When South Suburban Parks and Recreation District took over management of the Lone Tree Hub in 2015, it had the goal of making the community space “multi-generational.”
The former home of the Lone Tree Library, at 8827 Lone Tree Parkway, is now used for many purposes—weekly bridge club meetings, self-defense classes and memory loss support groups, among many enrichment classes and community meetings. Seniors, parents and young kids are the common day-to-day patrons.
On March 3, the multi-generational goal moved closer to fruition with the completion of the Hub's esports lounge, the district's first space dedicated to fostering a community of video gamers. The idea came from the district's desire to reach more teenagers.
“It's tough to speak to the teen community, and bring them in and find them a safe, social atmosphere anywhere in the district.” said Nicole Stehlik, assistant director of recreation.
The esports lounge is not exclusive to teens, or even hard-core gamers. The space is for one and all who are interested in getting into esports, elevating their ability or socializing with other gamers.
South Suburban board members and staff had the idea to create an esports room after learning the National Parks and Recreation Association listed esports as an up-and-coming trend in recreation realms. South Suburban board member Dave Lawful said the district wanted to get ahead of the trends.
“This is well beyond pickleball,” Lawful said.
The room is laid out to resemble a living room, with two 55-inch mounted TVs and one 65-inch TV for gaming or streaming Twitch—a platform for gamers to watch other gamers and esports tournaments. There are six consoles mounted to walls around the room, two Nintendo Switch systems, two PlayStation 4 systems and two Xbox One X systems. More than 250 games are available to play — from Tetris to Mario Kart to Apex Legends.
Chris Curtis, South Suburban's esports program coordinator, designed the entire space to make it feel comfortable and to give gamers everything they need to succeed. Curtis greets newcomers to the space by saying “welcome to my home.”
“There's plenty of high-end tech here, but it's home,” Curtis said. “And I want it to be home for a community.”
Tapping into the teen perspective can be difficult, so the district hired Curtis, a self-proclaimed teen at heart and semi-professional gamer.
“That generation loves to grasp onto whatever's new and upcoming,” Curtis said. “They're very forward-driven. Video games are exactly that. It's a way to take that and channel into something where you can have progress. And showing progress to yourself is something that keeps you coming back to video games and entering that social experience.”
Curtis said the project was ambitious, but it paid off.
“No one's doing it to the extent we're doing it,” Curtis said. “There really is no bar. That's what happens when you walk into something so unprecedented. You push it and you push it and you push it until it pushes back.”
Providing esports opportunities has been a goal for parks and rec districts throughout the country, some implementing their own esports lounges. Esports has grown into a multibillion-dollar industry. In 2019, the industry reached the billion-dollar mark, according to Newzoo, a games and esports analytics group.
“Multi-generational,” to Lawful, means encouraging a mix of different residents in one place. The day the esports lounge opened, a group of about 20 seniors played bridge in the common area of the Hub.
“This is no different,” Lawful said. “This is the teenagers or the kids or young adults — this is their bridge.
“This is another way to help answer the call to make it multi-generational,” Lawful continued. “It's more than just toddlers playing Legos out there now, it's that we have something for our older kids.”
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