Editor’s note: Startland News selected 10 Kansas City scaling businesses to spotlight for its annual Startups to Watch list. Now in its eighth year, this feature recognizes founders and startups that editors believe will make some of the biggest news in the coming 12 months. The following is one of 2023’s companies.
Generation Esports is continually working to lower the barrier to entry for young people to access gaming and streaming technology, said Mason Mullenioux.
“Equality has been a big part of our mission,” said Mullenioux, CEO and co-founder. “We know that there are people out there who are the ‘have nots,’ and people who are the ‘haves.’ We’re trying to make it an even playing field for them to have the same opportunities.”
Elevator pitch: Generation Esports is the home for all gamers to compete, create, and learn together by making it easy for communities of all backgrounds and ages to socialize and connect through video games. Since 2012, Generation Esports has grown to more than 200,000 registered users and over 5,000 partner schools — becoming one of the largest platforms for gamers.
- Founders: Mason Mullenioux, Aaron Hawkey, Charles Reilly, Trevor Jensen
- Founding year: 2012
- Current employee count: 50
- Amount raised to date: $32 million
- Noteworthy investors: Altos, KC Rise Fund, El Cap
One of the largest and longest-running scholastic competitive gaming organizations in the United States, Generation Esports partners with more than 5,000 schools nationwide to offer educational curriculum, extracurricular programming, and competitions.
Founded in 2012, the organization initially focused its efforts on the extracurricular and competition side, Mullenioux said.
“We were starting to see kids who didn’t fit in any other activities start to participate in school activities, which is awesome,” Mullenioux said. “So you’re hitting this kind of sector of the school body that has historically been ignored.”
As student participation rates continued to rise, so too did Generations Esports’ offerings.
In addition to its High School Esports League, Generation Esports powers a Middle School Esports League and several collegiate conference leagues. The company also represents several high school state associations.
This year, the organization broadened its partnerships even more by acquiring the Military Gaming League, which Mullenioux said made sense because it exposes young people to another potential career path.
“The whole point of the Middle School Esports League, High School Esports League, and all the collegiate stuff we do is to make a clear pipeline for the lifetime of an Esports athlete — and gamers outside of the athletes — to find their career path,” Mullenioux said. “Military Gaming League kind of just fit in naturally to that as just another piece of the puzzle.”
Generation Esports also announced the acquisition of Wizard Labs, Inc., whose technology will allow students to more easily stream and auto-clip gameplay to create their own unique content, according to AJ Hawkey, CTO and co-founder of Generation Esports.
“It’s always been our vision that we want to give every gamer almost the experience of being a pro gamer,” Hawkey said. “So being able to have your moment, being streamed, having your highlight reel and your content distributed that you can share with your friends, your family, and your peers.”
Generation Esports began to integrate gaming into the classroom in 2022, with the launch of Gaming Concepts, a series of accredited STEM courses.
More than 300 schools are already offering the curriculum, and that number is projected to rise to at least 1,500 in 2023, Mullenioux said.
The courses provide students with college and career readiness skills, introduce them to STEM concepts, and increase classroom engagement.
Participation has also been shown to improve attendance, grades, and mental health, according to Mullenioux, who said Generation Esports partnered with KU Med and other universities to conduct a peer-reviewed study that will be published in 2023.
Self-efficacy and self-esteem improved most among Black, LGBTQ+, and female students, Mullenioux added, noting that the program aims to “break down barriers” in Esports.
“It impacts them a lot, because it’s an in-school class that anyone can sign up for,” Mullenioux said. “Now, they have an actual invitation to the after-school club, so we’re seeing a lot more participation in that area as well. That’s a huge improvement for the gaming world. … Anything to push in that direction is good.”
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