Esports gaming lab gives West Philly kids a chance to level up

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- "The youth live in a different world than the adults sometimes," said Quan King. "They don't want to be part of what's going on on the streets but, the streets is always a part of their everyday life, and they can't escape that."

King is the recreation leader at Christy Rec Center, which has historically been a place for children to engage in activities like basketball and dance. And while those activities still take place, they are not unscathed from the violence that surrounds their community.

"This summer, we lost four of our youth to gun violence just at this recreation center and that's really unheard of," said King.

In the wake of this tragedy, community organizations rallied to transform an unused space in the building into a community Esports room.

The gaming lab is the first of its kind to be installed by Philadelphia Parks and Recreation. Funding was provided from the Beyond the Badge Foundation, led by local law enforcement. Additional equipment and financial support was provided by Nerd Street Gamers and Five Below. It will soon become a regular part of after-school programming for area students.

"I can play basketball on the court and I could play basketball on the controller," said 13-year-old Bryheem Leach. "If my NBA career don't work out, I might go to gaming."

Lucky for Leach, the Esports room is equipped with trained staff to teach about pro gaming, game engineering, social media, branding, marketing, and more.

Other students are happy to have a reliable space to clear their heads with a pickup match in NBA 2K21 or Super Smash Brothers Ultimate.

"We lost three friends of ours and it's a devastating loss to us and it brings our community down," said 12-year-old Matthew Douglass. "But we'll cherish the moment and live up to them."

With plans to build more Esports centers through Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, community leaders hope children can pursue their passions in a safe environment and pioneer the next generation of competitive sports.

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