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.
The Kansas City Pioneers are among the fastest-growing esports organizations in North America, said Mark Josey, and the Pioneers are on a mission to include the entire Kansas City community in the excitement.
Elevator pitch: The Kansas City Pioneers is an entertainment, media and gaming organization. The Pioneers compete in top-tier esports at professional levels in Apex Legends, Rocket League, Splitgate and Madden NFL, with streamers in dozens of other esports.
- Founders: Sam Kulikov, Alex Laughlin, Jeremy Terman, Mark Josey, LJ Browne
- Founding year: 2019
- Current employee count: 33
- Amount raised to date: $1.4M
- Noteworthy investors: Undisclosed
“One of the things that I love about Kansas City is its spirit,” said Josey, who serves as the CEO of the Kansas City Pioneers. “It’s a spirit of tech and innovation, entertainment and community — and people here want to connect. People want to learn and help you. As more people have come to realize that gaming is the future, and it’s already here in Kansas City, they’ve responded really well.”
Since the Pioneers was founded in 2019, the organization has built various men’s and women’s teams across a variety of esports, climbed its way up the leaderboards and secured several national and local partnerships such as Price Chopper, Boy & Girls Clubs of Greater Kansas City and Guys Snacks. The Pioneers also collaborated on an activation with the Kansas City Royals.
“We have a lot of folks here who love gaming and happen to be traditional athletes,” Josey said, noting that three players of the Kansas City Chiefs have become brand ambassadors for the Pioneers. “What I think is really interesting with them is [using] gaming as a conduit to reach fans and do good in the community. We are of course happy to be a part of that.”
Click here to read more about the Kansas City Pioneers.
The Kansas City Pioneers currently operate the second largest women’s league in the world, as well as hold the fifth position for best Apex Legends team in the world. Through this success and inclusion, the Pioneers are able to build a strong fan-base and presence in the Midwest — which is attractive to publishers deciding where to host tournaments, Josey said.
“Similar to the World Cup, these esports championship tournaments are going to have a major impact on where they’re hosted,” he explained. “… In Kansas City, thousands of people coming here for a championship translates into eating at our great restaurants, going out in Power and Light, supporting local businesses and buying some merch. The Pioneers are a conduit to bringing that awareness.”
Kansas City hosted a bracket-style Halo tournament in 2022, which brought about $1.8 million in economic growth, Josey said, noting that Halo is not as big as other games in esports.
In 2023, Josey anticipates continuing to make Kansas City a hub for innovation and esports.
“We’re seeing esport organizations being a higher and faster evaluation than some traditional sports teams trajectory,” Josey said. “It’s all about — how do you reach the future? We’re doing it through building really good teams and engaging fans in different ways. That’s interesting to partners and sponsors. I’ve said this before, but we are Kansas City-founded, globally driven. We want to be at the forefront of this industry.”
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