With the COVID-19 pandemic heading into its eighth month since Delaware’s March lockdown, the timing is better than ever for esports to explode locally.
Over the last few years, the industry has been quietly growing. Wilmington University has an innovative degree program for game design, University of Delaware has an esports team and arena, and there are local game startups and coding classes for kids where students can learn to make their own games.
Futures First Gaming intends to be less quiet about it. The startup, founded by Malcolm Coley, Newdy Felton and Stephen Sye, is working to change the landscape by bringing local esports tournaments to Delaware, building esports teams in the state’s high schools and educating kids and parents — especially those in marginalized communities — about the opportunities out there for gamers, designers and coders.
“We’ve had a lot of conversations about how these devices and video games can help curb teen violence,” said Coley. “If we can meet these kids where we’re at, we’ll have such a great impact on them. We have the most impact where we have a lack of education on the industry.”
Part of getting people aware of the industry’s opportunities is to build the gaming community here in Delaware, something Futures First has been doing for a while through its Discord platform. And this Dec. 12 and 13, the team will be holding their biggest event yet in partnership with Theatre N: Pandamonium, a two-day, six-sport, six-game esports tournament and expo. The hybrid event will include in-person tournaments, a virtual tournament and three panels. Those will cover the topics “esports as a profession,” “the intersection of esports and education,” “esports to combat teen violence” and “esports and workforce development.”
The entire event will be streamed, and all in-person events will be held according to Delaware COVID-19 health guidelines, with masks and social distancing.
The name “Pandamonium” references Futures First’s panda logo.
“Pandas are calm but eccentric,” said Sye, explaining that the mascot of choice shares many traits with gamers. “Pandas prefer freedom and like to be alone. Pandas prefer to sleep during day and be up all night. Pandas represent silent strength, wisdom and are very insightful. The Panda symbolizes peace and good luck — often needed in gaming — and how a positive outlook in life can make a world of difference, something we preach to our gamers.”
The event aims to bring together people and organizations from all over Delaware, including Delaware fight game community Training Grounds, The Warehouse, UD and the Wilmington Peacekeepers, to name a few.
“We’re bringing the whole ecosystem together,” said Sye.
The tournament will include six games: Fortnite, Call of Duty Warzone, Madden NFL 21, Smash Ultimate, NBA 2K21 and, for the online tournament, Tekken 7. In addition to the event at Theatre N, there will be an event party at dining hall DE.CO on the 12th.
The tournament, which the founders hope to evolve into a major esports conference in the coming years, is just one of the projects in the pipeline. They’re currently in talks with the Wendell Smallwood Foundation about a fundraising Madden tournament event to raise money for Smallwood’s in-person football camps for kids, which have been put on hold due to the pandemic.
Futures First’ after-school program is also growing in the region after the founders attended a virtual career fair in New Jersey, including contracts with the Omega Psi Phi fraternity.
“Momentum’s growing. We’re really trying to work toward our big-picture vision — to a hub, similar to Nerd Street [Gamers] in Philly — where we’re teaching the business of esports, broadcasting, coding, entrepreneurship, but also looking at having competitions, so we want to get into the schools,” said Sye.
They have also continued a relationship with Tower Hill School, where they launched an esports club, at least through this fall, and are in talks with two public school districts.
“Red Clay and Christina [school districts] have signed letters of intent to implement the esports programs, pending funding availability,” Sye said.
At the end of the day, they’re looking to educate.
“Delaware is coding, coding coding, and they’re pointing them toward these banks,” Sye said. “But why not coding, coding coding, let’s build this whole industry?”
To register for the tournament or the FFG League, or to sponsor players, go to FuturesFirstGaming.com.
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