There have been plenty of attempts to bring major league sports to Hampton Roads. Whether it was the NBA or the NHL, the ventures could never get off the ground.
The owner of 7 Cities Gaming League intends to change that, with a team that competes against squads from Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
Vanessa Lasko describes her storefront in Pembroke Mall as a video game dojo .
The center, which celebrated its grand opening May 16, brings in coaches and trainers to develop the skills and improve the play of competitive video gamers. Team members wear jerseys and participate in tournaments monthly.
Lasko grew up playing video games, but it wasn’t until the Landstown graduate was studying case profiles for her MBA that she learned of the phenomenal growth of esports.
“Part of the appeal of esports is that it’s at this great intersection of technology, arts, music, sports and coding,” Lasko said. “There’s nothing else like it.”
About 130 colleges offer esports scholarships, handing out about $15 million in aid to 3,000 student athletes, according to the National Association of Collegiate Esports. Locally, Bryant & Stratton and ECPI offer scholarships, and Lasko has approached Norfolk State University and Old Dominion University about adding teams.
One of Lasko’s goals is to develop a professional team that competes with the best, but to get there, she has to break down stereotypes, such as the solitary gamer sitting in his basement.
“You can’t be competitive without teamwork, communication and socialization skills,” Lasko said. “We don’t have anything for kids who want to come in and zone out on a game alone.”
All games at 7 Cities are multiplayer, and good sportsmanship is promoted. Summer camps for children as young as second-grade teach fundamentals. Older players learn about college scholarships and career paths.
Lasko seeks to bust the stereotype of a gamer as a sedate, unfit teenager clicking away for hours on end. Instead, sessions at 7 Cities usually start with jumping jacks and pushups, and eating well is encouraged.
There is too much branding that esports isn’t for women, said Lasko, noting that nearly everyone who applied to work at 7 Cities was male.
Hillary Hicks, 25, was the lone female applicant. Also known as Echo, her favorite game is Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
“Guys usually see me as inferior, especially when it’s a stereotypical male game,” Hicks said. “Then they see me play and see that I’m just as good.”
"The great thing about esports is how it breaks down barriers and levels the playing field,” Lasko said. “It doesn’t matter what your gender or age is, or if you’re in wheelchair. In here, everyone is equal.”
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