Becoming highly skilled at a video game often means spending hours in isolation: a dark room with few distractions and caffeine at the ready to deter anything that could disrupt hours-long bouts of gaming. Gamers who profess devotion to “the grind” can spend thousands of hours a year in isolation.
Chris Curtis wants to change that.
Curtis is the South Suburban Parks and Recreation District’s first esports program coordinator. He’s in charge of setting up the first esports-dedicated space in the district at the Lone Tree Hub, 8827 Lone Tree Parkway. He wants to create a place where developing gaming skills doesn’t have to be antisocial.
“It’s really important to get kids out of the house into a social space playing games rather than by themselves, because there’s a lot more to be learned from video games in a social setting versus playing at home by yourself,” Curtis said. “That’s a big focus of mine.”
South Suburban will unveil its first esports gaming room at the Lone Tree Hub March 3. The room will be the headquarters for the parks and recreation district’s esports program. The room is open to any and all curious in getting into esports or for seasoned pros. The idea, Curtis said, is to create an inclusive space for all with a passion for gaming.
South Suburban has a spring break esports camp scheduled for the weeks of March 16-19 and March 23-27. The district is planning to have after-school programs and various camps come spring.
One such camp Curtis is planning would be exclusively for girls to meet and learn about esports, an opportunity to encourage more female participation in esports. Curtis also wants to create adult leagues so the entire community can share in the common interest of gaming.
The esports room, completely designed by Curtis, resembles a living room. Curtis wants to evoke an inviting atmosphere for interested newcomers or longtime gamers to hang out. The room will have six gaming consoles, six PCs, three TVs streaming Twitch (a popular app where gamers can watch other gamers play), couches and specialized gaming chairs. The Lone Tree Hub esports room will have its own Twitch stream so parents can monitor their children at the Hub from afar.
“The idea is to make it easily accessible to everybody,” Curtis said. “Whether they want to watch because they’re curious, peek in to see what we’re about, come spend some time with their child here, maybe learn a thing or two about video games — there’s a place here for everybody.”
The esports room is age restricted, but a parent may sign off for a child to play a game outside of the recommended age limit. A date of birth is required to set up an account at the esports hub. The games will focus on team play and one-on-one types of games, Curtis said.
Nicole Stehlik, assistant director of recreation, said South Suburban wanted to create a place for kids to congregate and provide a resource to parents curious to learn more about the industry.
“There are very few places kids can congregate and learn new things about the sport itself,” Stehlik said. “Not only that, but it’s an opportunity to educate the parents as well. When you’re thinking about other sports, parents are always asking other parents or coaches what they think about a sport … They don’t necessarily have a great avenue for this particular program, so that’s what we’re trying to do as well.”
Curtis, 26, has been playing video games, either competitively or casually, for 20 years. Outside of South Suburban, Curtis runs Buttons on Wake-Up, a tournament series for esports combat-style games in Colorado Springs.
Curtis said it’s a fallacy that gamers need to commit to “the grind” to improve. He believes interacting in a community of gamers, learning from each other and lifting each other up, is the key to becoming successful.
High school students can earn scholarships for their gaming prowess. The top gamers can make a living off video games. In 2019, esports viewership, through apps like Twitch, was 454 million, according to Business Insider. The industry is worth more than $1 billion, according to a 2019 report from Newzoo, a games and esports analytics group.
Curtis wants the new esports space to be a safe space for gamers to be in their element.
“You can come in here, relax and let things go for a few hours,” Curtis said. “Video games are an escape for a lot of people, myself included, even at 26 years old. I understand the need to get those things out and this is a healthy way to express.”
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