COVID-19 was something no one anticipated. Many intelligent entrepreneurs were talking about the next crash and recession and how they were preparing for it. They nor I expected the economy to be completely shut down. My name is Caleb Smith and this is my experience starting a business with a physical location in the worst economic time since the Great Depression.

In July 2018 I met someone who first introduced the esports industry to be. I had heard of esports and saw it on TV once. I honestly thought it was like chess. People play it and the best in the world make money. He told me about Twitch. I looked at it and said “this is JUST people playing video games.” In August 2018 I was sitting in my apartment in Germany (I played soccer there for three years). I was following Gary Vee closely at the time and he said he was getting a Twitch. Because he said that I went online and took a deeper look at the app and came across Tyler “Ninja” Blevins who was named Times Magazine’s top 100 most influential people of 2018. I immediately fell in love with Twitch and watching others game. I continued to do more research on the industry and saw how big it was in Korea and I knew that the Most High presented to me a golden opportunity. I had to get into the industry and I knew I didn’t have much time.

I made sure to be very cautious due to the fact that while esports has grown, most companies weren’t making money. Then finally in January 2019 I discovered the franchise Contender Esports. They were brand new and they build esports gaming centers. My dad and I purchased the rights to build out the Cary location. Fast forward to signing a lease in August 2019. We then came to find out that another business was in our unit in the shopping center which we were not made aware of previously. That caused us to be set back from when we thought we were going to be able to open. Then there were delays in construction in January 2020 and in March 2020… the world stopped. Due to COVID rules, construction had been held up and in April 2020 the space was delivered to us. July 2020 internet was to be installed only to have found out that the company didn’t make any progress for the past 120 days. Thankfully our friends at the Greater Raleigh Esports Local Organizing Committee (GRELOC) introduced us to Celito who installed our internet in a fast and efficient manner. Corporate came to Cary, did their work, trained our staff, and we were all set to open.
The first thing I did once the shutdown hit was I read two of my favorite books: Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki and The10X Rule by Grant Cardone. Lessons learned during that time were to always ask how I could do something, level up the amount of action I am taking, and most importantly be omnipresent. Throughout all of this I learned a lot and it prepared me for other hardships. The most challenging part of it all was that it was almost impossible to do any in person marketing due to the shut down. Because of the shutdown, that resulted in PlayThrough, East Coast Game Conference, and GalaxyCon all being cancelled. This forced me to be creative and rely on social media. In February I began working with Justin Mitchiner who runs Tech Spartan. Tech Spartan is a phenomenal social media advertising and content creation company. It also helped that Justin is a gamer himself. We hammered social media and produced content like we were a media company. This resulted in us finding a great staff of high quality gamers. We continued to plan, promote, create content, and do anything else to promote our company and grow the brand. During this time we added on a Youth Academy and coaching program as well as we have goals for creating track out camps and offering career pathways.

Currently it is November 2020. I am learning the struggles of a brick and mortar business. It is forcing me to think of ways to generate income, get the word out, and motivate my staff. We have learned a lot in the past couple weeks and will continue to learn and grow. I now understand I am in the business of educating people. 90% of people are not aware of what a gaming center is (modern day arcade) and what games we offer. Most parents are not aware of how popular esports is, that colleges are offering scholarships to play esports, colleges are starting to have esports majors, esports career paths are rapidly growing, esports is currently one of the fastest growing industries, young people can make money playing esports which does not prohibit them from being on a collegiate esports team (unlike traditional NCAA sports), and players can make money playing esports while participating on their collegiate esports team (again unlike traditional NCAA sports). It is completely a word of mouth business and takes a lot of energy and effort to get people in the doors. With all that being said I love a challenge and wouldn’t want it to have been any different. Contender Esports is located in Waverly Place shopping center at 316 Colonades Way 108C Cary, NC 27518. My instagram and twitter handle is @GeneralCVS and the business is @ContenderCary. I can be reached at