Electronic sports-- also known as "esports," "eSports" or "e-sports," is essentially a competitive form of video gaming-- and as with most sports, business and education opportunities surrounding competition, culture, coaching, teams and tourism are rapidly growing around it.
Some San Antonio gamers say they've been craving more opportunities to connect and compete for decades- and in recent years, business has begun to grow and investments have started to sprout. KENS 5 Eyewitness News took a look at some local developments. You can listen to a podcast version of this story by clicking here, and watch the video version of this story Wednesday, May 12 at 10pm.
More KENS 5 esports coverage
As you read the story below, we've also included recent KENS 5 stories to help you better understand what esports is all about. If you need a primer on the basics of what esports is, check out KENS 5's conversation with two local coaches, below.
LOCAL GAMING VENUES: Competition and Community
Several venues for gaming and esports have opened in San Antonio in recent years, filling a need for high-end equipment, standardized high-speed internet, competition and community.
San Antonio business owner Philip Torres opened Shenanigans Gaming near Grissom and Timberhill in 2019, hoping to align with overall gaming momentum in the Alamo City and beyond.
"It's really changed with the buildout of bigger fiber networks," Torres said. "Everyone has more access to computers and internet and with the whole revival of competing online ...Fortnite went crazy, Rocket League went crazy, League of Legends, a lot of competitive video games came out, and i guess it all has to do with access to internet, access to PCs. Locally there's also a new generation of LAN centers, open in the past few years."
Caleb Villarreal began working at Shenanigans from the beginning- and his story echoes that of many gamers who walk through the door.
"Esports has been around my life before esports was a thing," Villarreal said. "I think the first video game I played I was three years old and it was Mario Party 3, and then right from there, GoldenEye and then Halo and the rest was history."
For him, time spent at Shenanigans is more than just work.
"My favorite thing about a cyber cafe is that you get to get with all your friends," Villarreal said. "And the camaraderie, when you hit a round or something, celebrating with them, is irreplaceable."
Shenanigans offers both esports and tabletop gaming, with custom-built gaming PC set-ups available for play at hourly, daily and monthly rates. They also hold competitions including a Super Smash Bros. Ultimate series. Compeition aside, Torres says a lot of gamers also come to play just for fun and the sense of community.
"I like to compare it to a bar," Torres said. "You can be at home and drink at home, but a lot of people would rather be social, at a bar, spending time drinking with your friends, meeting new people. Same thing. You can game at home, but we like to create a sense of community where you can come in, play with your friends, meet people with same interests as you, make friends, socialize and compete."
Torres says Shenanigans opened in April of 2019 and business was slow at first. With time, competitions and word-of-mouth grew business, and right before the pandemic, they saw an exponential increase in visits. As stay home orders were lifted, business began to grow again.
"Our growth since last year has been insane," Villarreal said. "The community itself has been really supportive and the city has been supportive and it's nice they're catching on."
Torres says along with community, gaming esports provide an avenue for nearly everyone to connect and compete.
"One big thing I'm an advocate for is accessibility," Torres said. "Esports is accessible for everybody. It's not like any other sport where there's physical hindrances; we have competitors under 10 years old, female, male, all ages, all races, all creeds come out compete. Almost no physical hindrances; anyone can compete in esports."
More KENS 5 esports business coverage:
In 2018, KENS 5 visited another local venue, PlayLIVE Nation, to see an overnight event in action. Watch here:
ESPORTS AND EDUCATION: From the classroom to careers
Fernando Garcia started playing at Shenanigans when practing with his high school esports team, formed at CAST Tech High School.
"A lot of people had a passion for esports and I thought, why don't we be one of the first schools to get ahead of the game and start competing against other schools, and here we are," Garcia said. "I was trying to figure out a place for my team to play because we play so much better when we're together, when we're at home that's great but we play better together."
Garcia says playing in person can change the atmosphere of the game.
"Let's say we're all playing online and someone makes a mistake and people start getting angry, people can turn off their systems then and there," Garcia said. "If you're here, people tend to be more calm, and just being able to see everyone's screens makes everything so much easier, especially for my job since I'm the captain and in-game leader, I'm trying to tell everyone what to do so we can be as coordinated as possible."
Garcia has competed in a number of other sports, but it was his esports prowess that caught the eyes of universities including Texas A&M San Antonio, where he earned a scholarship to play on the team. After college, he'd ideally like to coach a team, though he's open to opportunities.
He shared his advice for parents who want to support their children's interest in gaming or esports.
"Do research on your local scene because there's a lot of opportunities there," Garcia said. "[And if you want to pursue a career], as weird as this sounds coming from a high school student, you definitely want to get an education, especially if you want to work in the esports space. Before now you didn't need to have those degrees but now in the next few years you're going to need degrees and there's many jobs in esports. Definitely try to go Pro, but if you can't make it but have a passion for it, there's so many things to do, such as coach, analyst and even production."
More KENS 5 esports education coverage:
In 2019, KENS 5 visited CAST Tech High School to learn more about their team. Watch below:
In 2020, KENS 5 spoke with St. Mary's University about it's esports program for the Commerce Street podcast. Listen below.
LOCAL ESPORTS ARENA?: Plans underway at Port San Antonio
Major esports competition events typically happen at arenas in hub cities. Port San Antonio says work is underway on an innovation center that will include an esports arena, along with space and programming for esports education.
Sam Elizondo, co-owner of the San Antonio-based LFG Cybercafe and co-founder of the Esports in Education Foundation, says he's been gaming his whole life. Now in his 30s, he says he's shaped who he is- and he hopes these developments will create opportunities for the next generation.
"It's a huge opportunity for younger generations to be passionate about something and have a path for it," Elizondo said. "For the longest time, especially for my generation, I loved video games but it was not in any way valued or regarded as something other than a waste of time.
This will change that. this gives kids an opportunity that are excited about gaming and the storytelling and the art and data and coding and everything else, a legitimate place to drive those passions and find a career, opportunity or network of people."
Elizondo says there has been a large gaming community in San Antonio for years, but only recently has there been momentum toward forming a firm infrastructure for the industry and education. He's confident investment into and attention toward gaming and esports fits the fabric of San Antonio.
"San Antonio has historically been a great tech city, and has a lot of cybersecurity programs," Elizondo said. "But people tend to leave when they graduate and go to more exciting and buzzing places, like California. The goal is this gives them more to do here."
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