Birmingham startup opens Magic City ePLEX esports and virtual reality facility

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The exterior of the Magic City ePLEX virtual reality gaming facility in the Crestwood Festival Center in Birmingham near the Crestwood and Eastwood areas. The center, which was scheduled to open in November, is run by the startup Game On eSports.

Electronic sports, or esports — a form of competitive video gaming with multiple players — is a booming industry, according to numerous outlets., which provides games and esports market research, said in February the global esports market would exceed the billion-dollar mark in revenue — including media rights, advertising and sponsorship — for the first time in 2019.

The global esports audience will grow to 453.8 million worldwide in 2019, with digital and traditional TV broadcasters beginning to compete for esports content, according to the site.

And said, “Esports has burst into the mainstream,” citing superstar players, popular leagues, millions of dollars in prize money and tournaments that sell out stadiums.

Jack Etienne, owner of a highly-valued North American esports team, Cloud9, told that the world’s biggest esports leagues may someday rival the size and viewership of such traditional sports leagues as the NFL and NBA.

It is therefore no surprise that numerous entrepreneurs see a fertile market opportunity in the growing — and increasingly lucrative — realm of esports.

This includes a new startup in Birmingham called Game On eSports, which was scheduled to open a new 18,000-square-foot gaming and virtual reality (VR) facility called Magic City ePLEX in November at the Crestwood Festival Centre at 7001 Crestwood Blvd.

At Magic City ePLEX, participants can play, train and compete in competitive tournaments and leagues for players of all ages and skill levels.

The facility offers a training and coaching academy for player development, team practice and game reviews.

In addition, the ePLEX “also has plans to stream events and gameplay on Twitch and YouTube, giving players a chance at national or even global exposure,” said General Manager Rene Cain.

“There are so many gamers who never have a chance to showcase their talent and be proud of their achievements,” said Game On eSports co-founder Chris Donaldson.

Perhaps most important, the owners of the ePLEX promise a social experience.

“We don’t game alone,” the start-up’s mission statement said. “We believe that gaming together is more fun than gaming alone,” said Dan Pahos, a local investor and a Game On eSports co-founder. “The social aspect of gaming builds friendships, camaraderie and teamwork.”

The ePLEX is billed as a family-friendly, non-toxic gaming environment for all ages.

“Our goal for the ePlex is to provide a home base for local gamers of all ages and skill levels,” Donaldson said. “From ultra-competitive high school and college tournaments to laid-back weekly leagues and VR, the ePlex is a place for gamers to hangout, meetup and play. We aim to provide a non-toxic community experience where teamwork and a sense of family can develop.”

The backers of Magic City ePLEX hope their Birmingham location will not be their last, Pahos said.

There are five local investors who are self-funding the first location, he said.

“But if we can prove out the business model, we think it can grow to many other U.S. cities,” Pahos said.

The owners of the ePLEX certainly do not seem to be skimping on the operation’s tech side.

The facility will have the only purpose-built event stage for amateur esports in the Southeast. Twelve TVs and stadium seating will surround the stage to provide a comfortable viewing area.

The facility will include top-of-the-line HP Omen gaming PCs.

“We’ve built a relationship with Hewlett-Packard to build top-shelf HP Omen desktops for all of our gaming stations,” Pahos said. “These PCs utilize the latest graphics cards and low-latency monitors.”

Magic City ePLEX will offer the latest virtual-reality experiences from VR Studios in Seattle. The VR at the facility will feature wireless, free-roam headsets for up to four players and many experiential and educational programs, such as the “Pyramids of Egypt” or “Swimming with Whales.”

The VR at the facility will be a “one-of-a-kind experience new to the Southeast,” Donaldson said.

Magic City ePLEX also seeks to help nurture the growing high school esports scene in Birmingham and the state of Alabama.

The Alabama High School Athletic Association hosted the inaugural eSports season for Alabama high schools in 2019.

“Now that the AHSAA is awarding state championships for esports, we hope to support and promote our local teams and players,” Pahos said.

The ePLEX will also have The Clutch Cafe, offering subs, salads, pizza and 20 local beers on tap, according to Cain.


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