Super League Gaming uses excess movie theater capacity to build community among gamers
By Michael Aushenker
Some 50 excited kids filled a movie theater at the brand new Cinemark Playa Vista multiplex on June 15 — bouncing, cheering, and ooing and aahing at the silver screen. But they weren’t watching “Jurassic World” or “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”
Instead, they were taking part in the onscreen narrative: entering the realms of Nether and the End; battling all varieties of Ender Dragons, creepers and zombies. These kids were competing against each other in a multiplayer game of Minecraft.
Welcome to the world of Super League Gaming, where kids game together 100 minutes at a time.
“It couldn’t have been any better,” co-founder Brett Morris said of Super League Gaming’s inaugural event.
The fun continues Tuesday at the AMC Dine-In Theatres 6 in Marina del Rey.
Morris and his partners, Chief Technology Officer David Steigelfest and Chief Visionary Officer John Miller, have a big summer ahead. Super League Gaming is in the midst of hosting one-off gaming events at 87 theaters in 23 cities across the country. Recent stops have included the Bay Area, New York, Miami and Atlanta.
“We’re going from city to city. The purpose it to get people to experience it for the first time,” Morris said.
Over the past six months, Morris was “kicking tires” for the launch of his entrepreneurial endeavor.
Now commuting to a Santa Monica office from his home in Pacific Palisades, Morris left billionaire Mark Cuban’s fold last month after nearly five years of employment with Cuban’s Landmark Theatres chain.
It was while working for Cuban that Morris developed the Super League Gaming concept and researched the logistics of having movie theater chains host alternative entertainment events during what are traditionally sluggish times of the movie calendar — after-school hours Mondays through Thursdays.
“That’s where the genesis of doing it in a theater comes from. I understood the relationship with the theaters,” said Morris, who has partnered with the nation’s three biggest theater chains — Regal, AMC and Cinemark, which represent 40 percent of the screens in North America. “All three are our partners and committed to it long-term.”
Movie theater chains have been facing a hard reality that fewer and fewer young people are spending money to watch films on the big screen.
“They’re going home and playing games and not going to movies,” Morris said. “Now we’re getting a generation to consider the movie theater as an entertainment option.”
The hope is that movie theaters who partner with Super League Gaming will see attendance increase at typically weak times.
Morris and his partners are all Santa Monica- and Pacific Palisades-area fathers.
“We’re all dads of gamers,” said Morris, who has two girls: Carter, 13, and A.J., 8. His daughters enjoy Minecraft (which appeals to ages 7 to 15), Wii sports games, and Mario Brothers the most.
“We have kids who love to game,” Morris said. “So we began asking ourselves: How do we create, for a community of gamers, a place to go to like a soccer or baseball field? How can we create that same environment?”
The normal after-school scenario, Morris explained, sees a kid coming home and watching an hour of YouTube, then playing an hour of video games.
“Now we have an environment where they can game together,” he said.
Seven members of the Super League Gaming team — from technology specialists to brand ambassadors — oversee each event. Parents, who do not pay to be there, can be present, and Morris finds that they are coming to Super League Gaming events like soccer moms and dads to sports outings.
“We now have the Minecraft mom and Minecraft dad coaching them,” Morris said, chuckling.
Minecraft is not the only game in Morris’ crosshairs. League of Legends and Clash of Clans also translate well for ages 7 to 70, and Morris says he is “in serious talks with all of the game developers” to partner up as well.
Come September, Super League Gaming starts six-week gaming camp sessions for $120 in L.A. and other cities nationwide.
For now, Morris looks forward to spending his summer as an entrepreneur traveling from burg to burg, like a digital Pied Piper, bringing gaming to the kiddie masses.
“It’s a terrific opportunity in the Mark Cuban mindset of doing something different and groundbreaking,” Morris said.
Super League Gaming’s next event happens at 4 p.m. Tuesday at AMC Dine-In Theatres 6, 13455 Maxella Ave., Marina del Rey. Participants pay $20; parents enter free. Buy tickets at superleague.com.