Gaming / Sports / Youth

There’s an esports summer camp for kids, and yoga and nutrition are part of the package

In Northern Liberties, a holistic approach to training the next generation of pro gamers.

NSG Summer Camp students start their day with exercises at Liberty Lands Park. (Photo by Marco Cerino)

If you visit the NSG Summer Camp in Northern Liberties, what would you expect to see? Perhaps something like this? Think again.

Run by N3rd Street Gamers and Julian Krinsky Camps & Programs, the unique camp isn’t just a place for young gamers to spend two weeks glued to screens and rattling off key combos. The camp infuses training, nutrition, speakers and activities to teach esports players skills they need to find success that goes beyond kill counts and online rankings.

“Gaming is an ecosystem to teach business and life skills,” said Steve Robertson, CEO of Julian Krinsky.

Generation Z, those currently in school, have the least amount of soft skills society has ever seen, according to Robertson. However, they have learned technology faster and sooner than previous ones, which could help them work in fields that may not even exist now but will in 10 to 20 years.

Rob Hilsky runs the camps for N3rd Street Gamers. Two weeks with gamers 10–14 years old will be followed by two more with 15–18 year olds. These students are now competing for college scholarships and spots on professional teams in various esports. As home of the Philadelphia Fusion University, campers have a chance to train in a facility used by an Overwatch franchise owned by Comcast Spectacor.

“We’re trying to rewrite the stereotypes of gaming,” Hilsky said. “We’ve seen it in the gaming community. The general public hasn’t seen it yet.”

Part of that re-education comes with training a new generation and instilling more sustainable values.

NSG's Rob Hilsky leads the campers in warm-up exercises. (Photo by Marco Cerino)

NSG’s Rob Hilsky leads the campers in warm-up exercises. (Photo by Marco Cerino)

One day this week started with warm-up calisthenics in Liberty Lands Park. Campers ran, stretched, even tried a yoga pose. They’re learning about how the pros prepare, from workouts to nutrition.

Most campers play team-oriented games like Overwatch but not all are used to being in a team environment like the South Park boys did when they entered Azeroth. For some, that’s required some adaptation. For Hilsky, that means more teachable moments.

“We treat every event like an education process,” he said.

One of the lessons is how to best handle unfavorable situations. He drew teams unevenly to show how best to handle losing in the moment. Some students did better than others. “We have no tolerance for outbursts,” Hilsky said.

Hilsky hopes the campers can train themselves to recognize when a team member loses control and goes “on tilt” and how to refocus that member. Taking that negative emotion out of gaming can go far in successful team play and reversing toxic stereotypes.

NSG's Localhost is where the gaming goes down. (Photo by Marco Cerino)

NSG’s Localhost is where the gaming goes down. (Photo by Marco Cerino)

The camp includes overnight programs, where students lodge at university dorms outside the city. This has brought campers from across the country to Philadelphia for this inaugural session. One student learning to play with others for the first time is Trinity Wright, a 14-year-old from Colorado. She’s hoping to earn a scholarship to a member of the growing list of U.S. colleges with varsity esports programs.

Camp exercises focused on communication have taught Wright the importance of being assertive even when playing a support role.

“Playing with friends, I would stay quiet because I’d be afraid of saying something wrong,” she said. “I was too shy to shot-call. Over here they taught me I need to shot-call and need to speak up when my teammates can’t see something I can. I need to tell them immediately to win the game or give them a better idea about something else. It’s helpful to know my perspective is also valuable to the other teammates.”

This camp is a product of Philadelphia’s collaborative tech sector. Hilsky previously worked for Jarvus Innovations before he and three of his Jarvus colleagues spun N3rd Street Gamers into its own company in 2015. NSG, helmed by CEO John Fazio, recently landed an investment from Comcast Spectacor.

NSG and Julian Krinsky met through SeventySix Capital, the VC firm that announced an investment in NSG last fall.

Julian Krinsky’s Robertson noted that the camp allows students to learn the skills they’ll need to find success in the burgeoning field of pro gaming, just as they would if they were aspiring golfers or basketball players at those summer camps.

“Gaming is an athletic endeavor, you have the learn the skills,” he said.


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