Computer Games + Athletics = E-sports

High tech gaming features global competition

By Stephanie Carlson Miller

E-sports is serious business for Rick and Cara Barretto. The husband-wife team is just warming up to take on-line athletics to a whole new competitive level with their state-of-the art gaming center located inside the Pacers Athletic Center within Grand Park in Westfield. The first of its kind, the elite arcade-like atmosphere invites people of all ages, experience and athletic ability, to participate on teams, in competitive tournaments and develop or discover skills online that they may not have the chance to explore otherwise.

Rick is a computer and game programmer, a serial entrepreneur and founder of nine tech companies, including DreamAuthentics, which builds custom video arcades for homes and businesses. He jumped at the chance to purchase The LAN Network in 2012. Founded by the family of a professional HALO player to support their son’s training, TLN invented the concept of the Gaming House in Chicago, where players from all over the world lived, trained and competed in HALO tournaments.

“The dad purchased a house for the sole purpose of providing place for HALO players to build community. When teammates live and practice together they have more success at tournaments’” explains Rick. “Some of the players have gone on to become very well-known gamers.” TLN was one of the first eSports websites dedicated to competitive gaming and teams building friendships and community across the globe around online gaming.

No barriers

Continuing the tradition of providing a place for online gamers to train together in person, Rick transported the 16 XBox systems from Chicago, set them up in his basement creating a mini-game room and invited 15 professionals to a 5-day bootcamp. This was a new experience for Cara, who was engaged to be married to Rick in the near future.

“I thought, how am I going to feed all of these people? I envisioned a bunch of unshowered couch potatoes sitting around watching video games,” She laughed. “I was so wrong. The guys that showed up were fit, did yoga, lifted weights and ate organic foods to keep healthy and in good shape for their tournaments - just like any competitive athlete.”

A real eye-opener for her was when one of their guests asked her “What do you see?” while he practiced. “When I really started paying attention, my perception completely changed. I started listening to the players communicate, strategize, and develop a game plan just like a team would on a football field or basketball court.” She reflects, “It’s no different than being on a league. You need to use your brain, hand-eye coordination, instinct and physical stamina to win.”

Rick adds, “there is a difference and that is, anyone can play. There are no barriers. If your child is not athletically inclined, they can still participate in a sport, on a team, in competition and it doesn’t matter if they are a boy or a girl.”

While Cara was skeptical at first, she now employs her masters degree in education to work in tandem with Rick’s extensive background in electronic gaming. “We are encouraging people to use gaming to build their problem-solving skills or achieve a goal. Girls and boys have fun learning STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and those who cannot be a Payton Manning, can be a successful quarterback on an esports team.”

Non-traditional education

The NBA is the first professional sports league to join in the virtual game of basketball with its own esports league...coined NBA 2K. According to reports, Pacers Gaming is drafting players globally in preparation for tip-off in May 2018.

“This is just the beginning,” says Rick. Gaming is becoming a spectator sport where players make big money attracting viewers from around the world. In 1980, Atari held the first Space Invaders competition which attracted more than 10,000 spectators and prepped the landscape for the future of esports.  Today, where computers are readily available and accessible, roughly 34 million people engage globally. Anyone can play video games online and if you develop the necessary skills, you can be a virtual Reggie Miller.

“We are working with St. Vincent’s Sports Performance and high schools to create a curriculum  for athletes on sports teams and for those athletes on esports teams. When kids are gaming, they are not just watching TV, they are building life-long skills.” Rick suggests, “These are problem-solving techniques to take into the future.”

Cara agrees. “By combining education with gaming we can reach girls and boys introducing them to new career fields like coding, design, marketing, storytelling, engineering, videography and the list goes on. As a mom of four children, my goal is to educate parents on the positive aspects of the gaming experience. It is so much more than shooting and killing as I found out from those young people training in my basement.”

In fact, gaming works to make education more exciting for children that don’t succeed in traditional “sit-at-a-desk” learning environments, it invites children to participate in exhilarating esports camps, provides a place where anyone can become something they have always wanted to be, expands the thinking and creativity of employees and allows anyone to create a virtual personality of their own without peer pressure.

“All of these digital images are created and operated by real people with real personalities.” Cara remarks, “Moms are one of the largest groups of gamers, from Candy Crush to Cooking Craze. They are also the biggest supporters of their kids. ” Whether in physical sports or esports, mom gets the jersey out, cheers them on and even hopes for that collegiate scholarship on the field or in our digital society - in video gaming.

Game On offers a venue for business meetings and entertainment that enables individuals and companies to grow in ways they never envisioned possible. Live video streaming allows organizations to communicate their business message and online gaming helps groups build team-oriented skills. The results are a win-win for the company and the gamers.

As for those young people that won’t make the basketball, football or soccer team in high school due to their size, coordination, ability or physical limitations...Game On!