Esports club in Bainbridge Island is a place for young gamers to grow

Esports club in Bainbridge Island is a place for young gamers to grow

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BAINBRIDGE ISLAND – Each Friday afternoon Eryn Cohen wrangles a room full of loosely contained chaos. First, he hauls the gaming computers out of storage and readies monitors, keyboards, mice and power cords.

Then the fun begins.

Classroom A at the Bainbridge Island Aquatic Center starts to fill up with young excitement, and soon, the esports club hosted by the Bainbridge Island Metropolitan Park and Recreation District is underway. After a few minutes of catching up with everyone, Cohen, the group’s coach, splits kids up into groups and screens start to glow with games like Overwatch and Fortnite.

Cohen, endlessly positive, hovers throughout the room yelling encouragements and chatting with kids. He’ll offer help and tips where he can, cheering his charges on while managing conflicts and keeping everyone focused. There’s plenty of yelling, then groans as players are eliminated and a chorus of “Oooooh”s when one player wins a Fortnite round.

More than just playing games

Sure, they’re playing video games and learning the best ways to survive and rack up points, but they’re also picking up on social skills like focus, communication and how to win and lose gracefully.

“I think the biggest idea behind it was that there’s a lot of kids on the island who love to play games and as soon as they get home they hop on the computer and play games, but they aren’t actually socializing,” Cohen said. “When you have this space for them, they can come here and be passionate about the video games but also are having tons of face-to-face interaction and gaining those social skills, too.”

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The club is in its second year and has grown to 18 kids, Cohen said. It’s working on a logo and will soon have jerseys, too. Some kids bring their own devices to play on, but most trade in and out of using the five gaming machines the park district provides.

“I’ve noticed a lot of these kids have gotten maybe 50 or even 100% better at the games, but their ability to communicate with each other during the game has gone up astronomically,” Cohen said. “It’s really neat to see.”

‘I never miss my chance’

Ask most of the kids in the club why they’re there and the answers are pretty similar: it’s fun, and you get to practice and hang out friends and like-minded kids who game.

The answer from 12-year-old Charlie Thornburgh as he waits his turn to play: “Video games and this community. It’s just really exciting.”

“I never miss my chance (to come to esports club),” said 12-year-old William Sneath.

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With the explosive growth of the free online multiplayer game Fortnite – very popular in Classroom A – since it launched in 2017, the rise of video platforms like Twitch and YouTube for gaming broadcasts and highlights, and coverage from outlets like ESPN, esports is moving into the mainstream. Some colleges now offer varsity esports programs and degrees. There’s money in the game, too: This summer a Pennsylvania teen won $3 million at the inaugural Fortnite World Cup.

“Now it’s the height of the golden age,” Cohen said. “…It’s outrageous the amount of money that is in it right now.”

A way to make money

Cohen has helped 13-year-old Kadin Jage to see gaming as more than just a pastime. He hopes to get involved in competitive events in Seattle and to see if he can make money that way.

He also streams games under the moniker “OversizedHC” to his roughly 1,000 Twitch followers. The platform allows followers to set up subscriptions, which unlock paid-only benefits. Jage estimates he makes about $100 per month on streaming and hopes to grow his follower count to 100,000 by the end of the year.

“It makes me a decent amount of money for a kid,” he said. “It’s fun. I just get to interact with my viewers and play with them from time to time.

“I want to see some of these kids hit that (wave) and ride that,” Cohen said. “There’s some really good kids here, there are kids here that are better than me. I would love to see them succeed.”

Nathan Pilling is a reporter covering Bainbridge Island, North Kitsap and Washington State Ferries for the Kitsap Sun. He can be reached at 360-792-5242, nathan.pilling@kitsapsun.com or on Twitter at @KSNatePilling.

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