Contender Esports to bring gaming scene to Emerald Coast

Lorenzino Estrada
Northwest Florida Daily News

FORT WALTON BEACH — It all started with Pong.

Remember that game? I don't because I wasn't around upon its inception but the premise was simple. Opposing players would bounce a ball back and forth until someone missed.

It's safe to say that video games have become far more innovative since the 1972 Atari-released game, including the business surrounding it: esports.

As it inserts itself into mainstream entertainment, esports is one of the fastest growing industries in the world according to Business Insider. By 2022, it is estimated that there will be 645 million viewers of esports, more than Netflix, Hulu, HBO and ESPN combined (Yahoo).

That growth will now reach the Emerald Coast, as Contender Esports Gaming Center will be opening in Fort Walton Beach in July. Locations will also be opening in Space Coast and Orlando later this year.

The expected look of the upcoming Contender Esports Gaming Center in Fort Walton Beach, which is expected to open in July.

"It's more of a community center," said Joseph Markey, store manager. "I miss the days of old school LAN parties and everyone is in the same room. Kids these days don't have that experience. It's a whole different level of camaraderie when you're playing in the same room as a team."

The facility will include 52 gaming stations, eight Nintendo Switch's and five Xbox's. It will also serve as a place for tournaments across a variety of games such as "Super Smash Bros.", "Apex Legends", "Valorant" and "Rocket League".

The gaming center is currently meeting with the Boys and Girls Club and youth groups to involve the community. Markey added that he is also in touch with high school athletic directors to set up an esports league.

"It's great because this gives kids something else to do," Markey said. "If kids get really good at it there are colleges that now offer scholarships for esports. That can help open the door for those who can't play football or baseball."

Progress continues to be made on Contender Esports Gaming Center in Fort Walton Beach, which is expected to open in July.

But esports is not a low-cost endeavor, which often limits many from being able to participate. From a PC, monitor and other necessary equipment, bills can rack up anywhere from $2,000-$6,000.

But as gaming becomes more normalized, opportunities will continue to grow for younger audiences through high school programs and gaming centers. Many in the industry have called today's gaming scene "The Wild West."

"What we're doing right now is making it more accessible," Markey said. "If you really want to get into esports you need to shell out a pretty good amount of money to get a good gaming rig setup to compete on the same level as pros. We've already done that. We got all the high-end PC's." 

Those who are interested in keeping up to date with Contender Esports Gaming Center are encouraged to join the Discord server.

The gaming facility will be located at 527 Mary Esther Cut Off, Suite C, in Fort Walton Beach.