LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) — A career in the flashy, competitive and lucrative world of esports could begin in a space currently labeled “computer room” in a city-owned building in Lakeland.

“We’ve never seen it done here. We are excited about it. In fact, we are overly excited about it. We wish it was done already,” said the City of Lakeland’s recreation superintendent, Michael Marotz.

Marotz said it was his “crazy” idea to create an esports center inside the Coleman-Bush building.

It was an answer to a challenge set by the city manager to be “innovative.”

“We thought we hit a home run with this being pretty innovative. It’s new. It’s fresh and not a lot of people understand it. Parents at home are like, video games? But it’s more than video games,” said Marotz.

Source: City of Lakeland

It is more than video games—it’s esports, a multi-player competitive video gaming industry with an audience of hundreds of millions of people globally.

At the MIDFLORIDA Esports Center in Lakeland, there will be 20 work stations with computers for players and teams to play, practice and compete in esports.

MIDFLORIDA Credit Union donated nearly $75,000 towards the creation of the center.

“There’s no first person shooting games or any violent games or anything like that. We’re sticking with that. But we’re also looking at STEM programming. We’re looking at coding for classes, how to make a video game, data analytics and math and stats,” said Marotz.

The multibillion dollar industry offers not only career opportunities but college opportunities.

Some colleges are offering scholarships to esports players, including Florida Southern College in Lakeland.

“If you asked someone 6 years ago, they’d probably laugh at you at the opportunity to play video games in college because that was kind of the stereotype. But now it’s kind of – people go to college, they get scholarships for it and kind of turn it into a life,” said Brandon Parramore, director of esports at Florida Southern College.

Parramore will serve as an advisor to the team leading the MidFlorida Esports Center in Lakeland.

“There’s real money involved and not just real money from being that esports athlete. It’s a whole industry. We’re looking at a multi-billion dollar industry,” said Derek Lower, associate director for campus recreation at Florida Polytechnic University. “There’s the streaming aspect of it, audio engineers, visual engineers. It is a massive industry that takes a lot of people.”

Florida Polytechnic University has five award-winning esports teams.

“We compete in a few different titles: League of Legends, Overwatch, Valorant, is probably our current biggest one right now. Rainbow Six Siege as well and Rocket League,” said Lower.

Lower said interns from Florida Poly will be teaching classes and working with players at the MIDFLORIDA Esports Center.

“One of our program requirements here is that our students do get internships hopefully in their industry so this is an opportunity to get out into the Lakeland community that we’re part of,” he said.

The center is set to open by the new year. The use of the center will be on a scheduled basis.

The city is also working with the Florida Aerospace Museum to obtain two flight simulators.

“Anything we can do to catch the attention of the young kids, pre-teens, 12-16 year age group to get them off the street is definitely a good thing. I’m all for it,” said Terry Coney, president of the NAACP Lakeland chapter.