There’s a sports industry worth over $96 million growing in Indianapolis. People don’t play with a ball, bat or puck but a videogame controller. Competitive video games, or esports, are a thriving new way for people to form competitive communities around their love of games.
Local companies like Evolve Youth Esports and Player One show Indianapolis is joining the trend. Their secret weapon for success in Indianapolis is parents. Local parents, like Marcus Lieber, who grew up playing videogames, are more likely to enroll their children in esports programs.
“I grew up playing video games, and that got me into a career in IT,” Lieber said. Lieber hopes his son will first have fun playing video games and then realize there’s more to it. “… I’m thinking maybe once he sees it he might move into wanting to write some code himself, so he might make some games himself.”
It would not be a stretch if video games open doors for Lieber’s son, considering some colleges, such as the University of Utah, offer esport scholarships.
Lieber registered his son to play at Evolve Youth Esports, which incorporates the youth club sports model into esports. Teams of children train with a coach and then compete against each other in an eight-week season. Practices and competition are located in a physical location where players interact with each other. Evolve is not only the first esports organization in Indiana to incorporate a physical location and club sports model in this way, but it’s also the first in the country.
Evolve’s first season starts Jan. 19. Players from ages 9 to 14 can choose to compete in one of two videogames: the ever-popular Fortnight or Rocket League, a game of virtual soccer with rocket cars. Soon after its first season, Evolve plans to add other games and expand ages, including an 18+ league for the adults who have expressed interest.
Through incorporating a physical location and club sports model, Evolve aims to foster the social element of gaming. Scott Wise, founder of Evolve Youth, who is known for Scotty’s Brewhouse, noticed children loved collaborating in online games using headsets and saw a possibility for more interaction.
“I saw these kids doing the same thing, playing the games together, and I wanted to figure out a way to bring more of a social component to that industry, trying to get them out of their bedrooms and their basement,” Wise said.
Player One is a separate entity from Evolve, but the two companies work together closely. Player One, which offers esport events and online community for those passionate about videogames, has expressed interest in recruiting skilled players from Evolve to groups like their professional PlayerUnknown’s Battleground team.
Adam Krudy, director of Player One, said Indianapolis is fertile ground for esports. Thanks to companies like Salesforce and Microsoft, the city already has a strong tech presence. Furthermore, a city in a landlocked state that experiences four complete seasons is likely to produce quality gamers.
“New York [and] LA. That’s where everyone goes to for these big competitions, right?” Kurdy said. “If all the gamers are in the Midwest, why are we the ones flying? So the idea is let’s make the companies fly to us, and let’s put on the events here.”
Wise points out that Indianapolis is already a nationally recognized sports juggernaut. Esports is a logical next step.
“We have the NCAA here in town,” Wise said. “We’ve got the Pacers, and Colts and the Indians. We have all these different athletic events. And, of course, we have the Indy 500. Why can’t now esports become a hotbed for Indianapolis?”
If esports continue to grow in Indianapolis, it can offer opportunities to a wide range of Hoosiers. Wise said esports do not distinguish between race, religion, gender or age. Many who contradict the “gamer” stereotype are already enjoying esports. Player One’s media director, Jason Levi Caudill, who oversees their online community and was lovingly dubbed “Squadfather,” noted the community’s vast age range.
“I see everyone from ages 13 to 80, and that’s not a joke,” Caudill said. “We have a gentleman named David (senior citizen) who plays Destiny 2.”
Contact staff writer Ben Lashar at 317-762-7848. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminLashar.