Gaming as an industry is booming. Consumer spending continues to grow year over year, publisher profits are at an all-time high, and investments into AAA IPs are higher than ever. While the publicity around major titles and the industry as a whole is well documented, there are organizations nationwide that are growing gaming in local communities. Today, I will focus on one such organization in Kansas City known as KCGameOn.
KCGameOn originated in 2005 when a group of co-workers decided to simply start playing games together on the weekend. What began as a few people playing PC games together grew with the advent of the Xbox 360/PS3 generation as games like Halo and Call of Duty rose in the ranks of competitive gaming. The group continued to grow over the past decade and by December of 2016, had grown so large that the meeting venue shifted to the KCI Expo Center. KCGameOn continues to organize events bi-monthly with attendance to some now topping 3,000 attendees ; nearly 1,000 of which can be active players within the events. What’s most impressive however, is the fact that an average of 80% of attendees enjoy themselves so much they come back for additional events.
I moved to Kansas City a few years ago from the East Coast and have been involved with gaming, and gaming groups, my entire life. While I knew about KCGameOn and the growing popularity of their events, I had yet to attend one. So when their VIP and Streaming Director Jay Duncan asked me to cover it, I was more than happy to oblige.
This particular bi-monthly event was run the weekend of December 1st – 3rd and featured a wide array of gaming related activities. There were prize pool tournaments, local LAN play, table top gaming, a cosplay competition, and a host of spectator related activities in addition to several booths setup by vendors to try out a variety of gaming.
Tournament play is a large factor in any gaming event so as you’d expect it’s one of the main focal points for KCGameOn as well. The venue featured two main stage areas with several games being highlighted over the course of the weekend. The most visible tournament, a $2,000 guaranteed Call of Duty World War 2 bracket, featured pro COD player Legiqn casting live via Twitch and was the highlight of the show given the competitiveness of the play and Legiqn’s excellent commentary.
Call of Duty wasn’t the only highlight however. The second stage featured a Rocket League tournament along with prize pool tournaments for CS:GO, Overwatch, and League of Legends. Of course, being a LAN community event in 2017 there was a PUBG competition as well. In case you weren’t aware, PUBG’s developer Bluehole doesn’t allow PUBG tournaments to have prize pools but still wanting to celebrate the winners of the PUBG event, KCGameOn creates customized frying pans as an homage to PUBG’s most notorious weapon.
The Midwest KC chapter of Twitch was on-hand to support the players and highlight some of the competitions as well. Not only were there frequently several KCGameOn Twitch channels running simultaneously, but some of the local favorites were casting as well. Streamers like Legiqn, Trobsmonkey, Twinkles, Prolikechro, TheAsianFever, X3Cody, and many more (profiles highlighted below) were all joining in and helping to keep players and fans engaged which speaks to the community aspect of these events.
You didn’t need to be a competitive player to have fun playing with others from around the area via Local LAN though. LAN play was a huge hit with hundreds of people from several states gathering to play the usual suspects ; CS:GO, LoL, PUBG, Overwatch, Rocket League, and many more. The expo center was frequently filled with yelling and hollering (by my calculation 86% of which was “LET’S GO!”) typically from the COD crowd who tend to be a noisy and competitive bunch (which I would never suggest is a bad thing just to be clear). And naturally if you wanted to see some truly fantastic custom PC rigs, you simply had to take a look around.
Cosplaying has exploded within the gaming community over the past few years so it’s no surprise that KCGameOn is now promoting cosplay competitions as a feature of their events. The inaugural competition featured a smaller yet passionate range of competitors, and had a generally light-hearted and fun atmosphere for all involved.
Beyond the official tournaments and huge LAN party, areas for spectators to sample games were setup around the center. The local Microsoft store had set up rows of stations with laptops and Xboxs running Fortnite, Forza Motorsport 7, Halo 5, and others. A gaming couch area featured a host of local multiplayer games where you could come and go as you please, and seemed to be a big hit with the spectators. And there were even a couple of virtual reality stations setup to give attendees the opportunity to experience the budding technology.
While we’re a video gaming site here at SG, it feels as though table top gaming has been experiencing a renaissance and it’s another area that KCGameOn supports and promotes. For this event, a separate (and more quiet) room was setup to support table top gaming where groups like Hunter’s Call were hosting games for players both old and new.
