JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – Speakers at 1st Summit Arena @ Cambria County War Memorial voiced glowing praise of new opportunities presented to students through the emergence of esports at the scholastic and collegiate levels.
Seth Mason, founder and chief marketing officer of The Esport Company, is hoping that a combined venture with the Greater Johnstown Community YMCA will create even more opportunities for area students competitively and eventually in a professional sense.
The Esport Company and Greater Johnstown Community YMCA announced Wednesday that they are partnering up to host TEC Con July 15-17 at 1st Summit Arena @ Cambria County War Memorial.
“This is my dream,” Mason said. “First getting here in Johnstown, rebuilding the city. I imagined selling out the 1st Summit Arena with an esports event and turning it into a convention where we can not only showcase the esports side, but the education and tech as well. It’s what we’re all about. TEC Con, it’s technology, education and community. That’s what TEC stands for.”
Mason was one of six speakers at Wednesday’s announcement, along with Greater Johnstown Community YMCA Chief Executive Officer Shawn Sebring, Greater Johnstown School District Superintendent Amy Arcurio, St. Francis University esports coach Ethan Wingard, former major league pitcher and The Esport Company partner Jason Grilli , State Rep. Jim Rigby, R-Ferndale and Greater Johnstown YMCA board member Michael Cashaw, who served as emcee while also noting that he remembered the release of “Pong,” a pioneer in the video-game world.
The evolution of the gaming medium since “Pong” has allowed for the local YMCA facility to reach out to youth in a non-traditional sense, while sticking to the core values of traditional athletics and the YMCA.
“While (the YMCA) did not invent esports by any means,” Sebring said, “we definitely think that this is a great opportunity for us to continue to engage in a new way, a generation or two that see the world differently than a lots of us.”
Grilli, who spent parts of 15 seasons in the majors with a stint on the Pittsburgh Pirates spanning portions of four seasons, emphasized that gaming is another way for camaraderie to be built.
“I got chills when I heard the other speakers and how (esports) fits into the mold of where they see they learn more about it,” Grilli said. “I think knowledge is power in anything that we do. Everybody’s had a knock on video games, saying, ‘Kids just lock themselves in their rooms.’ But then you see the team aspect of this. As a professional athlete, seeing even my own teammates, they would play video games instead of playing darts or shooting a basketball to lock in. I understand that concept. We all connect in different ways, even if it’s digitally. We’re all behind a screen, doesn’t matter what capacity. To now see where they can take a game that’s digital and make a team concept from it … Collectively, just from a mental and emotional standpoint, what it does for a human being who might not have that opportunity before, it’s really chilling.”
Rigby admitted that he was taken back when first learning about how gaming can be positively woven into the lives of young people, but he has since embraced the idea.
“We need the people, we need the public to know that it is out there,” Rigby said. “Because not everybody is an athlete. Not every kid who wants to go to an after-school event or safe haven wants to play basketball or volleyball, so this is such a great thing to open the eyes of so many parents like me that didn’t know these things existed.”
Arcurio, who along with Mason helped to establish the esports program at Greater Johnstown High School, has witnessed first-hand the positive impact that it has had on students within the district emphasizing that opportunities beyond the classroom are crucial in pushing pupils to consistently attend school .
“I put a sign-up sheet out at Greater Johnstown High School and asked kids, ‘Are you interested in this?’ Arcurio said. “Seventy-two students signed up within the first hour. We looked at the list and we didn’t know a lot of those kids. They weren’t the kids that were on the radar. I really knew at that time that it was that hook for those kids to be involved, to have a sense of belonging and to be included at our high school.”
The three-day weekend event is set to feature gaming tournaments for titles such as “Madden NFL 22,” “Halo” and “Rocket League” with over $10,000 in prize money spread out between the games which will be contested July 15-16 in the arena.
Part of the competitive side of the convention will be packaged into a college combine, giving students in high school and college a chance to show their skills to colleges that offer esports programs, such as St. Francis University in Loretto and Mount Aloysius College in Cresson .
“What we’re seeing with esports in the past five years is every college, every high school is kind of rushing to get it going,” Wingard said. “Luckily in our region in what Seth has done with high schools and (former St. Francis esports coach) Luke Despite did at St. Francis, we’re already there.”
The gaming-centric gathering is also presenting a vendor fair focused on career and education opportunities under the esports and technology umbrella. Mason also noted that giveaways, a concert at Peoples Natural Gas Park and an esports night promotion in conjunction with the Johnstown Mill Rats for their July 15 game against Champion City at Sargent’s Stadium at the Point will be a part of the weekend’s festivities.