Chicago Esports Spotlight: N1 Esports
Written By: Hauk Nelson
In Chicago Esports Profile, KemperLesnik interviews the founder of a Chicago-based esports startup. This issue features Ryan Kim, Founder and CEO of N1 Esports, a first of its kind esports gym located in Old Town at 415 W North Avenue. Learn more about why we think Chicago is the next big esports hub here.
Hi Ryan! Thanks for taking the time to chat with us today. Tell us more about N1 Esports.
Thanks for having me! Very excited to chat with you.
N1 Esports is a members-only youth esports gym and lounge. It’s a brand new concept that takes the best of traditional sports and applies it to the world of video games. Our gym provides the in-person training, league organization, life skills development, and social space to transform young gamers into esports athletes.
We have full seasons with weekly practices and matches led by our professional coaches. We integrate physical and mental wellness into all of our programs to promote a more balanced lifestyle. Our members can also take classes, take part in regular social events, and even learn to build PCs, all at our facility on North Ave.
Ultimately, we want to create a physical space dedicated to providing an incredible athletic experience and a place to belong.
We have classes for League of Legends and Fortnite available now. We are currently developing programs for Rocket League, Super Smash Ultimate, and a few others that will be released shortly. Our gaming lounge also provides access to most of the popular titles out there today.
What inspired you to come up with this idea? What pain point does your business solve?
The idea first came to me when I was talking to a friend of mine who is a high school math teacher. He told me that some of his students were taking online private lessons for gaming, which got me excited because it meant more parents were becoming supportive of gaming. I grew up as a gamer but my parents were always wary of the entire industry. As I dug deeper into esports, I realized that there was a huge gap for youth participation and I felt there was a lot we could try to empower kids through gaming.
I think N1 solves two major pain points. One, kids are limited in ways to participate in esports – usually playing online with friends in their rooms or joining online competitions. It’s also difficult to find in-person esports competitions that calibrate for different age groups and skill levels so participation is often limited to very top players. At our gym, kids get the opportunity to not only play their favorite games, but be with teammates and compete against their peers. Being on a team lets you be the hero of your own story. Also, you can’t digitally replicate getting high-fives or looking your rivals in the eye.
Two, parents are often left in the dark with video games. They know their children love it but there are a lot of concerns and questions. Watching your children lock themselves in their rooms all day can seem like a waste of time and not knowing who they interact with online can be scary. N1 Esports creates the complete athletic experience, transforming a hobby into a productive activity. Our gym is also a controlled environment supervised by professional coaches so parents know exactly who their kids are interacting with at all times. We encourage kids to regulate gaming habits to more efficiently reach objectives instead of mindlessly playing for hours on end. Basically, we serve as a bridge to the world of gaming for parents.
Would you mind sharing more about your background? What led you to esports and what kind of work were you doing previously?
I grew up in Northern Virginia and attended a science and tech high school. I graduated from Dartmouth College in 2014.
I was lucky to have parents who encouraged me to try everything, from learning to play the violin to painting watercolors. However, my first and greatest love was sports. I started with soccer but I dipped my toes in speed skating, tennis, hockey, football and even bowling. I loved getting up at 5 am to go to practices, gearing up games and talking about nonsense with my teammates. Sports taught me leadership, determination, and compassion. It also taught me how to deal with setbacks and how to cheer from the sidelines without giving up.
I was hooked on esports from the minute my cousin introduced me to Starcraft. To me, it was the same as any sport — you had to practice to get better, come prepared with strategy and ultimately play the opponent, not the game. However, I didn’t have the same support structure for esports that I had for other sports so it always remained a hobby. Now as an adult, it feels like I am getting a second chance to merge these two worlds together!
Before N1 Esports, I was a management consultant at Oliver Wyman. I started off in finance but ended up specializing in machine learning and data analytics. I had incredible mentors who empowered me to pursue my interests and I’m very grateful for all of the opportunities I had there.
How has it been working in the Chicago esports environment? How do you think it’s different than working in “esports hubs” such as Los Angeles or Dallas?
I am not very familiar with Los Angeles or Dallas but from the outside, I can tell there is a ton of energy and creativity packed into the hubs.
Chicago definitely doesn’t have as much of an esports presence yet but I believe the excitement and energy is the same. I think the lack of existing infrastructure or traditions encourages innovation and I see Chicago as a future leader in the space. I’ve also loved meeting industry professionals – the smaller scene certainly makes for a more intimate and supportive network.
Thank you to Ryan Kim for sharing his entrepreneurial story! For more information, you can visit N1 Esports at their website or at 415 W North Avenue! Be sure to support Chicago esports!