SCHENECTADY — Prior to meeting during league scrimmage “try-outs” a few weeks ago, the six members of Buffalo Double Tap had never met each other. Also, none of them are from Buffalo.
But none of that stopped them from going 3-0 playing “Call of Duty: Black Ops 4” in a best of 5 series Saturday at the first preseason match of the Gaming Insomniacs semi-pro video game league, held inside an event room, which includes bleacher seating, at the Urban Co-Works office at 433 State St.
Call of Duty is what’s known as a “first person shooter” game, which means each of the players see the game from the perspective of digital avatars in the game, seeing what the avatar would see. The six-member teams fight to the digital death, using digital guns and other weapons inside a virtual space.
In the real world they sit at tables operating Playstation 4 consoles with headset microphones talking to each other, while an audience that paid for tickets watches the game action on a bigger screen.
Devon Jones, 20, of Schenectady, said the key to victory for the young team is communication.
“To give your team the heads up, to let them know where everybody’s at, and to be prepared for what’s about to happen,” Jones said.
Demetrius Gillespie, 19, from Schenectady, said participating in the Gaming Insomniacs league has been a chance for him to up his game.
“I’ve been playing video games since I was basically born. I haven’t played a lot of competitive though, this is one of the first I’ve played in. What attracted me was the chance to grow a company, and grow as a player and get your name out there,” he said, referring to his gamer-tag “NELT.”
The Gaming Insomniacs esports league, which features 10 teams (several with place specific names like the “Albany Tactical Nightmares,” the “Schenectady Sharpshooters” and the “Boston Kryptonites”) is the creation of Jide Osipitan. Osipitan is a Nigerian immigrant whose full-time job is working as an E5 military police officer for Air National Guard.
Osipitan said he decided to build an esports league that would function in a way similar to leagues that exist on the West Coast.
He said it cost about $100,000, money he raised from private investment and from a grant he received from Schenectady Metroplex, to set up his esports league.
Osipitan said his sports league is different from online esports leagues because teams in his league show up in person and play on a local area network, known as a LAN, which he maintains at the Urban Co-Works office. The advantage of playing on the LAN is it’s faster with fewer glitches than playing online. The drawback is Osipitan has to maintain all of the hardware and solve any problems himself, part of the reason he wanted to do a preseason game before starting the regular season and playoffs for his Call of Duty league.
Prior to Buffalo Double Taps’ first game there was a dramatic countdown, but then the system glitched and it didn’t work.
Osipitan fixed the problem quickly, and the match began.
“Things like that will happen; it’s part of the game,” he said.
To be viable, and maintain its lease at the Urban Co-Works office, Osipitan said the Gaming Insomniacs league needs about $10,000 in revenue per month. He said he has several revenue streams. He charges for tickets to watch the games in person, $10 per person, and for concessions and other merchandise. He also has a channel on www.Twitch.tv, where people can pay $5 to join the channel, and his league gets $2.50 for every subscriber. He said esports are popular enough that there can be a large audience online.
“There are thousands and thousands of people” watching streaming sports online, Osipitan said.
The league won’t raise much money from its players, who can become part of the draw for spectators as they become popular in the gaming community. Players who want to join the league must pay a $10 fee for an initial scrimmage to determine if they have the skills necessary to compete. If they do they will be assigned a team and must pay for an $80 jersey with the team logo and sponsors on it.
He said he’s organized an entire season of weekend games for the 10-team Call of Duty league, with eight teams making a three-week playoff set for May. Two trophies will be awarded, one to the team with the best regular season record and a second for league champion.
His ultimate goal is to establish a professional esports league.
“Five years I wanted to be a professional, and, just like somebody who dreams of playing in the NBA, it didn’t quite pan out for me, but I still wanted to participate in a different way, so my way is by providing a platform for others to do it,” Osipitan said.
Buffalo Double Tap member Edwin Shields, 20, of Watervliet, said if he can get good enough, he’d like the chance to go pro as a video game player.
“If the opportunity presents itself, we’re obviously going to take advantage. We definitely use this league as an opportunity to get better every day,” he said.
Gaming Insomniacs’ lease at Urban Co-Works allows its league members to use the space for “practice” daily from 4 to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, with all league games and tournaments scheduled for the weekends.
Kristen Guastella, the community manager for Urban Co-Works, said her company has 25 different companies that lease space inside the building for $350 a month, but none quite like Gaming Insomniacs.
Jeff Goronkin, CEO of Urban Co-Works, said his building is what’s known as a “co-working” business that provides work space for businesses, often start-ups, almost like an incubator. He said esports is a new venture for his company.
“At first we were nervous about this, because we want to make sure we maintain a professional environment for our co-workers, but we’re doing a few things to modify the space, putting curtains up on the side of the bleachers and putting a bathroom in and a door to that bathroom directly linked to the training center,” he said. “We are the very first co-working company, I believe, in the world that has an esports component to it.”
Osipitan said he plans to hold several tournaments for other games over the summer, part of his plan to add additional esports leagues to expand his company beyond only having an esports league for Call of Duty: Black Ops 4.