Two professional gamers from Overland Park and a former professional hockey player have teamed up to launch the only Esports arena in Overland Park, Johnson County or even the Midwest.
Located at 7300 W. 119th. St. in Overland Park, LEVELUP Esports Arena officially opened on Thursday, April 8.
It’s considered the third-largest such Esports venue in the country. Heading up the arena are Joshua Garr and Stuart Keener, who bring the gaming expertise and vision, as well as Ryan Hughes, another like-minded entrepreneur.
The arena has the kind of gamer vibe you may expect, featuring about 25 PCs physically spaced out in the dimly-lit arena with room to grow once it’s safer to gather indoors after the COVID-19 pandemic. Alternative and punk rock music is playing. The stage is nearly finished and ready for live-streaming competitions.
“The things people have to understand is that when you do gaming, it’s no different than any other sport you do,” Garr said. “It’s no different than football or basketball or baseball. It’s just a little different kind of training.”
Garr said some of the relationships he’s built through gaming are some of the strongest he has. In fact, friends he’s made from around the world are flying in to show their support.
“Bringing this here to Kansas City and Overland Park specifically allows us to give all those gamers a home,” he said. “You might meet a gamer from a different school you would’ve never met before. It gives people a chance to feel at home, and that’s what’s important to us, is just building that strong community.”
Also part of the project are educational programming opportunities such as camps and clinics, including for STEM skills. Summer camps and clinics start in June, while the arena’s after-school program starts in the fall. Below are some pictures:
‘Get them out of their basement’
The arena is operating at about 20% capacity (about 50 people), but it could have more than 100 gaming stations once it’s fully fleshed out, perhaps as early as this summer.
The project is about 18 months in the making.
Garr, Hughes and Keener said they’re creating a friendly, community-driven space designed to make the best environment for gamers, and, as Garr put it, “to get them out of their basement.”
“The goal was to not just be in your basement playing video games eight to 12 hours a day, but actually come into a place where you can socialize, meet other people and get quality game time,” Garr added. “That’s what every parent — every older person, for lack of better terms — has to understand: this isn’t just some kid wasting time on video games. It’s legitimately an opportunity to make yourself a better person and have the best of times.”
Hughes, who moved to Overland Park two years ago after wrapping a professional hockey career in Knoxville and around Europe, does not consider himself a professional gamer, although he likes his fair share of Call of Duty.
He moved here from Connecticut and was working on another project when he heard of Garr and Keener’s vision.
“I was leery too, of Esports, when I first met them,” Hughes said. “I hear the connotations of playing in the basement, anti-social, and it being kind of a fringe way of existing. That was the perception.
“What I learned was that it’s more mainstream than I think any sport out there, and the opportunities available for the gamers are out there, from college scholarships to jobs to networking to community building and your social circle. If this is your passion, you can pursue it here.”
Multiple gaming opportunities inside
LEVELUP Esports Arena is actually part of a slate of four venues that work in conjunction on gaming, food, drinks and entertainment. The other three venues are:
- EXP, a casual gaming bar
- Gametime District Bar and Grill
- VIVO, a concert hall and venue
Here are some pictures of the other venues:
The founders said they’ve gained strong support from the local professional gaming community.
“It’s no better way to learn how to be a Twitch superstar than from a Twitch superstar,” Garr said, referring to an online live-gaming platform.
Gov. Laura Kelly, U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids (KS-03) and Kansas Sec. of Commerce David Toland made an appearance for the official opening.
Hughes said they’ve been “very supportive” for the locally bred operation and what it can do for the community.
Current hours of operation are 4 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and 12-10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.