Based in the Hot Springs Esports Center on Albert Pike Road, the Arkansas Blackbears will compete across multiple different games for money.
“The team is brand new to Hot Springs,” Hot Springs Esports Center general manager Spencer Haney said. “It’s a professional gaming base that we’re trying to bring local to Arkansas both for the youth and the older and pretty much any aspiring professional gamer to have a platform to basically segue into their dream job, professional gaming (and) being able to compete in online tournaments and find connections in the esports world.”
Within the last two weeks, the Blackbears filed for an LLC. Setting up as a professional team, the Blackbears have their own jerseys and plan to start competing in single day tournaments first.
“A hundred percent they’re going to play for prize money,” Haney said. “To cover the cost, there will be a 30% split toward the Blackbears as a business. Then, 70% of that is going to be divvied up between the team and any people who participated in the event.”
The center’s owner, Allen Kennemur, decided to start the Blackbears for his son.
“He’s doing this for his son,” Haney said. “His son loves to game. He always wanted to be a professional gamer and make his living doing that. One of the things that he wanted to give his son is a life in gaming, in that world, so that he can go get acquainted with what he wants to do the rest of his life.”
Since the team will compete across multiple different titles, there will be multiple coaches on the team. Also, there is no age minimum or maximum set. Potential team members can apply to join the squad on the center’s website.
“There will be a tryout process,” Haney said. “Right now we want a team. We want to start, basically want to set our roots in and see which ones are the strongest and work our way from there.”
The Blackbears plan to start out with teams in Fortnite, Call of Duty and Apex Legends, but the team will eventually dive into games like League of Legends and other strategy-based titles.
“There’s going to be a lot of them,” Haney said. “We haven’t really set how many different teams because we don’t plan on stopping the growth.”
The teams will have set practice times at the center using high tech equipment.
“Our computers can run at 180 to 200 frames plus,” Haney said. “With the Alienware PCs, we definitely have a competitive edge. We have all the first person shooters you need. We have streaming equipment. We’ll be renting the space out to the Arkansas Blackbears as a separate entity.”
While the center will be home to the Blackbears, the esports center is also a place for any type of gamer in Hot Springs. The venue offers different memberships and rates for those who want to come in and play.
With a wide variety of both multiplayer and single player games, there’s a spot for everyone. Gamers can even load money onto their account and order drinks or snacks to their station as they play.
While the center itself has been open since January 2020, the Blackbears are just getting started. The pandemic actually helped the team slow down and really plan what the structure needed to be for the Blackbears.
Haney said the team expects to have 300% growth every month, and the Blackbears plan to stream, which will lead to more exposure.
“I’m hoping we’re going to kind of be a staple point for esports in Hot Springs,” Haney said. “We’re going to bring it and allow a market that was once sparse to grow into something that’s a little bit more of a household item. I think right now, where a lot of people don’t know about esports or what it is, we’ll definitely be a household name here soon.”
Spencer Haney, general manager, stands at one of the many computer stations at the Hot Springs Esports Center. – Photo by Krishnan Collins of The Sentinel-Record