JOSH HAFKIN KNOWS WHAT it means
to be competitive. A top-ranked swimmer
at Georgetown Prep and the University of
North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he competed in the 2012 Olympic trials.
Exhausted after swim practices, he
and his teammates would play “esports,”
a form of competition using video
games, often with multiple players on
teams. Growing up in Potomac, Hafkin
loved playing with a Game Boy and his
older brother’s Game Gear. But unlike in
swimming, there was no infrastructure to
support kids who excelled at video games.
He wondered why not, and whether
he could be the one to create it.
So in May, Hafkin, 30, left his job at
video game publisher Bethesda Soft-works to open The Game Gym, the
region’s first esports training center.
The windowless room of The Game
Gym at the Cabin John Shopping Center
in Potomac is bright, with multicolor decorations on the walls and a music and art
corner. There are couches and screens,
and a private room with rows of computers. One set of couches is reserved for
parents to use while the kids take lessons
with one of the six staff members.
The gym’s membership rate of $150
per month includes time for free play
and two group lessons a week. The Game
Gym is designed for kids ages 10-18.
“I want parents to know what their
kids are playing, and who they are playing with,” Hafkin says. “We had to take
this out of the basements,” he says, where
kids often play games by themselves.
At 6 p.m. on a Tuesday in July, Chris
Cardno, 43, sits in the parents area as his
12-year-old son, Allan, gets a 90-minute
lesson on the computer game League of
Legends, the most popular game for The
Game Gym coaching. Cardno, a television producer who lives in Potomac,
remembers playing video games with his
friends—including Double Dragon and
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles—while
growing up in the U.K.
“These were all two-, three-, or four-player games,” he says. “You got together
at someone’s house or an arcade to play.”
He and his wife came up with a rule
for Allan: no first-person shooter games,
such as Call of Duty. “We wanted him
to have a character to associate with,”
And since Allan, a seventh-grader
A PLACE TO PLAY
at Cabin John Middle School, has been
coming to The Game Gym, he’s talked
nonstop about the different characters
and strategies of League of Legends.
“There is a depth to the game that has
sucked him in,” Cardno says.
Maya Kushner, The Game Gym’s
chief operating officer and an attorney in the District, says places like The
Game Gym will encourage kids to see
the positive side of the gaming culture,
with its strategies, intricacies and community. Contrary to stereotypes about
gaming being an isolating endeavor,
At The Game Gym in Potomac—the region’s
first “esports” training center—kids are
learning the ins and outs of video games
BY REBECCA GALE
Potomac native Josh Hafkin (wearing
a tan hat) left his job at a video game
publisher in May to open The Game
Gym in Cabin John Shopping Center. His
favorite game is Super Smash Bros.