Contender Esports Founder and CEO Brett Payne believes Springfield could serve as the central esports hub for the country.
The Springfield Sports Commission is tapping into a budding new market with the launch of its Springfield Esports Coalition. The new organization, focused on competitive video-gaming, is among only a few of its kind in the country.
A launch party for the coalition was held at the Vib Best Western on Thursday, Dec. 15, with a crowd made up of Springfield Sports Commission members, Contender eSports staff and other community members. Contender eSports, a video game center headquartered in Springfield, is one of the leading organizations working with the coalition.
Upon its launch, the coalition is focusing on three main initiatives to connect all ages of gamers:
- Missouri High School Esports Invitational
- Springfield Esports Cup
- Missouri High School Esports Showcase
Esports is a quickly growing industry. Compared to the 79 million Americans who watched major league baseball content last year, 84 million Americans watched esports content, Springfield Sports Commission Executive Director Lance Kettering said at the launch party.
Missouri High School Esports Invitational
In the spring, the coalition will hosts its inaugural Missouri High School Esports Invitational. The three-day tournament will host 16 teams, bringing in high schoolers from across the state.
This fall, Springfield Public Schools rolled out its high school esports program. The program's approval included the purchase of 60 laptops and related accessories necessary for gaming, with a total cost of nearly $60,000.
Public school esports programs are regulated by the Missouri State High School Activities Association. Each team has a staff sponsor and must follow state guidelines. Today, over 100 schools and about 2,000 students participate in esports across the state, according to the Missouri Scholastic Esports Foundation.
Springfield Esports Cup
Tapping into an older audience, the Springfield Esports Cup is considered the coalition's “corporate challenge.” The esports competition will include seven weeks of gameplay with two matches per week. Based on the number of registered teams, each team will play each other at least once.
Registration for the first Springfield Esports Cup is open now, through April 28, 2023. Registration is $500 per team or $1,000 for three teams. To learn more about registration, visit the Springfield Sports Commission website.
Missouri High School Esports Showcase
The Missouri High School Esports Showcase will be similar to high school showcases held for other sports, with college recruiters analyzing the skills of high school gamers. Several higher education institutions in the state offer scholarships for esports athletes, including Northwest Missouri State University, Ozarks Technical Community College and Drury University.
Missouri State University also offers an esports program for students, but scholarships are not available.
Contender eSports Founder and CEO Brett Payne said one of his goals is to educate parents on the legitimacy of esports and potential success for student-athletes.
“The main thing to understand is that every reason why people play traditional sports that we accept in this country, teamwork, strategy, learning how to win and lose, sportsmanship, skills associated with each of those, those same things parallel to video games,” Payne said. “There's not a physical ball involved, it's on a screen, I understand that, but they're learning the same principles.”
About one year ago, Payne sat down with Kettering to discuss the potential of an esports organization in Springfield. Payne said he could have established the coalition under Contender eSports with the help of his staff, but he was excited to get the city's support.
Tucker Haynes, one of the launch party attendees, was eager to demonstrate the five new Contender eSports gaming setups at Vib Best Western. At the launch party, the five setups were also unveiled, available for use by hotel customers.
Haynes said he's been playing video games his entire life, but it was only about a year and a half ago he dove into the esports community as a commentator.
“One thing about esports is that it's always been neglected as one of the more traditional sports,” Tucker Haynes said. “The Springfield Sports (Commission) mingling with (esports) helps out a lot to bridge that gap between esports and traditional sports, to bring some more respect into the video gaming community, as well as adding a level of (legitimacy).”
The Springfield Esports Coalition will run on memberships. Coalition members will receive access to monthly meetings, collaboration on regional esports events and discounts on gaming technology. Folks can register for $100 a year online.
Payne founded Contender eSports in 2018. Today, the gaming center company has 14 franchises across the country, with the headquarters located in Springfield. Each gaming center features PCs, consoles, gaming chairs and concessions. Contender eSports also hosts tournaments, training and summer camps.
Payne said he understands why some folks may not “understand” esports but he encouraged them to give it a try.
“Not understanding something doesn't mean that it's invalid,” Payne said. “It just means it's different, just like how (your) parents thought that what (you) did when (you) were kids was different. It's not going away, so how do we navigate this into something productive?”
The Springfield Contender eSports location, located at 3010 S. National Ave., offers 47 PCs, five Xboxes and 12 Nintendo Switches. The center is open Sunday through Thursday 1-10 p.m., Friday 1 p.m. to midnight and Saturday 11 a.m. to midnight. Contender eSports memberships start at $15 per month for individuals and $35 per month for families.
The most comparable organization in the state is the Kansas City Esports Coalition, established by the Kansas City Sports Commission in 2020.