TAMPA — In a time where everyone has focused on social distancing over the past two years due to the coronavirus pandemic, longtime Tampa resident Alex Matzkin is trying to bring people together again — through esports, an industry focused on video games played in a competitive, organized environment.
Located on West Kennedy Boulevard, across from Ducky’s Sports Lounge and just down the street from the University of Tampa, the Esports Players Club is both an academy and tournament venue, and will host its first two public competitions Friday.
“We’re trying to interact with as many of the younger kids as possible,” said Matzkin, 32. “I think what a lot of parents are seeing right now is that kids have a really strong technical ability, but especially with corona(virus) and everything else, kids are almost encouraged to stay at home and socialize less.”
The 5,000-square foot facility boasts a pair of large classrooms outfitted with top-of-the-line gaming equipment, two streaming rooms, a lounge and open play area.
The facility is membership-based, like a gym. Members can come in and play as long and often as they’d like and even make reservations to use specific parts of the venue. Games offered will include Call of Duty, Fortnite, Super Smash Bros, NBA 2K, Madden and FIFA among a variety of consoles (Microsoft Xbox Series Xs, Sony PlayStation 5s and Nintendo Switch).
Each membership also includes eight classes — with lessons ranging from first-person shooters, real-time strategies (RTS), video editing, content creation and graphic design — or tournament entries (the membership fee serves as the competition entry fee).
With the club expecting to host weekly cash-prize tournaments, anyone under 18 who wins will have the money put in a scholarship fund while adults will be allowed to take home the cash prize.
Memberships are a discounted $99 for the first month and $149 a month after that. Guests are allowed, but they count against the members’ classes or tournament entries.
“We want to be a community venue here whether you come in with a group of five people or you come in by yourself, you’re going to a community where people like the same things that you like, like playing games, they like to compete,” Matzkin said. “Just because people may be better suited for video games … doesn’t mean they don’t want to compete.”
Matzkin and his brother, Josh, have been intrigued by the growth of the esports industry and have seen Tampa becoming a new tech hub in the Southeast. A BBC article from May reported that esports revenues have reached $947 million while esports events had 439 million viewers — which rivals the major professional sports leagues — worldwide in 2020.
Alex Matzkin, who played high school football at Berkeley Prep and college ball at Georgetown, wants to pass along skills and camaraderie of team sports to younger generations through a popular outlet like gaming.
“It’s so important to get kids involved in something like that,” he said. “And this, to me, is kind of the new-age version of traditional team sports.”
In addition, Matzkin said more than 200 universities now offer scholarships for esports. It’s why he’s hoping to work with local middle and high schools, as well as colleges, on getting more youths and teenagers — as well as their parents — involved in the virtual gaming world. Matzkin said that the facility will allow children 10 and older to be dropped off after school by their parent or guardian for two hours.
“We want to take something that we know kids love to do,” Matzkin said, “and put them in a safe, but more social and healthier environment for them to do it.”
New Year’s Eve competitions
What/when: Solo Super Smash Bros Ultimate tournament at 5:30 p.m. Friday; four-person Halo Infinite tournament at 8 p.m. Friday (must pre-register by midnight on Thursday by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org)
Where: Esports Players Club at 1802 W. Kennedy Blvd
Prize: $500 per tournament