Game Changer Tyler Endres ’10 Shapes Esports Culture

by Nathan Foster

A long line of people wraps around an antiquated brick building in a nondescript area of downtown Santa Ana. The crowd anxiously awaits entrance, hoping to secure a front row seat to all the action. Inside, the atmosphere is electrifying and the spirit of competition palpable. Amid the cheers of hundreds of fans gathered around large computer screens, gamers of all levels battle it out. This is the burgeoning world of esports, and in just four years, Tyler Endres ’10, has capitalized on this international phenomenon by building a successful brand with his business Esports Arena expanding its reach and influence across the nation.

The early imaginings for Esports Arena began with Endres and his roommate Paul Ward ’10 while they were students at Azusa Pacific University. “During my freshman year, we loved playing Halo II. Everybody at APU played it back then. We would leave our dorm room in Trinity Hall open so people could come and play with us,” Endres said. “Soon, our RD asked us if we could host a Halo II tournament. We borrowed Xboxes and TV’s and had 16 four-person teams. It was awesome and we ended up winning.” Endres and Ward hosted the same tournament the following year. Unfortunately, their reputation preceded them. “We were too good and nobody wanted to play with us,” he said.

While he wasn’t quite at the professional gamer level, Endres was much better than the average player. He envisioned a place where he could compete with other players at a similar skill level so they could keep improving. “That’s how we came up with this idea of opening a facility where people can come out and play competitively every night of the week,” he said. After Endres graduated, a job in restaurant equipment sales provided a means to an end. He saved up for three years before launching Esports Arena in Santa Ana. “We were really lucky to find this building. The owner loved the concept so much that he paid for all the renovations, which were quite extensive. We couldn’t have afforded them without him, so that was a Godsend,” he said. Renovations took more than two years to complete. By the time the arena opened in September 2015, Endres was down to his last penny. “I paid my rent check and if we didn’t open then, I couldn’t have paid rent the next month,” he said. “Then we opened and received some investments that relieved the financial burden.”

In the following months, a number of large gaming corporations rented out Esports Arena. Business was booming, but it was not what Endres had envisioned when he started the company. “We had so much success doing these events that we only chased events for a while. We had to ask ourselves what do we stand for, what message do we wish to communicate,” Endres said. “Our core product now is gaming for everybody. We want to develop a grassroots gaming community where people can compete at any level.”

It is this sense of community that inspires Endres. “When I look back to my time at APU, that’s what helped me the most. APU enables students to find community and feel like they belong,” he said. “Our community was gaming. I started this company because we had so many good friendships that came about through gaming and our love for it.”

The rapid success of Esports Arena spurred opportunities for business growth, including opening facilities inside the Luxor® Casino in Las Vegas and in Oakland, California.

Part of the new business model is a partnership with the largest retailer in the world, Walmart. The company came to Endres in early 2018 with the idea of putting mini Esports Arenas inside their stores. “Walmart owns a 30 percent market share in video game consoles, but the market is declining because you can just download most games at home. They were losing a huge chunk of the market and saw us as a potential solution,” he said. So far, Esports Arena is in five Walmarts across the country. Endres said the company plans to expand into many more stores in the coming months. “This allows Esports Arena to create its own ecosystem of esports with competitive players from around the country,” Endres said. “That's what I've always wanted to build.”

In addition, Esports Arena launched a series of gaming computers called OverPowered, available at Walmart. “They’re phenomenal machines. The equipment inside is really high quality and they’re available for a great price,” he said. “Knowing my brand is in the household of gamers across America is a really cool feeling.”

Even with the growth of his brand, on most days, Endres can still be found at the place where his success began, the original facility in Santa Ana. “We keep busy around here. We partner with a lot of professional gamers and influencers like Ninja, Dr. Disrespect, and even Cobi Jones.” The facility has a live broadcast center where thousands of people stream the esports action. During big events, Endres said everyone is running around chaotically, but they all love it. “It's an absolute blast. I hope I get to do this for the rest of my life.”

After just four years, Endres’ company has expanded across the country and he now employs 72 people. “I need to constantly remind myself what it’s all for. With all the changes, it’s tough to keep it in perspective,” he said. “I work for everybody who works for me. I’m only able to do what I do because of all these people God has brought into my life. It's definitely not all me. I thank God for that.”

Nathan is a public relations intern in the Office of University Relations. He is a dual major in journalism and public relations.