The first thing you notice in all of the pics above, is that people are smiling and having a good time in each of them. What KCGameOn, and groups like it, do for their local communities is quite frankly, spectacular. With so much focus being put into online gaming nowadays it was a treat to see several hundred players getting together to share the love of gaming in a single, giant room. And while many of us adore what online gaming has grown to be, there’s still something to be said for sitting next to your buddies gaming, laughing, and well…talking shit (which is all part of the fun).
In the end, the most important thing I can say is no matter where you are, if you love gaming, get involved. While it can be intimidating to initially reach out, you’ll often find quality people, with similar interests, having a good time and a lot of laughs.
Jay Duncan, Streaming and VIP Director for KCGameOn, sat down with me to discuss KCGameOn’s history, this particular event, and what the future holds for gaming in the Mid-West.
So Jay, let’s talk about the history of KCGameOn. I know it began many years ago as simply some friends who gamed together on the weekends. But when did you get involved?
It was primarily a grass-roots movement until about four years ago when our current COO joined the group and started pushing this towards an enterprise. About a year later I joined the group and pointed out how they needed to branch out into streaming and some other avenues. That led to me being invited to join the group officially and I began taking on more and more responsibility over time.
At that time about 3 years ago, we were averaging maybe 100 to 125 people per event. Within a few months, we had grown to approximately 400 people per event just due to getting the word out there to as many people as possible via game shops and events like KC Comic Con. From there it continued to snowball and we keep trying to expand as much as possible.
Your official title with KCGameOn is “Streaming and VIP Director”. What does that entail?
It began as isolating a few specific games and targeting those for KCGameOn promotion. For instance KCGameOn Overwatch, KCGameOn League of Legends, and so on. As we continued to grow, it was quite a bit of streaming to manage all at once as I was coordinating our Twitch and Youtube channels. That led me to reaching out to casters and being in charge of how streams were setup, ensuring our sponsors and vendors were taken care of, all of those areas. I just began making sure everything to do with streaming was handled for KCGameOn.
As I used to be a professional gamer myself, I felt like I could speak the lingo and relate to gamers in those communities and that led to realizing the need for having professional gamers and influencers involved with our events. That was one of my primary functions that I was kind of aggressive with when I first started. Of course that led to some introspection in not being so thirsty laughs, but I had to make my mistakes and learn to convey what we were attempting to do to make it interesting for them. I had to get better at both the entertainment and business sides and once I did that, I was able to attract more of those types of players.
That’s how I ended up with the “Streaming and VIP Director” title but honestly we don’t get hung up on titles that much. The core founders do a little bit of everything. I’ve talked to advertisers, settled contracts with vendors, dealt with sales and marketing, you know, anything and everything. It really doesn’t matter as long as you all have the same message I think.
So we’ve talked before about Kansas City and how the Mid-West in general can often be overlooked among the larger games industry players. We both feel that’s a mistake due to the sheer market size when you factor in the cities in this area and the center of the country in general. Can you share your thoughts on why that’s a personal mission for you to address?
Yeah absolutely. There’s a couple layers to that question so I’ll start on the personal side as that’s what influences my decisions. I’m from Kansas City and as an angsty teenager wanted nothing more than to leave. I joined the Army straight out of high school. I ended up linking up with several unique groups in the military, and between that and working for the Department of Defense, I wound up living in about 16 different countries between when I was 18 and 25. I remember being in an area that I’ll just say was “not the best”, and started to think about my life goals and how I missed Kansas City. As I reflected, I realized that KC was my home. I missed BBQ, seasons, laughs…. So with that, I came back to Kansas City and decided that it was where I wanted my future to be. In between traveling and moving, I played games at a high level and always loved gaming and esports. I wondered how I could marry my love of KC with gaming and esports so when I came across KCGameOn, it was a no brainer really.
I also consider myself an entrepreneur. I own another business and as I looked at the market, every other major organization was focusing on Texas or the coasts. That’s it. They don’t even truly factor in Chicago despite them having millions of gamers. The closest major organized event takes place in Denver which meant that nowhere within a 10-12 hour drive was there a major gaming event. That irked me. Developers and people putting on events seem to see the Mid-West as this black hole in the center of the map and I don’t understand why. You know, gaming is avid here. And Mid-Westerners are very supportive of their sports and activities, so why wouldn’t that translate to gaming? Well it does. We see it at our events. We have really high revisit rates from our attendees and that tells me that people want to come back, they want to be involved, and that KCGameOn is on the right path.
