By Kobe Baker | Guest Contributor
On any given Friday night, the cheers of patrons playing the latest video game can be heard at Nexus Esports. Located at 600 Columbus Ave., the video game sports center is a place where gamers can get together to watch tournaments, play cards, order food and play with all types of consoles, ranging from PCs to VR.
Zach Krizan, owner of Nexus, said the center struggled after having to close due to the pandemic, especially because the business is heavily reliant on group events like tournaments and parties.
While most potential customers remained at home during the pandemic, Krizan said a major reason that Nexus survived was because of its sandwich shop, Save Point, which allowed them to remain open as a restaurant.
“Especially during COVID, that was what kept us afloat,” Krizan said. “Without it, we would have been gone.”
John Solis, manager of Nexus, said Nexus and Save Point nurtured a relationship with the nearby McLennan County Courthouse by serving samples of its product, which resulted in courthouse employees beginning to frequent it for lunch.
“It started off with maybe three guys every day,” Solis said. “Then five to 10, until I said that we need to open up all the way.”
With Save Point as the saving grace of the business, Nexus was able to reopen as an esports center again after pandemic restrictions were lifted. Solis said the business began to look more toward its video game tournament business.
Krizan said Nexus has recently started holding more large-scale tournaments again, with large cash prizes attracting competitors from outside of Waco.
“Waco is so centrally located that people from Dallas and Austin will come down,” Krizan said about a larger tournament’s reach. “Anyone around a two-hour radius will usually come down if we have a big enough prize pool.”
When it came to organizing the tournaments, Krizan said he handed off that responsibility to Mark Ochoa, the tournament organizer at Nexus.
Krizan said Ochoa created Nexus’ largest event, Heartbeat, which was a tournament for the video game Super Smash Brothers.
Krizan said Heartbeat brought in about 175 people from around Central Texas and was their biggest turnout since the business reopened.
Given the plentiful attendees, Krizan said he hopes to run the event quarterly, with other video game tournaments filling in the gaps in the establishment’s event schedule.
Solis said large tournaments that incentivize competitors to travel are costly, with prize pools often having to come out of the business’ cash flow.
As competitor numbers continue to grow, Krizan said Nexus is working to create an event calendar to give them easier access to information about each tournament.
Krizan said he hopes to sell space to vendors at each tournament, having them sell products ranging from trading cards to apparel to computer parts.
Michael Vermette, the lead of gaming at Nexus, said he works as a connection between Nexus and its community of tournament competitors.
“I really want the community to step up,” Vermette said. “I want them to tell me what they want me to do for them.”
Vermette said Nexus hopes to be more self-reliant when it comes to running tournaments and creating content on social media that will give the business a larger presence.
Samuel Hobbs, president of the Baylor Video Games Club, said that he has had fun at tournaments at Nexus and that his experience with the center has been positive.
“[The] people who show up are nice,” Hobbs said. “It’s great to have that kind of atmosphere.”
Hobbs said that tournaments like Heartbeat are a large motivator for his continued patronage of Nexus and that Nexus is a great place to gather and share in a common interest. Hobbs said he understands why people travel from outside of Waco to come to Nexus tournaments.
On the other hand, Ashton Damrel, a software engineer who moved back to Waco, said Nexus provided little that could truly compare to the convenience and comfort he had at home.
“You could play at home with your better setup and food, or you could play at Nexus where it’s really loud,” Damrel said.
Consequently, Damrel said he hopes Nexus would offer more events that would compel him to visit more often.
Krizan said what makes Nexus rival any experience a customer could have at home is that it is an environment to play and train in video games with a monthly membership fee as the only cost; access to a large variety of games and equipment is included in that cost.
“We want them to practice and get better here,” Krizan said. “And they’re not going to be incentivized to do that if you charge them every hour.”
This model is different compared to the model of other gaming centers, as many do charge per hour of gaming. Krizan said he wanted the model to be more like an “esports gym.”
Solis said he was excited about Nexus’ growth over the past year, with hopes that the success will continue in the future.
“We’re really gonna hit it hard in 2022,” Solis said. “We’re hoping everything stays fully open and we can continue with our business plan.”
As business continues to grow for Nexus, Krizan said he is interested in expanding his video game business to include more locations.
“With time I think you will see some more Nexuses,” Krizan said. “That’s something we’re very interested in.”