Twenty-two-year-old Seth Mason is working to make Johnstown an epicenter for electronic sports while sending a message that Johnstown’s youth can help revitalize the city.
Mason is building out a two-story facility at 225 Franklin St. with local company Webify’s design services and the property owner’s support for the transformation of the vacant building, he said.
Esports – a form of sport competitions using video games – has burst into the mainstream in recent years and grown into a billion-dollar industry.
Mason has already had success in the industry. He established American Esports Co. while a student at Penn State Altoona, subsequently moving it to the Johnstown Galleria and selling the business to a Washington, D.C.-based company.
The D.C. owners pulled American Esports out of the Galleria, however.
“They weren’t about investing in the local community,” Mason said.
But he is, and he’s growing his aptly named enterprise – “The Esport Co.”
‘Come to Johnstown’
In the past seven months, he and a team of four others have grown a 5,000-person amateur esports league comprising 13 teams across six states – Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Ohio, New Jersey and New York – he said.
“They want to come to Johnstown for competition,” he said.
Mason said he wants to bring the league’s members, in their mid-teens to mid-20s, to provide a boon for Johnstown hotels, restaurants and the local economy.
“I want to have the biggest esports center on the East Coast,” he said. “We can do it.”
Mason is hopeful the facility on Franklin Street, which he plans to call Tech HQ, can be open by late summer.
Webify LLC, a Johnstown company specializing in 3-D design, has rendered plans for Tech HQ that include a café, a stage and classrooms, Webify Chief Operating Officer Stephen Anna said.
“It will be the spot to be in Johnstown,” Anna said.
The classrooms included in the plans are for courses in social media marketing, programming and other skills that blend video games with education and career options.
‘A whole industry’
Luke Trotz, St. Francis University’s assistant director of student engagement and director of the university’s esports program, is partnering with Mason to bring competitions to the Western Pennsylvania region.
Trotz said esports, like any industry, needs people with skills to make it run.
“There’s a whole industry behind esports,” he said. “You have communications, streaming, marketing, team management, game programing and how software programs work.”
Mason’s Esports Co. streams its league play live through the video live-streaming service Twitch, a subsidiary of Amazon.
As the company grows, it would generate revenue through subscriptions to Twitch and merchandise sales, he said. Currently the company has four leaders, but will need more as it grows, Mason said.
He envisions a staff of broadcasters, video editors making montages, statisticians, managers for teams in a league.
The home team is called the Johnstown Steel, he said.
“I think he is bringing a fantastic infrastructure to the community,” Trotz said.
“Once the facility is up and running, it will be drawing people in from all over the place.
“It will be like the Tomahawks or the Mill Rats coming to the Greater Johnstown community.”
Mason said The Esports Co.’s ultimate goal is to rebuild the city of Johnstown.
“I’m 22 years old,” he said.
“And there are other younger individuals, Johnstown graduates, powering a younger movement to rebuild the city.”