Editor’s Note: The web version of this story contains added content that did not appear in the April 1 print edition.
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Local youths have a new opportunity — or perhaps a twist on an old hobby — they can plug into during spring vacation.
Affinity Esports (electronic sports) founder Mark Kilpatrick is on a mission to create safe spaces for happier and healthier gamers, and is hosting spring break camps at his 27 Glen Road establishment in partnership with Newtown Parks and Recreation.
“I’m really excited about the program. I think once it catches on it’s really going to blossom,” said Assistant Director of Recreation RoseAnn Reggiano, adding that it is geared toward middle school and high school children who are often looking for things to do during their free time.
The recreational clinics cover basic to advanced game play while placing children in a social environment that requires teamwork, critical thinking, quick decision making, and leadership, according to Kilpatrick, whose Esports camps will run April 11-15.
Kilpatrick’s background and experience, that has guided this initiative, includes years of counseling and coaching at Northwest Soccer Camp, coaching with the American Youth Soccer Organization, time as a collegiate ambassador, and resident assistant.
He is a lifelong gamer and advocate of the benefits that healthy gaming can deliver. He will have expert coaches and recreational supervisors from high school and college programs who will help with developing game fundamentals.
“Affinity Esports is looking to work with local institutions like Post University, Fairfield University, and University of New Haven to bring coaches, programming, and more access to collegiate opportunities within Esports to our members,” Kilpatrick added.
Newtown’s Dan Coonan, commissioner and CEO of the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC), said the conference has been on board with esports for the past handful of years and that Affinity Sports is filling a need.
“The ECAC, which has been around for 85 years as an intercollegiate athletics conference for traditional sports, decided to dive into esports as well four years ago and we haven’t looked back. We now have 130 colleges and universities as member of ECAC Esports, fielding 800 teams in 14 different esports titles, with more than 4,000 total competitors. And our esports footprint is now nation-wide. We expect to continue our exponential growth in this space for the foreseeable future,” Coonan said.
“Our colleges and universities see so many advantages in having esports teams. The experience for the gamers teaches so many of the valuable lessons that students get from being a part of a team in traditional sports. Additionally, for many of these schools it has boosted enrollment in an otherwise challenging time, and attracts the type of STEM students many of these schools covet. Many of the schools are also adding academic programing in esports to train students to join this burgeoning industry,” Coonan added.
Coonan noted that Affinity Sports provides a great opportunity for people in the area.
“Mark and Affinity Esports are filling an important need in the esports echosystem. I like their approach, and admire their desire to bring organization to youth esports in the area and prepare young people for the possibilities that might await in college and beyond for those who want to become gamers either as a hobby or as a vocation. I think he’ll be very successful in that endeavor, and our local parents and young people will be very well served by his efforts,” Coonan said.
There will be an Esports Spring Break Camp through Rocket League, a 3 versus 3 fantastical sport-based game, developed by Psyonix, described as “soccer with cars.” It features a competitive game mode based on teamwork and outmaneuvering opponents.
Players work with their team to advance the ball down the field and score goals in their opponent’s net.
Additionally, there will be an Esports Spring Break Camp through League of Legends, a 5 versus 5 team-based strategy game developed by Riot Games. Two teams of five powerful champions face off to overcome the other’s base.
Choose from over 140 champions to make epic plays, secure eliminations, and take down towers as you battle your way to victory.
Here are a few other points from Mark Kilpatrick:
Q: How does esports gaming differ from other gaming/ what makes it unique?
A: Esports is really best defined as “organized competitive gaming.” There are many parallels between esports and traditional sports in terms of practice regiments and routines, teamwork, and communication, and the actual competition against other teams and players. What makes it so unique within the broader world of gaming is how it opens players up to a team-based environment within a safe and structured environment that’s built for anyone and everyone. It takes schoolyard soccer or shooting hoops and adds coaches, curriculum, and a development-based mindset to help individuals and teams improve inside and outside of the game while defining healthy habits for their life.
Q: How do players interact and what are the benefits of esports gaming?
A: For me the benefits of having programming like this and structured pathways into the world of esports are a big piece that’s missing within the local and national ecosystem. There have been huge strides in the professional and collegiate scene to open opportunities for themselves, but what is missing is a larger system for giving youth players the access, structure, and resources early enough that they need to prepare for the ‘next level.’ We are providing safe spaces for happier and healthier gaming by allowing local kids to join programs that interest them, play on amazing equipment, engage with other kids from surrounding communities, and gain exposure to collegiate players, coaches, and programs through the process. We are also implementing skills-based tracking to help kids and parents understand existing strengths, weaknesses, and pathways for improvement as an integrated part of all of our programs.
Q: How excited are you for the spring camps?
A: I am beyond stoked that we are within weeks and that the starting line is actually in sight. As I lead up to this as our launch event, I think back to my childhood and having an opportunity to pursue a passion for competitive gaming within an environment that my parents could support would have been a dream come true. That sits with me every single day as I prepare to provide the best possible opportunities for local kids and their families. I am living my dream in launching this organization and hope that through the work we do, kids and parents can also see their dreams realized through new perspectives and experiences with gaming and esports. I’ve found exactly what I should be doing and am extremely fortunate to be able to work within a community like Newtown and Sandy Hook as the launchpad to bring this dream to life.
Q: How does esports improve academic performance?
A: Anything structured and empowering for youth is going to have a direct impact on an individual working to become better. Or, at a minimum, it’s going to provide an additional perspective and opportunity for them to take advantage of that opportunity. The other aspect of this is that not every student learns in the same way. Game-based learning is a massive topic right now that many organizations are seeking to master. Pairing that with self and team evaluation and regular discussions with people in the program has the power to unlock skill sets they aren’t learning through traditional means. So while esports and organized competition has the ability to be an empowerment tool, it is an alternative mechanism for educating and developing soft skills that are so commonly sought after in today’s job market. Finally, the collegiate scene has seen an explosion with esports, with an overwhelming number of schools having club and varsity programs, scholarship money being allocated, and degrees in various parts of esports. All of this has the ability to spark a thought, dream, or future pathway that can accelerate a student academically.
Q: Can you comment on how your experience in soccer coaching ties in with gaming?
A: I grew up playing traditional sports (predominantly soccer) and competing from a very early age in local counter-strike tournaments. In the end, I did scale back on my competitive pursuits within gaming and was recruited to play soccer for Barry University in Miami Shores, Florida. Having had that experience within soccer, coaching youth camps and AYSO, it’s given me a strong foundation to bring this back into youth programming, club teams, and camps for esports. Surely the esports arena is a virtual one, but as someone who grew up in the early wave of esports and concurrently pursued collegiate soccer, I can tell you that the experience has strong parallels, and more importantly the passion is just as real.
Kilpatrick and his family moved to town in May of 2020, after nearly a decade living in New York City (Roosevelt Island).
“We are so thrilled that we have landed here and have fallen in love with the community. It’s a special place to live and for Emily (my wife) and I to raise our two little girls (Zoey, 2.5 years, and Lily, 4 months). Very excited for the future and continuing to grow ourselves as part of the community,” Kilpatrick said.
Affinity Esports will have eight weeks of after-school programming that begins mid-April and runs through mid-June (Monday through Wednesday, three sessions per day). And there will be five weeks of summer camps, also through Newtown Parks and Recreation.
Sports Editor Andy Hutchison can be reached at email@example.com.
Affinity Esports Founder Mark Kilpatrick is holding April vacation gaming camps for children ages 8 to 18, at his establishment at 27 Glen Road. —Bee Photo, Hutchison