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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com