PHILADELPHIA (WLVT) — This winter, the world’s first esports campus is opening in Philadelphia.
Run by Nerd Street Gamers, the 40,000 square foot campus will act as an education center for people with an interest in gaming, including those with autism.
"It’s going to give young people an opportunity to learn about esports and career opportunities in esports," Pete Powell, VP and chief of staff at Nerd Street, told PBS39. "Just think, maybe one of the individuals with autism is the next pro ‘Overwatch’ player — all because of getting discovered at one of our tournaments! We’ll have learning sessions on everything from how to run a tournament to event production."
Covid-19, of course, complicated things for the campus. Powell says the campus, called 'The Block,' will launch with a number of virtual opportunities for players.
Dr. Wendy Ross, director of the Center for Autism and Neurodiversity at Jefferson Health, says video games are a positive way to engage and empower people with autism.
"This opens up opportunities for social skill development and future employment," Ross told PBS39. "In the past, we’ve done it with sports broadcasting. I’ve had kids who could tell me all of the statistics for the Phillies. It’s about taking something that’s a passion and leveraging it to develop life skills."
Lonnie Smith, executive director of the Autisarian Network, plans to launch an esports team for players with autism and utilize the campus’ offerings. Smith has two adult sons with autism and says he discovered his children’s enhanced abilities over time.
His son Kambel has a deep passion for the arts.
"When Kambel was a kid, I found these cardboard cut-out drawings that fell out of a vent in his room," recalled Smith. "After looking through them, I realized that he was the hero and he was in a battle with the human race. But, he was losing the battle, because he didn’t have any help."
Kambel, 33, is now an artist. His large-scale building sculptures sell for tens of thousands of dollars at art shows.
Smith also found out that his son Kantai had his own unique set of abilities.
"Once I found out that he had an enhanced memory, I figured that would be good for computer coding. Later, I discovered that he had another ability: Enhanced hand-eye coordination, and this is where the esports came in," explained Smith.
Kantai, 24, now codes his own computer games — and enjoys playing esports.
"We want to find other autistics like him, and build an autistic super team! I tell people, once we get on the other side of that wall, we find amazing abilities," said Smith.
Ross believes the campus on North Broad Street will open doors for individuals on the autism spectrum in esports, and in life.
"As a community, we need to make sure that there are opportunities to really maximize everybody’s potential," she said.