The NFL of eSports: N3RD Street Gamers Bring Competitive Video Gaming to Philly
John Fazio, CEO of Northern Liberties software engineering company Jarvus Innovations (908B N. 3rd St.), has been looking to do something big with eSports (competitive video gaming) for more than a decade. Jarvus does a considerable amount of its work through a series of ventures, putting resources and talent into insular teams which then exist as a subsidiary of Jarvus. Examples include LocalHost (a tech-based community center, formerly known as Devnuts) and Slate (an education technology platform). Fazio wanted his next venture to be “like the NFL of eSports.”
Fazio reached out to retired professional gamer, Steve Csikos. Fazio and Csikos had worked together ten years prior at a cyber cafe in the Neshaminy Mall. Csikos, now Director of eSports at Azubu (a competitor of the of the popular game streaming site Twitch), agreed to help organize and promote a few Bring Your Own Computer (BYOC) and Local Area Network (LAN) gaming events at LocalHost (908 N. 3rd St.).
These parties were successful enough to warrant the formation of N3rd Street Gamers (NSG), a company devoted to bringing eSports to mainstream culture. The name is a play on the address of the LocalHost building and on North 3rd Street in general, which has in the last few years become the tech corridor or Philadelphia. Csikos became its CEO and, using his connection in the pro gaming community, has brought in sponsors such as Logitech and Steel Series headphones, generating much-needed ad revenue. Soon, the company was able to host their first recurring event, Fragadelphia, a Counterstrike tournament in which participants paid an entry fee for a chance to win prize money. Cheeseadelphia, a Starcraft II tournament, soon followed with a similar pay-to-play model.
Fazio has been pleasantly surprised with the success of the company.
“We ran just four events the first year and it’s grown exponentially. In the next year we’ll be running 50 or more events,” he said. “The stream has been a major growth point for us as that’s how we generate advertising revenue. The last event we broadcasted had a million viewers over the weekend and sixteen thousand live viewers. These numbers are very attractive to advertisers.”
It seems Fazio not only wants N3rd Street Gamers to be the NFL of eSports, but also its ESPN. There are plans for a talk show, web-broadcasted live from the LocalHost building.
Though it started with a simple Counterstrike tournament, today NSG hosts tournaments for a litany of popular competitive video games such as Smash City (Super Smash Bros.) and Go For Broke (Mortal Kombat/Street Fighter). The company plans to expand to more current games such as Heartstone, Overwatch, and Rocket League in the coming year. Their mission is two-fold, hosting events in which members of the community and surrounding areas can compete head-to-head and promoting these events through a webcast that allows viewers to tune into the action live.
Not all N3rd Street events are competitions. The company also hosts a Retro Night, which features SNES and Nintendo games available to whoever wants to play them. According to Fazio, this event yields a high local turnout, usually 30-50 somethings living in Northern Liberties, who enjoyed such games in their adolescence. He also notes significantly high numbers of spectators, who pay a reduced free for a chance to watch the action.
Fazio seems have a certain interest in the younger crowd that turns out for NSG events. As a former member of both the soccer team and the chess club, he believes the eSports provide a similar sort of well-rounded skill set. “I had two very different groups of friends and each taught me very different lessons,” he says. “eSports is the first time I’ve seen overlap between those groups. You have ex-D1 football players playing alongside high schoolers who have never even caught a pass. We’re interested in giving youth who are not into physical competition the same sort of structure for learning leadership, teamwork, and camaraderie that they might miss out on with non-physically competitive sports.”
Check out n3rdstreetgamers.com for upcoming events.