Keeper of the Plans

A state-of-the-art competitive video gaming arena in Wichita? That’s local group’s aim

An eSports arena is in the works for the Wichita area.

If it comes together, Wichita would become one of the few cities in the country to have a facility specifically built for competitive gaming.

eSports is a growing industry predicted to top $1 billion in 2019, and this arena would likely give Wichita a foothold in the Midwest, boosters say.

Midwest eSports, a Wichita-based video gaming company, has formed a coalition of local companies that will explore the possibility to bringing an arena here.

Companies on that coalition include Koch Industries, NetApp, High Touch Technologies, YMCA Wichita, Wichita State University, Visit Wichita, the Greater Wichita Area Sports Commission — and even Kansas City groups like Sporting Kansas City and the Olathe Chamber of Commerce, according to a news release from Midwest eSports.

Midwest eSports’ founder, Ramsey Jamoul, planned to discuss the new coalition Saturday at the Riverfest event Project Popcon, which prominent featured eSports, cosplay, comic books and other such things.

The coalition has “a specific interest” in collaborating with N3rd Street Gamers to build a Localhost Arena in Wichita. The company has constructed similar facilities in Denver and Philadelphia.

“This is a really huge opportunity for Wichita if we can get behind this program,” Jamoul said.

What is eSports?

eSports is a form of competitive gaming where teams of players face off against each other in video games like “Overwatch,” “League of Legends” and “Fortnite,” and those matches are streamed for hordes of fans online.

In recent years it has exploded in popularity, as eSports tournaments have sold out arenas and attracted millions of dollars in sponsorships from companies like Coca-Cola, Toyota and T-Mobile.

Last year, officials with the International Olympic Committee discussed eSports being recognized as an official Olympic event (though nothing has yet come of those talks).

Billionaires including Robert Kraft (owner of the New England Patriots) and Stan Kroenke (owner of the Los Angeles Rams) have invested heavily in eSports, as both now own professional “Overwatch” eSports teams in additional to their NFL holdings.

A report from Newzoo, an eSports analytics provider, predicted the global eSports industry would surge to $1 billion for the first time in 2019, as sponsorships continue to increase and major television networks like ESPN start airing these video-game tournaments.

“There’s quite a bit of traditional sports investors going into it, because they understand the model the most,” Jamoul said.

At the highest levels of eSports, the prize money for winning easily rivals that of the PGA Championship — the 2018 International tournament for the game “Dota 2” featured a $25.5 million prize pool, with the winning team taking home $11.3 million.

But all eSports players have to start somewhere, right?

More high schools around the country are adding eSports teams to their club offerings — and those teams compete in the High School Esports League, which is based in Kansas City. Currently about 1,700 high schools across the country offer eSports — including Complete High School Maize, Wichita Southeast High School, Derby High School and Douglass High School.

The best players can be recruited by collegiate teams, which often have scholarships to award.

Wichita State University recently started four university-sanctioned eSports teams that compete against teams from schools like Miami, Boise State and more than 100 more.

“It’s something that has grown rapidly, and it’s really structured at the high school, college and now professional levels,” Jamoul said.

The arena concept would help develop eSports players at all levels, to help train “the next Michael Jordan of eSports,” Jamoul said.

“Our focus really is to create an ecosystem across the board — we want to help out high school students so that they have an opportunity to get scholarships,” he said. “The next generation is going to see this as their baseball, their pastime.”

If an arena were to be built, it would pave the way for a potential professional eSports team to form in Wichita, he said.

For Shadi Marcos, president and chief financial officer of Wichita-based Cybertron International, encouraging eSports goes hand-in-hand with talent retention. His company is also part of the eSports coalition.

“Integrating eSports into our local education, sports and leisure landscape will help Wichita employers attract and keep young talent,” Marcos said in a written statement. “Also holding national gaming tournaments and events will not only attract more visitors to Wichita, it will also help us improve our local brand identity which will make this city more relevant for the young people.”

Midwest eSports, which started as a student club at Wichita State in 2015, has recently gotten in the business of hosting video game tournaments for clients around the region. This year alone, it’s scheduled to host 45 eSports events in 16 different states — including Texas, Colorado, California, Oregon and Pennsylvania.

A proper arena would also enable the organization to host professional-level events.

“It’s grown really well for us — we only wanted to do 10 events last year and we ended up doing 18,” Jamoul said. “This year I expect to end up with over 50.”

Follow Midwest eSports on Facebook for more information as the coalition progresses.

Matt Riedl covers arts and entertainment news for the Wichita Eagle and has done so since 2015. He maintains the Keeper of the Plans blog on Facebook, dedicated to keeping Wichitans abreast of all things fun.