FRANKLIN, Tenn. (WTVF) — His reflexes are so quick, you can tell that Louis Tole spends a lot of time in front of a keyboard. "I have an Xbox at home, yea I play a lot of Apex," said Tole.
But Louis isn't playing at home, at least not on this day. He's one of dozens that have a membership at Belong Gaming Arena, the newest in-person hub for video games in our area.
I know what you're thinking — if you could play at home, then why pay to play in person? "Why would you choose to pay for a ticket to go watch a football game? Or why is it important to come together for Thanksgiving dinners? Right? It’s about that in person camaraderie," said Jonathan Miller, Arena Manager at Belong.
Belong boasts 63 gaming stations, that includes PCs, PlayStation and XBox consoles. Franklin is the company's fourth North American location, but they have ambitious plans to add up to 100 arenas in the next two years. Potentially even more after that. "Expect to see the name Belong a lot more frequently," said Miller.
That's because the company wants their hands on the controls during this meteoric rise of esports. "We’re noticing parents, educators, everybody really giving esports and competitive gaming a real look," said Miller.
Of course, video games aren't anything new, but playing them for college tuition money certainly is. Currently 175 universities offer varsity teams or scholarship money for outstanding players.
East Tennessee State University is one of a few schools in the Volunteer State that offers esports scholarships -- and that's only expected to grow.
After graduation, those can turn into careers. Just ask Jonathan, who went pro playing Halo. "Got to spend my playing career, and after I played, did some broadcasting. From broadcasting to player recruitment and marketing and all kinds of fun options within the space. For the past decade, I’ve held almost every position you can think of and that’s brought me here," he said.
Much like young sports leagues, youth gaming leagues are also on the rise, which is where Belong fits back in. Their space allows for everything from big tournaments to gamers like Louis, who enjoys giving his dose of trash talk in person.
"Oh yea, you can get a little nasty with it, talk bad to a couple people but at the end of the day, it’s all about fun and games, it doesn’t get too serious," said Tole.
To learn more about Belong Gaming Arena in Franklin, click here for their website.