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Baltimore / esports / Gaming / Youth

Baltimore City opens its first esports lab at renovated rec center

The recreation and parks department’s director and chief technology officer chimed in about what it took to launch the new gaming lounge, from the tech to the budget, at Medfield Recreation Center.

Gamers at Medfield Rec's new E-Sports Lab. (Courtesy Mayor of Baltimore's Office/Jim McQueen)

This story is a part of Technical.ly’s Entertainment Tech Month. See the full 2024 editorial calendar.

“Baltimore should have access to recreation spaces that are equipped with high-quality, state-of-the-art things that actually meet their needs,” said Mayor Brandon Scott on Monday.

The mayor made this declaration during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the renovated Medfield Recreation Center, in the neighborhood of the same name, which now features the city’s first E-Sports Lab.

Mayor Scott was joined by fellow dignitaries like City Council President Nick Mosby and James Torrence, a native of Baltimore and councilman for the seventh district in which the rec center is located. In his remarks, Torrence, an alum of Carver Vo-Tech High School, highlighted over $40 million in investment to the seventh district over the last year.

The councilman, who said he grew up with rec centers that only featured basketball- and football-related offerings, didn’t leave without leaving a challenge for the kids who were proficient with esports e-games:

“I might lose once, but once I learn, it’s on,” said Torrence.

This inaugural gaming lounge features gradient epoxy resin-poured floors, LED lights, new art and old-school arcade gaming consoles that feature “Pac-Man” and “Mortal Kombat.”

At the ribbon-cutting, several kids had already donned computers and began playing Roblox and Fortnite, while others rushed to the gym to play basketball.

Councilman James Torrence in white and black headphones at the E-Sports Lab.

Councilman James Torrence at the E-Sports Lab launch. (Courtesy Mayor of Baltimore’s Office/Jim McQueen)

Justin King, a lifelong gamer who serves as the chief technology officer for the city’s Department of Recreation and Parks, has been the go-to man for all things technology-related in the newly launched center. He told Technical.ly that the staff gave him full trust in what tech to use, which he detailed as follows:

“There are 20 computers in there that feature i9-13900K processors, 4090 graphics cards, 64 gigs of RAM and 4TB NVMe storage drives,” he said.

When asked if the young people using the lab needed all of those technical bells and whistles, King said they did.

“I feel that the kids of Baltimore need to have access to the best so that they know that anything is possible,” said King, whose first touchpoint with computer technology was when he was five years old and his grandparents took him to a computer show at the fairgrounds in Timonium.

The dedicated gaming room at Medfield is for all ages and skill levels.

King told Technical.ly that the concept for the esports hub began brewing after the Baltimore City Recreation and Parks team renovated another beloved city site for roller skating and bowling.

“When we did the renovation of Shake and Bake Family Fun Center back in 2019,  [there was a] little game room in that area,” said King. “My director loved it. And he started saying, ‘Look, we got esports,’ and I said, ‘No, that’s not esports, but when you’re ready to see esports, just give me a location and the budget.’”

Reginald Moore, the current executive director of Baltimore City Recreation and Parks, explained that King was responsible for coming up with a number of $350,000 to fully realize the E-Sports Lab at Medfield. An investment of over $380,000 was financed by city funding, according to an announcement, to realize the center.

Mayor Scott told the audience that Medfield’s E-Sports Lab, which he called a “technological sanctuary,” will not be the last such center for the City of Baltimore. Instead, five more are slated to be rolled out on an undisclosed timeline, according to Moore. While the centers’ locations have not yet been disclosed, the plan is all part of a broader, more expansive goal around esports, he said.

“We really needed to start thinking about a vision around esports and what esports mean for Baltimore City,” said Moore. “Our longterm vision is to create esports teams that kids not only understand and get things that they love, like gaming, but they can compete — and also, they can grow up [and] they can gain scholarships on the collegiate level.”

Companies: Baltimore City Recreation and Parks / City of Baltimore
Series: Entertainment Tech Month 2024

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