The eSports industry is blowing up, Brandon Williams said. And Kansas City gaming enthusiasts need places to join the party.
“It’s a stereotype, but overall, gamers mostly are introverts,” said Williams, co-owner of E-Sports Bar KC in Shawnee. “It’s good to get out of the house and into a setting where there are other people and you can interact with gamers who have the same interests, ambitions and goals as you.”
With E-Sports Bar KC, Williams and co-owner Stacy Headd offer gamers a space for console gaming, tournaments and private events. Sixteen stations feature Xbox and Playstation capability with 45 TVs spanning the walls of the business, which opened in November. (The bottom row of screens highlight games; the top show live sports events.) A full-service bar in the back, arcade games and pool tables complete the scene.
“What makes this so different is combining gaming with the sports aspect,” Williams said. “A lot of people haven’t caught on to what eSports is. It’s electronic sports. They’re trying to get these athletes into the Olympics. You have big universities giving scholarships to these guys. It’s skyrocketing. Kansas City is usually a little bit late, but I think we’re ahead of the curve on this one.”
Competitive, but social
Gaming offers a not-so-obvious spirit of inclusion and unity, said AbdulRasheed Yahaya. He and his wife, Brianna, own and operate Local Legends Gaming, a mobile gaming theater based in south Kansas City.
Inside Local Legends’ 24-foot, climate-controlled gaming trailer, as many as 20 gamers can play side-by-side on four 50-inch TV screens, Yahaya said. Four more players can compete on screens outside, weather permitting.
“People from all walks of life — all races, religions, genders — come together and sit right next to each other like the world’s problems don’t exist,” he said. “That’s what I love: to see people talk crap to each other, then see them high-five each other later. In the end, people always leave laughing.”
“Being able to make a friendship over a video game is an amazing thing,” Yahaya added.
“There are no barriers,” he said. “There’s no language barrier. Everybody knows this button does that. There’s no color barrier or gender barrier. It’s just gaming. I feel like, ‘Well, I can’t be marginalized doing this because most people like to have fun.'”
With an hourly rate for gamers, E-Sports Bar KC’s business model is built around the concept that players will bring friends whose focus will be on other available entertainment options.
“Typically people come in twos and threes. And there’s always an alpha,” Williams said. “The alpha plays the game, and he brings his cheerleaders. They’re without the pom poms, but they give the same experience. They might also be looking at KU whooping up on Oklahoma or watching the Chiefs play.”
Williams and Stephanie Smith, who manage the business, called E-Sports Bar KC an alternative turn up.
“It’s just kind of a chill place. It’s an alternative,” Smith said. “You know, people say, ‘I really don’t want to go to a lounge. Clubs in Kansas City really aren’t that safe anymore. I want somewhere that’s fun where I can watch the game.'”
The Local Legends mobile gaming theater’s setup and target audience skews even further away from the traditional nightlife scene.
With a 50-50 split on youth and adult players, the business’s core revenue stream comes from birthday parties, weddings, corporate events, high school and college campus popups, and competitive tournaments. Customers book the trailer through Local Legends’ website, with a two-hour minimum of $330 for use of the whole truck. (Every additional hour is $100.)
“You can invite as many individuals to your event as you want, and our game coaches can rotate people in,” Yahaya said. “If it’s under 24, they can all play at the same time.”
“Everyone deserves to be able to experience premium gaming, no matter your background,” he added. “We want the kid who doesn’t come from the wealthiest family — or the adult who is conservative with their money and doesn’t have a console at home — to be able to have that experience.”
Local Legends’ “Pros vs. Joes” event — complete with food trucks, a DJ and hosts Kansas City Chiefs’ Eric Berry and Made Urban Apparel — brought together a diverse crowd of gamers this fall, proving the good-spirited nature of the Kansas City gaming community, Yahaya said.
“Between music and video games, there’s really not a lot to be upset about,” he said.
Playing on nostalgia
For AbdulRasheed and Brianna Yahaya — the parents of two young children (and another on the way this spring) — building a business that combined their interests and fostered family-friendly ideals was critical, they said.
“We’re at that golden age where we can try the entrepreneur lifestyle and start a business. We thought that with our connections to friends and family support, that it could be something great,” said AbdulRasheed Yahaya, a technical specialist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. “I wanted to take what I enjoy doing as a gamer. With my wife coming from academia, she really wanted to reach people to improve the quality of their lives.”
The duo self-funded the trailer, which Brianna Yahaya designed, and launched their business Sept. 12 on National Video Game Day.
“We’ve been able to catch some really cool footage of moms playing with their daughters. That’s a really cool message: Gaming is better together,’” AbdulRasheed Yahaya said. “Instead of pushing your kids off to play a game, you can sit down and check out the new Mario Kart with them and bring back some nostalgia with the current generation of graphics that kids are addicted to.”
Sports games are the most popular among Local Legends’ users, he said, noting such top titles as Madden NFL and NBA2K.
“But when individuals our age see the retro consoles, they usually flock toward the NES Classic or Super Nintendo Classic,” he said.
It’s the same at E-Sports Bar KC where sports dominates the top and bottom screens throughout the business, Williams said. Still, those who have been gamers since the birth of mainstream consoles in the 1980s and 1990s have a special appreciation for the games of the past, he said.
“I’m 33 and I come from the era of Atari and the first Nintendo. We are the core generation of gaming,” he said. “A lot of us still like to play in that nostalgia.”