COLUMBIA — Just like a game controller, the future of sports might lie in the hands of young gamers.
Video gamers and their parents filled the Innovation Hub at Regional Economic Development Inc., on Wednesday night to hear a panel of 10 esports professionals assembled by Ukatsu tell their stories about the growing industry and explain the inner workings of competitive gaming.
Ukatsu is a business start-up in Columbia that wants to create a community for young gamers to build relationships on and off the screen. It was co-founded by Ben Brooks and Joe Chee, who received a $50,000 business investment from the Missouri Innovation Center.
Young gamers come to the Innovation Hub, where Ukatsu is based, for weekly summer camps and day-long workshops with local competitive gamers. They learn techniques for playing games such as "League of Legends" and "Super Smash Bros. Melee." Brooks said the company hopes soon to have six events a month.
This was the second session Ukatsu has arranged to talk to parents, and it plans to hold similar events every other month. The last parent-invitation event discussed internet safety.
“We want to get your kids out of their rooms, out of your basements to interact and make friends," Brooks told the gathering of a little over 20 parents. "A lot of you guys can be gamer moms and dads, too."
Brooks moderated the panel, asking questions ranging from the pros' personal gaming histories to where they see the industry heading. To say all the panelists were optimistic would be an understatement, and their confidence might be well-founded.
Esports are projected to grow to a $1.07 billion dollar industry by 2019, according to previous Missourian reporting.
The panel included two esports coaches each from Columbia and Stephens colleges and one from an Illinois college, along with Chee and two MU grads who started an esport gaming organization.
Coaches and players alike talked about growing up as avid gamers and deciding to turn their passion into a career. One of the most outspoken panelists was Columbia College's 19 year-old "League of Legends" coach Drake Porter.
Porter said he moved out of his parents' home and began financially supporting himself coaching esports at 16. By that time he had already played competitively for over two years and had grown tired of it. Becoming a coach was the next step.
"I graduated high school two years early to become more involved in coaching," said Porter, who believes he is the only full-time esports employee at the collegiate level in the country.
Porter said he recognizes and appreciates his opportunity to shape what it means to be an esports coach. The budding industry has no common practice or standard procedure when it comes to coaching. He is making his own model.
"I'm building my own industry," Porter said.
He said he pores over the techniques of established team-based sports and picks up tips from reading about strategies used elsewhere. He said the best way to approach "League of Legends" is by using a combination of the tactics from, "basketball, Navy Seals and chess."
Other panelists explained how they coach their teams, often relating their methods to conventional sports. They talked about regular practices, team discussions, film analysis of upcoming opponents and even having team exercises to take breaks from gaming. They emphasized the importance of living a balanced life and encouraged parents to limit gaming time and ensure their kids are participating in other activities.
They also discussed the benefits of playing video games and being active within the gaming community. Chee talked about how other gamers helped him learn how to communicate and work with others.
"It taught me how to be a leader when given the opportunity," Chee said. "It gave me confidence in myself."
The panelists also said they see new jobs developing as the esports industry grows. They said most of the jobs seen in traditional sports will soon have new positions in gaming.
Parents Jeff and Theresa Brooks said their son Kevin plays video games six to seven hours per day in the summer, and the community Ukatsu provides has been good for him.
Theresa Brooks said she likes how Ukatsu "gives them the social aspect to make friends."
Jeff Brooks identified himself as a casual gamer. "I'm really impressed with what they've got and what they're trying to do ... I can understand the competitiveness and fun."
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