Education / Sports / Startups

Futures First Gaming’s esports league kicks off its 2021 season as the startup grows

Players from around the region were drafted for the 12-person NBA 2K league. And there's more school-based community engagement in the works.

Futures First Gaming partner Omega Psi Phi's mentoring program. (Courtesy image)
Futures First Gaming (FFG) has been busy in 2021.

The RealLIST Startups topper is less than a year old, but it has been making impact in an industry that is booming through the pandemic (with some adjustments; 2020 was not a good year for IRL aspects of the industry, like the on-hold Philly Fusion arena, but that’s another story).

FFG’s recent growth is partly due to its partnership with a New Jersey chapter of Omega Psi Phi, a historically African American Greek-lettered fraternity that has co-led gaming and education events, including a recent NBA 2K21 tournament for youth in the fraternity’s mentorship program. The event drew 82 participants from around the country. At the end of the 10-hour tournament, first-place winners received $500 gift cards.

The tournament was console based, and illustrated how access can be a challenge, even without use of the much more expensive industry-level gaming PCs.

“There was a little girl out of Detroit named Mia. She wanted to play so bad but she had a PS3,” which is the PlayStation released in 2006, said Stephen Sye, CEO of FFG. “Her family scraped together coins and got her a PS4 just so she could a part of the tournament.”

While even older consoles aren’t cheap, they allow kids (and adults) to play the same games played on the professional esports level.

“Console gaming leverages what is accessible to some of our underprivileged communities, but ultimately it’s a steppingstone to be able to get to the world of the industry standard,” Sye said.

Omega Psi Phi is also bringing FFG to D.C. for a gaming event with the 100 Black Men Mentorship Program that aims to help Black teens get into STEM fields.

eSports career chart

The many esports-related career options. (Courtesy image)

Education has always been central to FFG. One of its first projects was to launch an esports team at Tower Hill School in Wilmington. Once that team got going, it became independent of FFG, though they still have a relationship, with the Tower Hill team expected to compete in an upcoming FFG Rocket League tournament.

There have been a couple of other in-school programs, including an after-school program with elementary-age kids in the Egg Harbor School District in New Jersey, and a program at Penn Wood Middle School in Darby, Pennsylvania.

“Our first touchpoint with the kids is getting to know them: who are they, what’s their favorite video game and what’s their dream job,” said Sye. “We’re presenting all the career pathways. For example, we had a little girl yesterday who wants to be a doctor. We can point to working with esports athletes and making sure that they’re healthy and have the stamina, the psychological performance and the physical well-being to be able to sit in a gaming chair for eight hours.”

The student interest data collected through the programs will be given to the schools to allow them to tailor their curricula to be more engaging.

“What we are seeing is that any programming related to gaming is extremely popular,” Sye said. “Schools are reaching out to us to say, ‘We’ve got to get these kids engaged and we know that they love to game.'”

Getting an in with public schools in Delaware has been more of a challenge, the CEO said, though FFG did run a program along with Code Differently at Christiana High School. Friere Charter School Wilmington has also shown interest.

Much of FFG’s core focus remains esports tournaments. Its NBA 2K21 esports league just had its draft and first game, and it’ll have two league games per week, available to stream on the FFG Twitch. Several of the 12 league players are from The Warehouse in Riverside.

There will also be four quarterly events:

  • March 27 — FFG Madness
  • June — Girls Who Game & Code
  • September — Fall Brawl
  • Dec. 4 and 5 — Pandamonium 2021

Games will include Super Smash Brothers Ultimate, Fortnite, Call of Duty Warzone and Madden NFL21. The first three quarterly events are qualifiers for the annual Pandamonium expo.

It’s a lot, but the team — Sye, Malcolm Coley, Newdy Felton and Emily Zbyszynski — are gearing up for more, including summer camps and a few things they can’t talk about yet.

“We’ve got some big things on the horizon,” Sye said.

Companies: Futures First Gaming

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