SHAWNEE, Kan. —  Who would have thought playing video games could lead to big money?

The esports industry is growing quickly, and businesses in the Kansas City metro are reaping the rewards.

Video games have come a long way from playing Xbox on Mom’s living room TV set. Esports is becoming a worldwide industry, as competitive gamers face off in tournaments worth thousands of dollars.

In Shawnee, eSports Bar KC is feeding the fire, catering to gamers of all ages in a social atmosphere.

What begins as friends gathering to play games on a Sony PlayStation can lead to major esports tournaments like the ones in Europe and Asia where thousands of dollars are awarded.

“It’s basically a brand new game,” one young gamer said Friday.

Shawnee’s eSports Bar KC is capitalizing on those dreams and young gamers’ interest in watching other people play and compete in the video games they love.

KCK native Brandon Williams, who owns eSportsBar KC, believed in it enough to open the gaming center after he noticed his own kids watching gamers who were making thousands on YouTube.

“I’m like, ‘Dude, why are you sitting around watching these grown men play the game?'” Williams recalled asking his oldest son. “I started doing more market analysis and research, and I realized these are the guys who are getting paid.”

Reports say the owners of pro sports franchises are investing in teams of game players. Smaller colleges and universities are offering scholarships in esports and online gaming as a means of being competitive with other institutes of higher learning.

Populous, the Kansas City-based design firm known for building more than 200 stadiums and arenas worldwide, is also getting involved in esports.

Gina Stingley, Populous’ marketing director, shared company plans with FOX4 that call for a 30,000-square-foot gaming arena that will sit beside the Dallas Cowboys stadium in Arlington, Texas. It will include a huge main event space, gathering areas and locations for dining and retail, and it’s due to open this fall.

“We’ve got cities who are calling us and looking at this as an economic development engine,” Stingley said Friday.

Stingley, who is one of Populous’ primary partners, pointed to esports’ appeal to a younger generation, specifically, the 18 to 35-year-old demographic. A lifelong sports fan, Stingley believes esports sits exactly where professional football did 100 years ago, and its upside is virtually endless.

“Esports is on the rise.  All these other leagues are kind of stagnant,” Stingley told FOX4. “Small growth in sports like Major League Soccer, but when it comes to sports like the NFL and football, those pro sports teams see this as an opportunity to reconnect with the younger demographic.”

“It goes on and on,” Williams added. “The days of saying, ‘Hey, Junior, turn that game off,’ turns into, ‘Hey, Junior, you getting enough hours?”

The grassroots of those tournaments come from the local level.

Williams said there`s an emphasis on inclusion, and bringing in people from all backgrounds serves to give this growing sport promising potential.

Stingley said local economic development engines across the nation are contacting her firm, interested in using esports as a potential moneymaker. She said the company is having good luck reusing former big box retail stores, which now sit vacant and serve as great spaces for gaming tournaments.




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