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Game On: Esports Promoting Inclusivity With New Venues and Competitions

3 Dec, 2021

By: Michael Popke

With more than 227 million people playing video games on a daily basis, it’s no wonder sports tourism destinations are leveraging the esports boom — perhaps none more so than Philadelphia, which is now home to the first esports campus in the United States.

The Nerd Street Gamers network of esports facilities and events opened The Block in mid-November. Not only is the 40,000-square-foot space home to Nerd Street’s new global headquarters, but it also houses Localhost, Nerd Street’s dedicated esports arena that will showcase pro gaming events for spectators and also be open to the public for hourly gameplay, tournaments and summer camps.

Nerd Street — which has additional venues in Austin, Texas; Denver; Los Angeles; and St. Louis — renovated the Philadelphia space to include a main stage with seating for hundreds of fans, gaming equipment for public usage, dedicated areas for teams to train, educational space for community partners and professional-grade studios for Nerd Street to continue delivering broadcasts, videos and other esports content.

“We’re going to look to keep building our community here in Philadelphia and really become the hub of gaming on the East Coast,” Ben Schlegel, vice president of events for Nerd Street Gamers, told the Philadelphia’s ABC-TV affiliate. “If you’re in the gaming community or in the software community, you will hear, ‘Localhost,’ you will know what that means and you will come here.”

But the facility isn’t only for esports’ elite.

“The future of esports depends on providing more gamers with affordable access to the expensive equipment required to compete,” John Fazio, CEO of Nerd Street Gamers, said in a statement. “Sports and competition are a primary pathway to success for young kids, but unfortunately esports is inaccessible to most because of the high cost of equipment. With The Block, we are providing a space that both provides access to technology needed to compete and demonstrates that the skills acquired during game play can translate into successful careers and life skills.”

Other entities are embracing the inclusive aspects of esports, too. In September, Special Olympics and Microsoft teamed up to launch “Gaming for Inclusion” featuring competition in Rocket League, Madden NFL 22 and Forza Motorsport 7 on Xbox. Esports athletes of all abilities vied for the opportunity to play alongside Special Olympics supporters from the world of professional sports.

“Gaming for Inclusion” was the next evolution of the award-winning Xbox Virtual Gaming Event hosted in May 2020, when Special Olympics and Microsoft collaborated on a virtual esports tournament to combat the effects of loneliness and isolation brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. 

“COVID-19 and the suspension of hundreds of thousands of annual in-person events worldwide meant Special Olympics had to pivot to supporting virtual experiences,” Prianka Nandy, chief information and technology officer at Special Olympics, said in a statement. “Our digital transformation partners at Microsoft brought their expertise in developing scalable and accessible digital platforms that allow people of all abilities to build connections with others through the universal language of gaming.”

“Competitive gaming is definitely getting more accessible,” Special Olympics esports athlete Colton Rice told TechCrunch.com. “Not only are the games becoming more accessible, [but] accessibility allows people with disabilities to become more competitive players. People with intellectual disabilities are always trying to compete at their best. We want to do what everyone else is doing, and sometimes just need a little help to make that happen.”

Esports also is proving to bridge racial gaps. For the second straight year, the NFL will host a Madden NFL tournament exclusively for players from Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The goal, according to the league, is to inspire students at 48 HBCU institutions to represent their schools in both competition and networking. 

An online single-elimination qualifier tournament for registrants will be held Dec. 5, with the top 16 finalists advancing to compete in the NFL Madden x HBCU Showcase during Super Bowl Week next February. The top two finalists will compete for cash prizes at the NFL’s west coast headquarters, located next to SoFi Stadium in Hollywood Park, home of Super Bowl LVI. That matchup will be available to watch on the NFL’s YouTube and Twitch channels on Feb. 12.

All 16 finalists also will participate in an “experienceship” by spending time with staff members from EA Sports (the maker of Madden NFL), as well as tour the NFL’s new west coast headquarters and shadow NFL leaders for a day.

“We want to expand the league’s efforts to create inclusive opportunities for the next generation of talent with partners like EA, providing not only a chance for students to compete, but also the chance to learn the business of football through practical learning and shadowing experiences,” Natara Holloway, the NFL’s vice president of football strategy, said in a statement

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