WICHITA FALLS (KFDX/KJTL) — Esports continue to grow in popularity across the world, and Wichita Falls has seen a massive boom in the online gaming industry in recent years.

Since 2019, several gaming lounges have opened in Wichita Falls, including one inside Legacy Hall at Midwestern State University and one inside Sikes Senter Mall. Additionally, MSU has started its own esports team, as have several area high schools.

Now, a local family health and wellness facility is throwing its hat in the digital ring.

The Downtown branch of the Wichita Falls YMCA held a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Thursday morning, December 15, 2022, for their new esports lounge, set to open in January 2023. It’s one of the many recent renovations to the YMCA facilities in Wichita Falls.

“It’s been about a year now,” AJ Hernandez, President and CEO of YMCA Wichita Falls said. “We renovated our Bill Bartley YMCA, and finished it [at] the end of 2021.”

Now, Hernandez said it’s the Downtown Branch’s turn. Founded in 1941, the YMCA’s location on 9th Street has now stood for over 80 years, and it’s always been Hernandez’s vision to have a modern business in this historic building.

“We updated our wellness and cardio equipment,” Hernandez said. “We added a HIT room, so high-intensity interval training room, we added the Tiny Town for the younger kids.”

Perhaps no renovation is as exciting as the state-of-the-art esports and gaming lounge features 23 gaming stations and a closed high-speed fiber gaming network. And it’s in the heart of downtown Wichita Falls.

“I’ve heard multiple times from folks in Wichita Falls, ‘You have to go to the Metroplex to get something of grandeur and high quality, right, experience'”, Hernandez said. “That’s not true. We can offer it here, and people in this community deserve it.”

Nothing like this gaming lounge can be found anywhere else, and it’s coming to the YMCA Downtown Branch at the perfect time.

“Esports is blowing up,” Hernandez said. You have college scholarships now you’re getting. You have high schools that are sanctioning esports into actual sports now moving forward in Texas. We needed to have a place for them to go and to experience that, and why shouldn’t the Y be the place that does that?”

The new gaming lounge boasts ten gaming PCs, four PlayStation 5s, four Xbox Ones, two virtual reality gaming stations, and three large multi-player screens. It has the most individual gaming stations of any gaming lounge in Texas.

“With the size of this esports lounge, we plan to host tournaments, we’re going to host an esports league,” Hernandez said. “We want it to be competitive, but we want it to be fun and we want it to be safe so that a kid of any age can come here and feel comfortable in this environment.”

With online gaming comes the potential for bullying, profanity, violence on screens, and hackers obtaining personal information. However, the YMCA has several safeguards in place to protect the kids who game in the new lounge.

“One, we have a staff here at all times,” Hernandez said. “So it’ll be a controlled, safe environment because there’s staff in here that can monitor the play, right? Two, we have a controlled network that the YMCA plays through, so these kids will be playing with other kids from other YMCAs around the country.”

Hernandez said that’s not where it stops, though. They’ve also committed to keeping the lounge free from excessively violent games. While first-person shooter games like Fortnite and Apex Legends will still be played, over-the-top violent games will not.

Perhaps a more encouraging piece of information for parents who decide to bring their children to the gaming lounge in the future is a partnership Hernandez said the YMCA is entering with MSU Texas and local high schools.

In other words, kids aren’t only going to find fun, competition, safety, and entertainment. They may just find a mentor.

“We’re gonna partner with MSU and some high schools to be able to have them be the coaches for these kids,” Hernandez said. “Everybody’s coming from different avenues, right, of gameplay, and recognize that they’re all coming from different levels of play, so we’re gonna offer it for everybody.”

When the YMCAs new esports lounge opens in just a few short months, it promises to be a place to play with the potential to make a lasting impact on children in our community.

About the YMCA Wichita Falls Downtown Branch

The Downtown Branch of the Wichita Falls YMCA is located at 1010 9th Street, at the intersection of Austin Street, in downtown Wichita Falls.

Hours of operation are Monday thru Friday from 5 a.m. until 9 p.m., and Saturday from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m.

You can sign up to become a member of the YMCA online. For more information on the Downtown YMCA, call (940) 322-7816 or visit their Facebook page.