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North Brunswick esports facility brings gaming to the next level

NORTH BRUNSWICK – Jacob A. has been playing video games for as long as he can remember.

“I would say, from the age of 5, I had my first gaming device which was a [Nintendo] Game Boy Color back in 1998. My family first bought one for me to keep me busy and to keep my brain occupied; little did I know that video games would become a huge part of my life and a daily activity for not only keeping me busy, but for the pure enjoyment of going into a new world – a new life, you can say – and being able to have fun time doing so is the best feeling.”

Jacob said his favorite games are Smash, since playing the original 1999 game on Nintendo 64; and Old School RuneScape, a throwback to one of the first games he got attached to.

Jacob, now 28, is a recreational gamer who has not yet had the chance to compete, but will certainly be exposed to more opportunities as Localhost opened an esports facility in North Brunswick on Oct. 9.

“From the excitement of watching players play against each other, to the nail-biting finishes, esports is one of the best things to come into this world.
“Being able to watch your favorite players go against others in games like Smash, League of Legends, Counterstrike and many others, and seeing them win in super clutch games, makes it so exciting.
“Watching and playing these games not only has you on the edge of your seat, but also fuels your inner gamer. Plus, not only do you get to play for the ability to say you won, but with esport tournaments you are playing for prizes as well which makes it even more exciting,” Jacob said.
New Jersey residents will be able to experience that frequently, as the 2,600-square-foot gaming location on Route 1 is Nerd Street Gamer’s first and only Localhost center in New Jersey. The flagship location in Philadelphia is set to open Nov. 13, adding to locations in California, St. Louis, Mo., and Austin, Texas.
North Brunswick features 44 professional-grade gaming computers, six consoles, two polycades, plus high-performance gaming accessories.

And North Brunswick’s Localhost is adjacent to Five Below, an investor/partner, which offers unused square footage to Localhost to build the gaming area. Five Below carries keyboards, headsets and merchandise as part of the partnership.

Jacob was first in line for the grand opening in the beginning of October, saying he has been “excited” since the sign was first put up in town.
“Having a gaming center in North Brunswick was not only a smart choice, but the best choice, with loads of gamers in the area; being able to bring them into one place and being able to interact with them is one of the most awesome things you can ask for,” he said.
“I live super close to the location and being able to go at any time is amazing. The best part of having an esport center is the fact you not only get to play on top tier devices that normally cost hundreds to thousands of dollars, but to have a computer that runs super smooth with basically any game you want to play on it – how can it not be better than that?
“You also get to be in a center that also (has people with) the same interests as you. I went the other day and I wanted to play World Of Warcraft and a person next to me said, ‘What are you playing?’ I said what it was and next thing I know I was playing and helping a new player learn the game and they were very excited about the whole situation.
“Not only that, but going to a center to watch competitions, or to compete, is one of the coolest things in my life to be able to do,” Jacob said.

Jonathon Oudthone, vice president of Localhost North Brunswick, was also a gaming fan, in the late 1990s, and would watch the Korea StarCraft League late at night while he was in high school.

He said he was on a different career path in 2009 when he was introduced to Street Fighter IV and realized he had a passion for competition.

He turned semi-pro, started running tournaments and directing broadcasts, and eventually worked with the City of Arlington, Texas, to build a $10.6 million stadium at the convention center.

Oudthone said gaming is “absolutely huge,” with billions of gamers playing each other around the world – in addition to millions of esports fans spectating. Companies are building arenas and bringing in fans – and money – to this new version of online gaming.

He said gamers, from a young age, play with their friends socially, or have the opportunity to develop at the high school or collegiate level, or even become part of a franchised professional team.

League of Legends, for example, is one of the biggest games, drawing people from North America to Europe to China.

He likened it to the American Football League merging into the National Football League, which now has pro football teams in many states, franchises, stadiums and merchandise.

Since 2017 when esports became franchised, Oudthone said the growth has been “absolutely insane.” The popularity of Fortnite a few years back added to the excitement – as did the roles of technology and social media and the power of influencers.

Plus, the lockdown and associated restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic have increased access to esports. For example, NASCAR could not hold its races, so instead the stock car racing organization turned to gaming, providing virtual driving packs, and raced in an online world, Oudthone said.

“The graphics are so clean and amplified these days, it was almost hard to tell” the racing was not live, he said.

“Since the pandemic (began), a lot of gamers are actually playing more due to the fact of wanting to stay safe and not only help cope, but to entertain themselves in this time of concern,” Jacob said.
“I have noticed I have been playing games more since the pandemic because I want to stay safe and quarantine, but also have fun while doing so. But yes, gaming this year and for the past couple years is definitely becoming more and more popular with everyone of all ages. Gaming is the future,” he said.

Oudthone said the appeal is that esports is very accessible because almost anyone can play. Esports can be anything with some type of digital interface, he said.

“It’s a small community hub,” he said.

As an extension of the popularity among the younger generation, Oudthone said there can be an educational aspect to esports as well.

He said 80% of students are not engaged in extracurricular activities such as music, science, sports or theater.

However, a large percentage tend to play video games in their spare time. So, he said there has been a movement toward creating esports programs to enhance their social skills. He said there are even college scholarships that exist.

“It impacts what we are doing today and what we can do tomorrow,” he said.

Localhost, specifically, offers after-school activities, summer camps, youth camps and a tournament every night. Birthday party packages are available as well.

“We provide the infrastructure to train and compete,” Oudthone said. “For North Brunswick, we are excited to be open in the community and be that hub for esports.”

Gamers can visit recreationally, renting a gaming station for a certain amount of time. Or, more competitive gamers can enter competitions and tournaments.

There is no minimum age to play, although gamers under 13 must be accompanied by a parent.

Localhost North Brunswick is at 997 Route 1, North Brunswick. For more information, visit www.localhost.gg/northbrunswick/

Contact Jennifer Amato at jamato@newspapermediagroup.com

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