All eyes were on the Kansas City Pioneers this weekend, as the esports gamers logged more than 500,000 viewers across various streaming platforms during a series of matches against some of the biggest competitors in the world.
“In just one match alone, we had more than 160,000 people watching us play and engaging in the chat,” said Josey, co-founder of the KC Pioneers, emphasizing the team’s momentum on the elevated stage.
The KC Pioneers built its foundation in the competitive gaming world over the past year and a half, he said, noting now it’s time for the public to join in rooting for the hometown squad.
“There’s a good chance that we have a content creator, streamer or a pro who’s in gaming titles that members of the community may be interested in; I think [esports] is definitely the future of sports and entertainment,” said Josey, who also serves as the chief executive officer.
Catching wind of competitive gaming back in 2019, Josey and his founding team realized an opportunity to bring another major sports team to Kansas City, he shared. The five men joined together to create the KC Pioneers — the city’s first esports team, he said.
The team has grown to 16 professional players, 18 streamers/content creators and 22 value add members who work in scouting, managing or operations. The professionals are divided amongst five gaming teams — Call of Duty, Halo, Madden, Men’s Rocket League and Women’s Rocket League.
Click here to check out the full team roster.
“We started with BeastModeMac — who is a 2017 professional Madden champion,” Josey said of one the team’s competitors. “He’s here in Kansas City, which is really cool. Then, it just started growing. We started making more content, building fans and jumping into other sports. … We just had a [Rocket League] tournament, and there were somewhere around 180,000 people watching us play.”
The KC Pioneers generate about 12 million monthly impressions, Josey said — noting that the teams hold high rankings in North America. They also have 311,000 followers on the streaming site Twitch, and one million total followers across all social media platforms.
Behind the scenes
Kansas City Pioneer’s Leadership Team: Mark Josey, chief executive officer; Lorenzo Browne, chief gaming officer; Sam Kulikov, chief creative officer; Alex Laughlin, chief commercial officer; and Jeremy Terman, strategic advisor.
Tourism and economic boost
In a recent study from Juniper Research, researchers found that the global esports and games streaming industry is expected to be worth $3.5 billion by 2025.
Support for the rapidly-growing industry can be seen within the sponsors who are putting funds into unique ways of advertising, Josey said.
“Companies who aren’t even directly tied to esports are getting really excited about gaming,” he noted. “So as an example, Ford just sponsored the Winter Split [tournament] for Rocket League where there’s a Ford truck that you can play with on the field.”
The KC Pioneers have their own impressive list of sponsors — including DoorDash and Under Armour.
After closing a first round of funding, the KC Pioneers are actively raising $2 million as they continue to scale and grow world-class champion teams, Josey added.
In a post-pandemic world, Josey anticipates large esports tournaments coming to Kansas City.
“Rocket League or Halo or Call of Duty Elite Series could definitely come and sell out the T-Mobile Center,” he shared. “That opportunity of bringing tournaments and tourism to Kansas City through esports is really the future.”
A few words from the Mayor of KC @QuintonLucasKC 🙌
“The KC Pioneers are working to build an inclusive gaming community that can expand economic and recreational opportunities throughout Kansas City, and I look forward to cheering them on.”#MyCity | #KansasCity pic.twitter.com/6w5oayEmN3
— Kansas City Pioneers (@PioneersGG) March 16, 2021
Just like any other sport, becoming a professional esports gamer takes countless hours of practice and dedication, Josey said.
“They are watching recaps of their games, talking through plays with their teammates and coaches, looking at competitors,” he explained. “It is definitely a full-time job.”
Where esports differentiates from other athletics: how one goes from amateur to professional, Josey noted. In baseball, for example, there is an established minor league classification system (rookie to Triple-A) before reaching Major League Baseball. Players can go straight to any of these levels, but it most commonly happens after high school or college.
Professional esports, on the other hand, has a vast age range of players competing against one another. They are typically scouted through smaller, one-off tournaments or through their Twitch and social media presence, Josey explained.
“There is not a very traditional infrastructure within esports right now,” he stated. “We just signed Beast Mode in the middle of , and he’s almost 16. … Becoming a pro varies between the [esports games], but most of it is practicing and playing a lot — and being visible so that people know you’re doing really well.”
Recruiting on streaming services garners the majority of players for KC Pioneers, but Josey encouraged those who think they’ve got a shot to make their presence heard.
“Our criteria that we look at is: Are you really active on social media and streaming in a spot that we’re not, or that you think complements us? What does that scale look like? And then if you are really good at a sport, hopefully we know, but you should definitely reach out,” Josey said. “Shoot your shot because the answer to every question you don’t ask is no.”