winchester — Name one of the fastest growing sports in the world, one that involves eye-hand coordination, teamwork, communication, cheering crowds and the opportunity for great players to sign with collegiate teams. This sport is so hot that it has an estimated audience of more than 530 million people worldwide, according to Insiderintelligence.com. Still not sure? Another tip: There is a new shop at 88 Featherbed Lane dedicated to this sport.
If you bet on esports, you would win at a Fortnite tournament like Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf did.
GUI Esports opened in Winchester in November. GUI, pronounced “gooey,” is an acronym that stands for “graphical user interface.” GUI Esports features 10 gaming computers and the ability to connect Xbox or other controllers, ergonomic chairs and an open gathering area with screens for the audience to follow player progress. The most popular games on offer are Valorant, Fortnite, Overwatch 2, Rocket League, Smash Brothers and Apex Legends. But most games are game by GUI.
Kevin Fowlkes and Shane Cannon are co-owners of GUI Esports. Cannon also owns Experimax, which joins the esports arena. The businesses complement each other. Experimax focuses on buying, selling and trading computers, mobile phones and tablets. Fowlkes and Cannon share a shared vision and expertise when it comes to esports and what the arena can do for the community.
Fowlkes says that when COVID-19 struck in 2020, he was working from home watching his teenage son Nicholas play sports. “When he was younger I always coached his sports – flag football, roller hockey and then he played soccer. But then he started playing computer games. All he wanted to do was play games with friends doing the same.” Being used to coaching his son, Fowlkes asked Nicholas if he wanted to form a team and start playing tournaments.
Entering the world of esports, the duo soon learned that the internet service at their Frederick County home wasn’t fast enough to allow for competitive gaming. Fowlkes rented a space on US 50 known as the Country Mart and opened his shop. Soon after, Cannon and Fowlkes discovered their mutual interest and decided to join forces and move the gaming site to Winchester, a location that would be more accessible to youth, teens, college students and adults alike.
Internet speed in the GUI Esport Arena in Featherbed Lane is not an issue. Arena computers are fast. Nicholas says there’s a “better ping, you’re looking at 165 frames per second. Most of the computers in your house don’t have the specs you need to be competitive.”
The arena offers a practice space for pro teams, club teams, birthday parties, tournaments, spring break and summer camps, hourly games and more. As a recreational sports coach and father, Fowlkes says, “I was looking for a place where parents could come in and watch the kids play. I wanted this to be an open arena. My big deal is parents showing up and watching kids play athletics like basketball or soccer. Why not have that opportunity and interaction here as well?”
Canon agrees. “When people play at home, they often go down to the basement or their room and close the door. You don’t see them.” Cannon says Arena Play enables eSports coaches, camp instructors, and leaders to go the extra mile and help educate players about online safety and precautions to take care of their physical health while playing eSports protection.
“This online stuff is great, but it can be dangerous. We want to help. This company takes that to the next level when it comes to providing a resource for people to be safer online,” says Cannon. A good example of this, he says, is what GUI Esports is doing in conjunction with parks and recreation departments in Frederick County, Winchester and Shenandoah County.
The next such camp is scheduled for April of this year. GUI is partnering with Frederick County Parks and Recreation to offer Spring Break Esports Camp to students. Registration is currently open.
“Executives take the time to discuss security online. Players learn to work together in groups,” says Cannon. “Gamers are at risk of developing poor posture, hand problems from gripping controllers, and eye problems from the screen. We train them to get up from the game, take a mental break, lower their heart rate and get up and walk around every hour.”
Being connected to the community is important to GUI Esports. According to Fowlkes, Shenandoah University players help coach teams, and college students can get labor points through the GUI. According to Cannon, the company caters to schools large and small who may want to start their own teams.
Fowlkes adds that there are two upcoming fundraisers that will pit students against teachers in Mario Kart. Teachers from Orchard View Elementary School and Bass-Hoover Elementary School will compete against their students, with proceeds going to each school’s PTO.
For reluctant parents who may not be sold into the world of esports, GUI Esports owners can clearly articulate the benefits of team play. However, Fowlkes’ 17-year-old son Nicholas – his gamer tag is “Apple” – is a local example of what the world of esports can mean to a youngster who devotes time and energy to esports.
“I go to college to play video games. There were colleges calling me,” he says. The James Wood High School senior just signed to play esports at Old Dominion University. He will be on ODU’s Varsity Rocket League team.
However, according to the teenager, esports is more than just an opportunity to play for a college team. “I’ve met people in real life that I originally met online and that was awesome. I know people from Europe, Asia, Australia…everywhere. I talk to people from all over the world via a computer screen. There aren’t too many adults who can say that.”
And with that, it’s a reminder that everyone can enjoy esports and enjoy the benefits that playing in a social arena has with fast internet speeds. GUI Esports wants everyone – players and viewers of all ages and abilities – to feel welcome.
If you want to get in on the esports action, it’s $7 an hour to drop by to play. A weekly GUI Smash Ultimate Tournament is held every Wednesday night. And GUI Esports will host an NBA 2K23 tournament in April. Private rentals are available for $100 per hour. Birthday packages, memberships, camp and team rates are also available. Visit gui.gg (the “gg” stands for “good game”) for more information or call 540-686-7768.