After a few years of rapid growth plus some pandemic-related delays, Northern Liberties-founded esports company Nerd Street Gamers is opening its gaming campus, The Block, on North Broad Street this weekend.
The company announced last year it would be setting up shop on the first few floors of 401 N. Broad St., owned by Netrality, operator of fiber-dense data centers that allow for super-fast internet. That internet connectivity was a big factor in the company’s scouting options, CEO John Fazio told Technical.ly, but ultimately, he said Tuesday, the space itself was a perfect fit all on its own.
How it started How it's going pic.twitter.com/uSmY5G37Yy
— Localhost (@localhostgg) November 9, 2021
The ground floor, accessible on Broad Street near Callowhill, is home to the company’s home base Localhost training and event facility. Its main space offers between 118 and 135 PC gaming setups in what it calls The Pit, a space where players can game during tournaments, or the general public can come in and use on off days.
The space also offers a stage for finalist-level gaming between teams or players who spend tournaments battling it out. The event space in the center of the room is flexible, and can seat up to a few hundred people as gaming setups in The Pit are moveable.
The Localhost also offers a console lounge, a space offering both old-school Nintendo games and the newest Xbox consoles. Tucked away behind the stage is a production room for the Emmy-winning team that produces Nerd Street’s livestreams, shows and tournaments across the country. The first floor also hosts training space for teams and coaches to hone their skills while visiting.
On a regular day, the space will likely offer a mix of hourly play, online surfing and retail sales, VP and Chief of Staff Pete Powell said. On weekends, you’ll see lots of tournaments, like this weekend’s upcoming Frag Major Winter Champs with 32 participating teams.
The size of the facility, with capacity up to about 800 people, is smaller than other esports stadiums popping up around the country, including the proposed Philadelphia Fusion stadium down at the South Philly Sports Complex. Fazio told Technical.ly he didn’t have a comment on whether plans for that are moving forward; Nerd Street and Fusion share investors and global design firm Populous led the design of both spaces.
The second floor of The Block will house the Susquehanna Soniqs pro Rocket League team’s home training facility which will open next year. Also coming in 2022 is Nerd Street Gamers’ corporate headquarters on the building’s fifth floor, which will house local members of the company’s 140 employees. (Powell said he sees a likely hybrid scenario for local employees.) In total, Nerd Street is developing more than 40,000 square feet of North Broad Street.
Although the company is only a few years old, Fazio has been working on the idea for Nerd Street for nearly 16 years, he said — first as an idea with Jarvus cofounder Chris Alfano, and then a business project a few years later. In the early 2010s, Fazio and Alfano started inviting friends and members of the local tech scene to the Jarvus HQ for gaming parties.
“To finally see it in its full vision — we’ve build a lot of venues that have been cool, but nothing at this scale, so it’s really the dream come true,” Fazio told Technical.ly on Tuesday. “We set out to build this because we wanted this industry to be more accessible, but also because it’s just where we wanted to hang out. Having this here, being able to hang here on a Friday night, is everything I’ve dreamed of.”
The accessibility of esports has been a central business pillar for the company since its inception, but as the pandemic heightened prevalence of the industry, it also laid bare the inequities in gaming and simple access to broadband internet in the US. The company has worked with organizations like Jefferson Health’s Center for Autism and Neurodiversity, TechGirlz, TeamAltemus and Aim Lab along with more corporate partners like Temple University’s School of Sport, Tourism and Hospitality Management and Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs.
That accessibility will continue when The Block officially opens on Saturday, Nov. 13, at 11 a.m. Any kid under 18 can come game or use computers free of charge for an hour every single day after school, Fazio said. And if a kid needs computer access for homework, they’ll give them the access — “it’s a community center,” Fazio said.
“The middle-class kids who have nice computers at home and gamed when they were home in lockdown, that’s all good and great for them. But for the kid who didn’t have that, who relied on going to McDonald’s or Starbucks for Wi-Fi, they were just left without access,” Fazio said. “It’s been a really stark reminder of why we did this and why we need to get these open. Half the kids in the school district struggled to get access to broadband for remote learning, let alone gaming, and this is something really important to us.”