BUCKHANNON – After a year-and-a-half of searching for the perfect location, the owners of a brand new business have chosen downtown Buckhannon to be home to West Virginian’s first high-end gaming center.
In 2016, Jarod and Lacy Ramsey founded Jesterline, a business that started out with technology repairs for an array of devices that weren’t popular at the time.
“We knew that the gaming industry was always in the back our minds, and we wanted to do something with that,” Jarod said. “We wanted to bring gaming technology to Buckhannon and to the rest of West Virginia.”
Since Buckhannon has been growing “by leaps and bounds,” as Jarod described, the couple settled on the B-U community as the place they’d like to step outside of repairs and begin the journey into opening a center that offered online, virtual reality and console gaming.
“A year ago, we started this project, and it started out as mobile. We were doing virtual reality on a mobile standpoint,” he said. “We were doing some fairs. We did schools, Festival Fridays, and then we started working with the Small Business Association, and they recommended we get a storefront.”
Aside from downtown Buckhannon’s various beautification and expansion projects, future Innovation Center and West Virginia Wesleyan College’s recent announcement of an e-sports program, Jarod said Buckhannon’s geography figured prominently in the decision.
“When you look at it on the map you have, of course, it’s right off 33. You’re on your way to Elkins. You have Randolph County. You have Lewis County, and then on your way up north you have Harrison County, Clarksburg and so on,” he said. “Buckhannon growing as it is, we’ve been a part of the Chamber (of Commerce) for a year and a half. We’ve been in and out of Create Buckhannon … We’ve gotten to talk to all these people. We’ve got to talk to a lot of business owners, and we are getting a feel for the direction that most people want Buckhannon to go in [and that] was attractive to us.”
The couple marveled at how Buckhannon has maintained the historical aspect of the town but continues to modernize the structures and community.
“They’re really trying to beautify and upgrade Buckhannon,” said Lacy. “And for us, we wanted jump on that … Buckhannon has really been put on the map over the past few years since we’ve been here, and we just want to be a part of that.
“We just want to chip in and bring something new and help bring the life back and help bring foot traffic in,” she added.
Jarod agreed, saying, “We want to keep the respect of a historical town and continue with the modernizing, but bring a touch of the future.”
After months and months of searching and researching the gaming industry, the Ramseys decided on the empty storefront in between the historic Colonial Theatre and China Wok.
Though the storefront is under construction currently, soon the space will offer a whole slew of high-end gaming opportunities, including e-sports, computer-based and console-based gaming, tournaments, virtual reality opportunities and interactive games for kids of all ages.
“It’s a start, and then wherever the industry takes us is what we’re doing here,” Jarod said.
While the concept of a gaming center can be difficult to grasp, Lacy describes the completed storefront as being like a modernized arcade.
“It’s not going to be your traditional arcade like you have at the mall, but for the sake of understanding the concept, you could compare it to an arcade, where people would come in, and there’s not going to be tokens or tickets or things like that, but you will pay for time to come in and use the equipment and on the computer side, the company we’re working with will have the option where you can earn virtual coins to redeem prizes,” she explained.
Aside from taking the SBA’s suggestion, the safety component also influenced the duo’s decision to operate a storefront.
“We purposely wanted to design this to where there’s no (online) predators. There’s no cause for alarms. You can come here and you can safely log in and you can play the game and not have to worry about the outside world,” Jarod said.
As parents, Jarod and Lacy recognize that online gaming can cause some alarm with the vastness of the internet and the potential for online predatory actions.
“They don’t understand the reality of that yet, and I don’t want them to ever have to find out the hard way,” said Lacy about her own children. “We wanted to create an environment that was family-friendly where I can feel good about sending my kids here knowing that they have very limited access to the outside world, [and] that they can play people that are in the same room as them, so you know if they say they’re a 12-year-old girl then they’re actually a 12-year-old girl.”
While the space will appeal to those who enjoy gaming, Lacy said there will be a family-friendly factor as well, allowing parents to engage on a level that their kids understand.
“It’ll help families bond a little and spend time together, and not be so afraid of the technology,” she said. “But you can engage with them and make it fun, and you’re spending quality time with your kids.”
Lacey emphasized it’s important to her to look outside of the competitive gaming aspect and interactive games for kids of all ages.
“We want to appeal to everybody, not just a specific target group of hardcore gamers,” she said. “We’re not going to put an age limit on it. If they can crawl, walk, engage a little bit from 3 (years old) to if you’re 110 (years old) and still able to move around, then come on down we’ll have stuff for you. It’s going to be the whole spectrum of ages.”
Aside from gaming, the Ramseys are hoping to work closely with local law enforcement and fire departments to offer training sessions via virtual reality.
“We have one in particular that’s a fire extinguisher training, so you can put yourself in the mask and it teaches you how to pull the pin and spray the fire and put it out, and it’s completely safe,” Jarod explained, adding the program is OSHA-approved. “There’s no real fire. It’s virtual.”
Lacy and Jarod Ramsey are optimistically shooting to open in November.
“Once we can finish the construction side of it, everything else should hopefully come together rather quickly,” Lacy said. “We’re hoping before the end of 2018 we will have doors open to the public.”