Rise of eSports captures digital generation in Rochester and beyond

Local News

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — If you have a video game console in your home – you’re not alone!

Industry sales this year will exceed $150 billion worldwide. Our fascination with video games has created a new form of competition – eSports.

The industry has deep roots in Rochester and its growth is surprising even those leading the charge.

When Marty Strenczewilk was a student at RIT, he saw something few others did – the business potential of competitive video gaming, or eSports.

“It’s very much like a traditional sport except instead of throwing a football you’re playing with a controller,” he said.

Strenczewilk, his wife, and college roommate found the eSports company Splyce in late 2014. The following year his business pitch to the Rochester Angel Network gave him the seed money he needed to turn the side hustle into a full-time operation. “It’s a sport for the folks who were more traditionally into video games versus traditional sports and they’re coming out in masses to see these games or watching them online en masse and it’s really taken the world by storm,” Strenczewilk said.

Splyce ascended to the top of the eSports industry by fielding teams of elite gamers to compete in games like “Call of Duty,” “League of Legends,” and “Overwatch.”

Professional gamer Daniel Loza plays about eight hours a day. He loves “Call of Duty” and being good at it is his profession. Loza is better known by his gamer tag “Loony.” He spoke with News 8 from his home in Atlanta. This past season, Loony played for Splyce’s “Call of Duty” team. He is one of the best in the world at his eSport.

“I’d probably be like a point guard in the NBA,” Loony said of his skill set. “I’m the one that’s trying to set up my teams, trying to set up the play. I’m also like an in-game leader so I’m the one controlling the tempo of the game, telling people what to do.”

At his first eSports tournament, a local event where he grew up in California, Loony – then a teenager – won $400. The website “eSports earnings” estimates the 26-year-old has raked in over $300,000 in the last five years – and that’s strictly from tournaments.

The rapid growth of eSports has gone unnoticed by many because it’s happening digitally – streaming online – with people watching around the world. But it’s hard not to notice how the competitions are filling traditional sports arenas. For competitors like Loony it’s the ultimate rush. “You get those chills running through you when you’re on that stage. Whether they’re cheering for you or they’re cheering for them, they’re just loud, right? We have these headsets on that’s supposed to block out most of the sound but you can hear it. You’re vibrating. Your body is getting chills.”

Wealthy investors, like Patriots owner Robert Kraft, see dollar signs when it comes to the potential of eSports.

This coming season, Loony will have a new owner. The visionary – Strenczewilk – will have a new boss. OverActive Media acquired Splyce as the industry moves into a franchise model. Loony will compete for Toronto Ultra’s “Call of Duty” team. Strenczewilk is the company’s new Senior Vice President of Team Operations.

So why the fascination with eSports? Strenczewilk summed it up this way.

“Why would someone watch video games. We get asked that a lot, right? As a basketball fan I can say, why do we watch someone throw a ball through a hoop? We’re still watching someone play a game. And that comes back to this tribalism we have as humans. We like to get together and we like to be excited over something that is the best of the best in front of us and part of it and take ownership over it, and this is the digital generation’s version of that.”

WEB EXTRA: Marty Strenczewilk explains how eSports has evolved into the current “Franchise Era.”

WEB EXTRA: Loony explains how eSports differ from traditional sports in a very fundamental way — every year a new game comes out, bringing each competitor back to square one.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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