AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Stilwell family isn’t playing games with their new business in north Austin.

Chances are most, if not all of us, who are staying home more during the COVID-19 outbreak, have picked up some type of new hobby during quarantine and lockdown.

One hobby that has gained serious traction due to us being hermits in our homes is video games and esports. A Nielsen study concluded 29% of US gamers say they’re playing online with friends more often, including an increase in sales. The industry is also boasting higher payouts for competition while catching the eyes of schools as new career path opportunities to teach and promote.

(KXAN Photo/Todd Bailey)

And the Stilwell family took notice. They used their shelter-time to build a business around the buzz.

“The esports industry is growing,” owner Connor Stilwell said. His dad Jeff gave him the reigns to The eSports Cave operation located at 10700 Anderson Mill Road.

“It is almost a billion-dollar industry for just some of the top competitions. There is a massive opportunity for people to have real cash prizes, to have real endorsements,” Connor said.

The family’s ultimate goal is to unite gamers and fill a gap.

“This is the next step,” Connor said. “We wanted to have a place where people can come together as a community and play games — a place where people can compete, maybe not at the top level but a mid-level where you’re not competing in your bedroom. You’re competing with people, and interacting with people.”

The set-up inside is impressive. They have everything from a 6v6 stage, production-quality lights, and stations of multiple seats for more teams of six. They also have enough space if you’re not into tournament-style of play. Other areas include a streaming room with green screen, casual playing booths as well as a sectioned-off party room for birthdays.

(KXAN Photo/Todd Bailey)

As a gamer himself, Connor built a space he always dreamed of having.

“These passed the Connor-test before I ever put anything in here.”

But there’s a deeper meaning to it all.

“There’s two things I find important: One is obviously the companionship. My favorite moments have been when I found a friend along the way. However, I do love getting into a game and giving it my all and knowing that I left nothing on the table and did everything that I could for that match.”

Esports are increasingly on the “upswing,” Connor said. Almost to the point where they’re on the same playing level, and this gives cause for his family to see it being something that’ll stick around for a while and provide opportunities for folks who might not be as inclined to play physical sports.

I did marching band and that was part of a team, and you learn a lot of life lessons from that. Now people might not all have the physique to compete in sports and do some of these things, but what they can do is play video games and they’re on fairly equal footing with everyone else that they’re playing against. We think that games can facilitate life change. There’s a lot of games that teach life lessons by leading a team. You can learn a lot from these stories that [game developers] are telling. These stories have been used to relay information, to relay topics that haven’t really been able to be discussed well in other types of media.

Connor said.
(KXAN Photo/Todd Bailey)

Social distancing and COVID-19 are not lost on the family though. All staff will wear masks and they request guests to wear them too. Also, Connor said, “To make people comfortable, we’re always planning on wiping down the stations after every use. We’re also following the CDC guidelines for spacing out. We have the space to have quite a few people in here, and still be isolated to be responsible.”

The family officially opened on Monday, June 1. They charge hourly but also offer day passes at a cheaper overall price. You can visit their website to check out their list of games, to schedule an event or join a tournament and more. (Disclaimer: All people pictured without masks were part of private groups).