That’s good perspective and also a good segue. We’ve touched on the growth KCGameOn has seen over the past couple of years and it seems as though it escalated rather quickly. Did that surprise the team or did you expect it?
I’d say a little bit of both. We really wanted it and knew we needed to push. When it started to happen, everyone was really excited and energetic. All of us wanted the challenge and wanted to keep pushing forward. We’ve steadily been hitting our goals for the last two years and have made sure to account for specific things as we grew. There are things you wouldn’t normally think of when you go from friends getting together to larger events. For instance, you must have a harassment policy, waivers for those who are under 18, specific consent forms, and have to make sure you don’t do something like anger a developer. For instance, Bluehole, the developer of PUBG, has very strict rules on how you run a PUBG tournament. Obviously we don’t want to violate those types of things as you grow and so we’ve had to account for those sorts of things. But now we’re at the stage where we’re thinking about how to get to the next level.
You’ve just held the final event of 2017. It was my first time attending and from my perspective, it seemed to go real well. People were having a great time, the Call of Duty tournament with Legiqn casting seemed to go off well, PUBG was big, the LAN area was huge, etc… From the team’s perspective, how do you think it turned out? Did it meet your goals?
Full disclosure, I’m an Overwatch fanboy. I’m not very good at the game, but I really like it. I would have liked a little better environment for Overwatch and a few of our other titles. But PUBG was awesome and everyone had so much fun playing it. That game is like a community booster. Even when they are getting stomped, they really get into it so that was great to see.
But yeah I think we could have done better in some of our marketing strategies to get more people exposed to the event. I’m not trying to sound pessimistic and considering the challenges we faced, I think we pulled it off. I have to say again, we have a small army of volunteers and they did a phenomenal job for us. Last year when we had our first big event in say a 35,000 square foot space, we had a lot of issues. We were essentially using duct tape to hold it all together laughs. Our floor plan wasn’t optimized. This year we did a lot better in that regard.
So there are things we need to improve upon and I know we will. And there are other things we do exceptionally well. For instance, infrastructure we do real well. A lot of events like this face many issues with infrastructure. We had a single hiccup with COD networking and that was resolved in about 30 minutes. Compared to other events where they can lose an entire weekend due to internet or power issues, that’s excellent.
I would agree, nobody seemed to have any major issues which was really a surprise for the size of the event.
Now you’re heading into 2018. What are your expectations for next year and are there particular things the team would like to accomplish by the end of next year?
I would like exit 2018 with a broader marketing scope. We have to get in front of more people to create exponential growth. Up to now, we’ve been mostly growing by grassroots and word of mouth. I want to expose more people to KCGameOn. By no means do I mean we need to hold a 10,000 person event next year, but I think we should have a realistic goal that by 2020 we want to have several thousand people attend an event including a game qualifying tournament. In 2018 and 2019 we really need to extend our reach to become our own influencer so that KCGameOn has the ability to reach out to larger companies. Right now, those conversations can be really hard to get rolling. Know what I mean?
Ha, I know exactly what you mean. Being a smaller site that refuses to do paid promotions or ads, it’s a challenge at times for sure. But moving on, when can we expect the next KCGameOn event? Is the schedule for 2018 set yet?
It will be mid-February sometime. We try to shoot for after Valentine’s Day so we don’t mess up plans for everyone. But typically in early January we’ll sit down to map out the year particularly to make sure we don’t have known conflicts. For example we don’t want to hold an event the same weekend there’s a major event or tournament occurring. We try to intentionally look at the gaming and holiday calendar to find the best times. We’ve actually already had a few meetings since the event and it’s only been a few days. But yeah, expect the next event in February and it will be one of our smaller events.
Very good. So what’s the best way for people not too dis-similar from myself, to get involved with KCGameOn? Whether they simply want to attend, or to sponsor, lead, cast, etc…. Could you touch on all of those?
Of course, I love talking shop! If you want to get involved on the organizational side, volunteer. We have a volunteer page on our website, we send out a volunteers email, we hold private volunteer raffles so they get a shot at some of the cool prizes we give out. They’ve won things like Pixio monitors, OCZ solid-state drives, and more all because they simply volunteered and helped out.
