible pick up and drop off times for parents.

The business would go about its regular business for gamers throughout the day and are currently flexible with how many students they would take in, the maximum being 45.

Students who have opted for virtual learning have been provided Chromebooks by their prospective school districts. Contender eSports said students would use those to do all of their school work but would have opportunities to use the desktop computers and gaming systems during breaks.

“We have a set structure, so they’re going to be doing school work, and we have worked in breaks during that time as well so that they can have a little bit of fun,” said Kiwior. “They will bring their Chromebooks here, they will connect to our Wi-Fi, it’s high speed, so they should have any connection problems.”

Lubbock ISD Assistant Superintended Misty Rieber said parents who opt for online learning should be aware of what it means to sign up for virtual school.

“They’re making a commitment to a full day of learning, ” Rieber said. “The full schedule, the rigor, the same grading system, the same grading as our students and the same face to face instruction.”

Contender eSports said they hope their program would help to fill the gap for parents who may not be ready to make that much of a commitment, even though, they are not ready to send their children to school.

“They’re going to be around the same people every day but at a safe distance, and we will make everything clean and safe for you,” said Kiwior. “We do have a policy that everyone should be wearing a mask, so we require all of our employees to have a mask on. We’re trying to keep a safe environment – we clean after every single customer everything is wiped down.”

As an employee at Texas Tech’s College of Engineering, Kiwior explained it is important for all customers to follow the governor’s orders and wear masks and maintain social distance.

In addition to having a tutor available, students would have the opportunity to learn other skills while they are attending the program.

“We have a program where they can learn to code, they can actually create their own app and their own game, so hopefully after this experience, they can take that with them,” said Kiwior.

The schedule would also be flexible. Parents could choose to send their children for five days a week, or three days (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) or two days (Tuesday and Thursday).

The price of the program is $30 a day per student, but management said they would work with each individual and hope to offer scholarships to make the program affordable for everyone.

For more information on how to sign up, visit their website.

By KOLR 10 News
Aug 2020
View Original Article

For more information about Contender eSports, check out our FAQ

Video game approved by the FDA to help children with ADHD

Video game approved by the FDA to help children with ADHD

The Food and Drug Administration has approved the first video game as a type of therapy for any condition.

Endeavor Rx, the video game, is designed to help with sensory and motor tasks and improve cognitive skills.

Michael Chapman works at Contender E-Sports here in Springfield, he says he’s happy video games are being seen in a better light.

Contender eSports Springfield

“We’ve been saying at Contender for a long time that gaming has been a positive force for kids and adults,” said Chapman. “We love the communities we see here when people come in, when they come together. We’ve always seen the social aspects. It’s great to see a more scientific approach and some more benefits proven. Even above and beyond what we’ve always said what’s great about video games and video game culture.”

The FDA also says the game can help children with attention function.

By KOLR 10 News
June 2020
View Original Article

For more information about Contender eSports, check out our FAQ

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