JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – Johnstown was different on Friday.
Hundreds of people attended a Johnstown Mill Rats game where Major League All-Star and former Pittsburgh Pirate Jason Grilli threw out the ceremonial first pitch and met with fans.
Meanwhile, music thumped at People’s Natural Gas Park just a short walk from Sargent’s Stadium at the Point across the Clara Barton Memorial Bridge.
There, a few hundred 20-somethings ate, drank and many played beer pong. The DJ was Rammor, a renowned artist on digital streaming platforms. He traveled from Germany to play in Johnstown.
Earlier in the day, at the Frank J. Pasquerilla Conference Center, vendors and gamers gathered around Dungeons and Dragons and shared love of tabletop and role-playing games.
And the party continues today and Sunday as the inagural TEC Con continues. It is the first of many such events that The Esport Company (TEC) plans to host.
“This is a big moment,” Corrine Hill, 20, of Sidman, said at People’s Natural Gas Park. She and many others who wouldn’t normally converge on Johnstown’s downtown had a reason to visit on Friday.
Tyler Custer, 22, of Berlin, agreed it was a big change from entertainment that’s usually available in Johnstown.
“It’s a good night for a summer party.”
Word spread to people through social media, he said.
Custer added that he didn’t know at first that the concert had anything to do with esports – a growing industry for competitive video gaming.
The Esport Company has been growing for years in Johnstown and is now headquartered at 217 Franklin St., employs 10 people and operates esports leagues in schools across the region.
The company has grown and attracted substantial investors, which has enabled TEC Con to happen, said The Esports Company founder Seth Mason.
Mason, 23, said he was pleased with the turnout for the first night of the convention, which concludes Sunday with a combine for esports competitors.
“This is about exposure of new ideas and new things in Johnstown,” Mason said. “We are giving younger people things to do.”
Esports is about education as well as entertainment, he said. That’s what has attracted people including Mike Beebe, of Rochester, NY
Beebe is an adviser for the company. He was in attendance with Grilli at the Mill Rats game.
Beebe said he and Grilli wanted to build arenas for esports competition, but then they stumbled upon Mason’s company and wanted to team up with him. Grilli contacted Mason and the relationship grew.
“Jason and I were going to build esports arenas, but then we found little ole Seth in Johnstown,” Beebe said. We found him on Facebook. We realized building arenas isn’t the important thing, it’s being with the players of esports.”
Beebe said Johnstown is becoming a destination for esports and a model for the industry.
“Nobody is doing what Seth is doing in Johnstown,” he said.
Grilli said as a baseball player, he enjoyed helping kids. He said competitive video gaming is a positive outlet for young people of all talents and abilities. and he noticed the growing popularity of esports, even among his teammates.
“I met Seth via Facebook Messenger … learned he wanted to change some things going on around here – or not going on around here – so I reached out to him and said if there’s anything I can do, let me know, I’ m in Pittsburgh,” Grilli said.
“I noticing the trends of my own teammates migrating to video games as a way to keep their competitive edge,” he said.
“And it being in high schools with the educational aspect, it all kind of fit together for me.”