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Bloomington Parks and Rec levels up with Esports

Kids and teens are being given new opportunities with the inclusion of Esports in the city's Parks and Recreation programs.

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — Sometimes a child's passion isn't found on the gridiron or the soccer field. Instead, it's inside a virtual battleground. That's why the City of Bloomington leveled up and added Esports to its Parks and Recreation programs.

With the pandemic came the dawn of this new era. Funding from the Hennepin County CARES Act in 2020 helped fund Project P.L.A.Y. and its two dozen new opportunities.

"One of the opportunities that we had was to connect with Esports and be able to offer that, and that's something we've never done before," said Alison Warren, Recreation Manager for the City of Bloomington.

Parks and Rec teamed up with Minnesota Esports Club on a quest to open up a new virtual world to local kids. In addition to learning how to hold their own in a battle, Executive Director Peter Young says young gamers develop discipline and social skills.

"These people step up to become leaders and really just be a part of their community. I have seen kids go from not even thinking about college to getting full ride scholarships to Bethany Lutheran College," said Young. "I think Esports, in general, provides an opportunity in ways for people to really open up doors that they never thought were possible."

The future is bright and potentially lucrative. Evyn Hubbard, the Recreation Manager for the City of Bloomington, pointed to the popularity of streaming platforms like Twitch and the money they can generate. Plus, there are the tournaments. "You're looking at a prize payout of $40 million. That's some serious scratch."

More importantly, Hubbard explained, "[Esports] provide those outlets for everyone: [a] safe social space, financial, creative, an escape, it does all of those things, it checks all of the boxes."

It all has to start somewhere. Someone needs to help develop those skills. That's where Project P.L.A.Y. and Minnesota Esports Club come into play.

"It's just natural that we should be you know helping out and supporting that from a Parks and Recs standpoint," said Hubbard.

Warren agreed. "In Bloomington, our goal is to be inclusive of everyone. Not everyone is super interested in basketball, soccer, football, your traditional sports. So we want to make sure we have something for everyone."