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Kids play video games in the Maricopa Esports room inside Copper Sky Recreation Complex.

MARICOPA

When Maricopa started its esports program a couple years ago, there were some doubts about why it would be important, or if the city should even be promoting gaming among young people. By now, though, organizers say the results speak for themselves.

Now with a dedicated spaced called the Maricopa Esports Arena, gamers of all ages can now get together to play the games they love while sometimes earning some impressive cash prizes. But what’s more, the program has also created a community where kids can learn to find their place and work together.

“Since the program started in 2019, we have made it a main focus for our brand to develop the player outside the game and not just within the game itself,” said Matthew Reiter of the city’s community services department. “We encourage teamwork, sportsmanship, social skills, leadership, and lasting in-person friendships.”

A recent success story has been 11-year-old Kaden Hamilton, a young hockey player who suffered serious injuries after his family vehicle was struck by someone running a red light in October of 2020. According to his mother Terah, Kaden’s mood and confidence were severely harmed by the injuries and his inability to play hockey.

A month later, Kaden received a gaming computer for his birthday, and seemed to take a liking to it. This led to his parents researching esports and signing him up for a membership for Maricopa’s program. They started taking him to the weekly drop-in events, and saw something change.

“Almost immediately my husband and I noticed his mood had changed and his confidence level was improving,” Terah said. “Over the past months we have learned that Esports isn’t just about playing video games, they teach you real life skills on how to deal with being competitive, problem solving, socialization, boosts self-confidence and helps improve hand eye coordination.”

No matter how or why somebody winds up in the Esports Arena, the city said it is committed to welcoming them and helping them grow socially. Officials note that 70% of kids stop participating in team athletics when they turn 11, and they need a way to formulate social skills while keeping kids committed to goals and competitive.

Along with working with A+ Charter School on their own program, the city offers drop-in leagues from 5-8 p.m. Monday through Friday, and weekly bigger tournaments. This Saturday’s tournament will feature Super Smash Bros. at 3 p.m. and Fortnite at 6 p.m.

Those interested in participating in esports can find the latest events and updates at MaricopaEsports.com, or the Maricopa Esports Lounge Facebook page.

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