NSG CEO John Fazio Breaks Down How the Block Is Different From Other Esports Facilities
It seems like every day in esports another esports team is announcing their multimillion dollar training facility, plastered with enough LED screens to make even the most tech-savvy fanboy sweat. It’s in this environment that Nerd Street Gamers, Philly’s home-grown esports and gaming organization known for their local tournaments and watch parties, have announced The Block.
The Block is a facility that’s so big, it has its own zipcode in North Philadelphia. Billed as a facility where gamers of all ages, shapes, genders, races, and creeds can gather to learn about and participate in esports events, The Block is looking to set itself apart from team training facilities that are only open to the public in a very limited sense.
NSG has promised to work with local universities, student organizations, esports clubs, and more to provide opportunities for young people to get involved in and learn about esports in a safe environment, free fron the sorts of horror stories you might hear about in places like arcades, LAN centers, and more.
Esports Talk had the chance to sit down with John Fazio, CEO of Nerd Street Gaming, to learn more about what they’re planning to do at the Block and what makes it unique in a constantly shifting sea of esports facilities.
Nerd Street Gamers Wants to Train the New Kids on The Block
Dustin Steiner, Esports Talk: What’s the primary goal of having an esports campus versus just another training facility?
John Fazio, CEO of Nerd Street Gaming: This campus is about more than just training; it’s meant to foster an ecosystem of like-minded jobs creating businesses around shared infrastructure that facilitates opportunity for the communities we reach. The Block will demonstrate that being the best competitor is only one of many possible careers in the video games industry.
Steiner: How will the size of the facility give Nerd Street Gamers a competitive advantage?
Fazio: The Block is meant to be an additive pillar in the industry, so we’re not focused on beating competitors with this space. Rather, we’re focused on fostering the most impactful community of organizations possible. We chose this space because it gives us room to grow based on the needs of our team and partners.
Steiner: Given Nerd Street’s FTW initiative, how will this facility be used to educate gamers on some of the issues that female gamers face on a daily basis?
Fazio: The biggest challenge for female gamers is driven by toxic anonymous online cultures that don’t translate into face to face in-person interactions. By providing in-person competitive facilities and training centers, we’re removing that layer of anonymity and empowering genuine social connections between competitors.
All Nerd Street Gamers properties and initiatives have inclusivity at their core. We provide a positive environment for gamers of all skill levels, socio-economics, races, and genders. With The Block, we are partnering with key organizations including Center for Autism and Neurodiversity at Jefferson Health to provide growth and career opportunities for individuals with autism, as well as organizations like TechGirlz to provide programming in our space that encourages female participation in STEM. We believe that having inclusion be at the forefront of our growth will show the importance of building a positive environment in all facets of esports.
Steiner: How will this facility tie in with the Fusion Arena that’s set to open in 2021, given the shared investment that Fusion and Nerd Street Gamers have?
Fazio: The future professional athletes, on-screen talent, coaches, broadcast teams, and more that will reach the Fusion Arena stages and stages all over the world will be developed at Localhost on The Block. While the Fusion Arena is focused on providing world class spectator experiences, our Localhost facilities are focused on allowing hundreds of gamers to train alongside one another, teams to train and practice, and multiple studios for content creators.
Steiner: What sort of academic opportunities will be offered by the campus, and has there been any involvement from local colleges in Philly?
Fazio: Temple University will engage with The Block through its School of Sport, Tourism and Hospitality Management. We are also working with Team Altemus, a consulting firm that empowers athletes to be the champions of their own financial stories through education, unbiased vetting and goal setting. Team Altemus educates student-athletes about money and trains elite student-athletes in financial advisor due diligence. They will be a tremendous resource in educating amateur and professional gamers. We are working on partnership details with other local colleges in the Philadelphia area to be announced at a later date.
Steiner: Given its presence in the inner city, will the campus be focusing on helping POC in a significant way?
Fazio: The esports industry is currently a privileged category that is off-limits to a large portion of our country due to the high expense of the necessary equipment and quality internet access. While the industry is incredibly exciting and full of potential, without building affordable access points to the technology necessary, those opportunities are left out of reach of the communities that need them most, especially our inner city black and Latino communities. This has led to a severe lack of diversity in esports and drives our mission to provide an even playing field for anyone who wants to compete in the industry. The struggles we’ve seen during quarantine to get students without home internet access connected for remote learning demonstrate just how profound this access gap is. Not only can gaming provide a meaningful connection to the various STEM industries that support video games, but that same equipment can be used for educational purposes and career advancement.
Steiner: Will the Nerd Street Gamers facility be used by teams not directly affiliated with the program?
Fazio: Yes! When professional and amateur players and teams come through Philadelphia, Localhost will be available for them to use to train and practice. The same goes for collegiate teams that visit Philadelphia. The Block will be a home for all gamers.
Steiner: Why do you think it’s taken so long for esports organizations to invest in the overall infrastructure of the community via campuses like yours as opposed to just training facilities?
Fazio: Esports has been around for decades but the recent popularity has been driven by the rise in popularity of professional esports teams often backed by professional sports franchises. Unlike professional sports franchises, esports teams represent a collection of multiple teams across multiple games and drive sales overwhelmingly from the value of the content they generate. Bringing the teams together in a single training facility is a natural way to leverage cost and management efficiencies so we’ve correspondingly seen a lot of those centers. Now, all of the fans want to compete too. High schools and colleges across the country are scrambling to build infrastructure that can support the demand for varsity and club programs. As we saw a flood of investment into the team space over the past few years, I suspect we’ll see a flood of investment into the infrastructure that empowers those teams’ fan bases to expand.
Steiner: What events will Nerd Street Gamers host in this new venue?
Fazio: Nerd Street Gamers will be hosting after-school programming, camps, meet-ups, training sessions, tournaments of all sizes, and more at The Block. Our famous Nerd Street Championships, Fusion watch parties, and some more exciting partner events that will be announced soon will be the normal weekend experience once we’re back to a post-COVID live experiences world. There is an incredible opportunity to provide the public with resources they may not have been able to access before including our high-power computers, broadcast studios, and other gaming equipment.
Steiner: In an ideal world, what position do you think the new facility will occupy in the wider esports world, should it turn out to be a success?
Fazio: Not only are we creating one of the industry’s largest gaming landmarks with The Block, but we’re also building a home for every member of Philadelphia’s gaming community and contributing a vital element to the redevelopment of North Broad Street. Down the line, we want The Block to be a nationally recognized hub for esports by providing not just competitive, but educational and career opportunities that most gaming facilities do not.