If you want to get involved with KCGameOn directly, again volunteering is a great way. We actually allow people to earn their way into events for free by working a few hours. We have a lot of people who do that to both help out and join the event. Of course we have others who come and help out all weekend which is a fantastic way to get involved with the organization and get to know everyone.
If you want to come and game, our events are BYOC (Bring Your Own Console/Computer). Simply read the details on our website and come out and game with us! It is very, very common that someone will come to an event by themselves for the first time and have a great time. Then they come back and bring others and those people have a really good time and so on. We also have a Discord server that has been a great community driver for us. That’s actually how I got involved. I came originally to stream but ended up playing my butt off, meeting people on Discord, and wound up being a free agent pick up for a Heroes of the Storm tournament which our team ended up winning! After that I was hooked.
If you’re a vendor or a sponsor, it’s a little different. We love our local companies. As I mentioned I was in the Army and recruited the Army to come to this event as it’s good for them and I’m still Army Proud! If you’d like to sponsor an event, no matter how big or small you are, simply send us an email via our website and we’ll get you setup. We’re happy to work with you in any way.
If you’re a streamer, we setup casting booths at our smaller events where you can set up and stream by yourself if you choose. It gives you plenty of room for multiple PCs, monitors, mics, etc…. We love to work with streamers and influencers that way.
Lastly, if you’re a caster, we treat you like a volunteer. You can get a free ticket and we’ll work with you on what events you’d like to cast. Of course, those casters will get experience and some extra exposure as well. It’s really mutually beneficial and we’ve forged some great relationships with our casters.
Excellent. Thank you very much for the time Jay and Seasoned Gaming wishes KCGameOn the best through 2018 and beyond. And of course, I’ll be in touch at the events in person!
My pleasure! And we look forward to seeing you and Seasoned Gaming’s presence at the events. Thanks again.
Spotlighted Volunteers and Participants
The local gaming community wouldn’t be fun nor growing if there weren’t a group of individuals who contributed to making it so. I’d like to call out a few of the individuals who are integral to the KC gaming community and where you can find them.
Twitch KC Mid-West Chapter
Jay Duncan : Streaming and VIP Director for KCGameOn.
Legiqn : Pro COD player, caster, streamer.
Trobsmonkey : Twitch and Wargaming partner, caster, streamer.
Scarfino : Twitch and Steel Series partner, streamer, caster.
TheAsianFever : Community leader for Twitch KC Midwest, streamer.
Yantzi : Warframe partner and Twitch KC Midwest Organizer, streamer.
ItsTaylorRenee1 : Humble Bundle partner, streamer, caster.
ATwistofLime : Twitch affiliate and community leader, streamer, caster.
ASideofLemon : Twitch affiliate, streamer, caster.
Twesticles : Caster and streamer.
X3Cody : KCGameOn Volunteer, streamer.
Prolikechro : High level Overwatch player, streamer.
As with any growing community event, the support of sponsors is critical. KCGameOn events are supported by several companies along with the KC community, local food outlets, and even official company stores like Microsoft setting up within the events. Be sure to check out the sponsors below as without them, these events simply wouldn’t be possible!
Swappa.com. Swappa is a peer-to-peer marketplace that began with electronics in 2010. They’ve recently expanded, allowing the sale/purchase of video games and as always, with no seller fees, they are aiming to create a fair trade market for the gaming community.
Ptbbc.org. Play to Beat Brain Cancer is a non-profit organization helping people with medical payments relating to brain cancer for patients that may not be able to afford treatment on their own. Their focus is table top gaming and I encourage you to swing by their site or find them on Twitch at https://www.twitch.tv/playtobeat_bc
PixioGaming.com. Pixio was founded in 2016 by gamers looking to provide high quality gaming monitors at affordable prices by selling directly to consumers. Their screens have become beloved across the community so if you’re looking for a new screen, be sure to factor them into your research.
Madrinascoffee.com. Madrinas Coffee promotes #coffee4fuel and positive vibes through badass fair trade, specialty coffee. They sell Fair Trade Iced Coffees and Fair Trade Organic Cold Brew Coffees – both brewed with specialty coffee sourced from high altitude growing zones in Colombia and Mexico.