FLORENCE, S.C. – Gamers rejoice. Florence County Parks and Recreation will launch an e-sports league this fall.

The launch is being done with the support of the University of South Carolina Sumter, FTC, Pepsi, Hilton Garden Inn and the Florence County IT department, said Nathan Dawsey, the county's recreation superintendent.

"It's exciting, but it's been a lot of work to get this thing prepared," Dawsey said. "We've had nobody to lean on to give us an example of how it's supposed to be done. As far as we can tell, we're the first rec department to give it a shot in the country.

"Fortunately we have USC Sumter we have worked with to help us get started. They have a program at their campus where they have this in place. They've agreed to at least get us in the right direction, get started."

USC Sumter offers its assistance because it is interested in getting kids interested in its program down the road, Dawsey said.

Around the Pee Dee, both USC Sumter and Coker College have e-sports programs. Outside the Pee Dee, it is a growing thing. Colleges and universities are offering scholarships for players.

Dawsey said the league games will be age appropriate for the players and will consist of both sports and strategy games. Players also will have a say in what games the league plays, and it will be a mix of PC and console gaming.

"PC gaming is more competitive gaming," Dawsey said.

"Each month we'll practice on each game we've chosen. There will also be free play where we have some cool things lined up for them. There will be throwback night where maybe I can beat up on the kids with the Nintendo System. There is the Nintendo Switch and virtual reality, which will be set up in the back."

Monthly tournaments will be open to the public as well as league players.

"You'll have Madden, you'll have your sports games like NBA 2K, your Major League Baseball," Dawsey said. "FIFA Soccer is very popular. You'll have some more of your strategy-based games, like League of Legends and Hearthstone. Things I've had to familiarize myself with, but they're extremely popular – in fact, more popular than the games we just talked about. There's more tournaments and more players participating in them than any others in the world.

"We've been very fortunate that sponsorships have come in. We haven't really had to sell these companies on it. FTC jumped right in from the get-go. They donated a huge amount of financial sponsorship at the beginning, and they've also come through and said they're going to donate 48 personal computers that we can upgrade for the purposes we're going to need them. Our IT department will get them up and running in the right direction there, and that is saving us an astronomical amount of money.

"Pepsi is another big one, and so is the Hilton Garden Inn. We're still looking for sponsorships. Without them, none of this would be possible at all."

Dawsey said he doesn't think he'll have to convince the youth that the league is a good thing.

"We've always had this stigma against video games," he said. "Yes, I'd rather see the kids out there playing baseball, because that's what I grew up playing and wanting to do. But this is what they're interested in. There are benefits to playing. It instills leadership skills, installs practice habits, working as a team. It's all involved. You don't have to sell the kids on it. It's the parents we try to reinforce the fact you can get good things out of it."

Plans call for two age groups in the league: 10 to 15 and 16 to 19. Games will played in a soon-to-be renovated lobby at the agency's headquarters at 710 S. Irby St.

The setup will also be portable and allow the agency to take tournaments to other communities in the county.

"Hopefully it's reaching those kids who aren't playing conventional sports for whatever reason," Dawsey said. "Hopefully it's grabbing those kids and getting them involved. Maybe get them involved in other programs."

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