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Gayming in Galveston

Johnny Steverson and Mary Jo Naschke preview this year’s Island Esports expo.

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Johnny Steverson is the out co-owner of the Galveston Island Esports Summit (courtesy photos).

When thinking about a typical gaming expo, scenes of large exhibit halls packed with guests come to mind, with everyone clambering to get their hands on the latest pieces of technology. The Galveston Island Esports Summit co-owners Johnny Steverson and Mary Jo Naschke are breaking that mold as they aim to create an inclusive and empowering space for all who attend the August 27-29 event. 

“First and foremost, we wanted to create a home for all the people who love video games,” says Steverson, an openly gay esports enthusiast. 

Naschke adds, “I had been following esports for a while, and it wasn’t as mysterious as I thought. I started looking around and reading magazine articles about esports, and realized you didn’t have to be a professional to be into it. Everyone plays games on their phones and iPads. This event is a way for people to network socially with like-minded people, as opposed to being isolated and by themselves.”

The Esports Summit’s theme of inclusion is one that the two entrepreneurs have intentionally created. “We are all about [removing] boundaries when it comes to diversity,” says Naschke. “Special Olympics Texas is putting together a team that will come and compete, and the U.S. Army is also going to bring a team.” 

The dynamic duo is also focused on encouraging personal and professional development opportunities for attendees. “We focus on female empowerment, and [promoting science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers] for females,” Steverson adds excitedly. “We align with other organizations that help us promote that cause.” 

Getting esports incorporated in the grade-school curriculum is another priority for Steverson and Naschke. “On Friday, there will be a teachers’ esports workshop sponsored by Galveston ISD, and we’re thrilled to partner with them,” Naschke says. 

“I’m a huge gamer, and this whole esports and gaming thing has come to the forefront during the pandemic,” Steverson adds. “When I was in school, there were no esports departments, but today more schools are incorporating it into their curriculum. Our teacher workshops [will also help] educators incorporate STEM programs into their school districts. It’s going to give them the opportunity to earn continuing-education credits and find the tools to educate their students in new and exciting ways.”

“NASA will have a strong presence at our Esports Summit, and we are going to introduce robotics to this event, ahead of our Robotics Summit in November,” Naschke notes. 

Guests are encouraged to buy a day pass so they can play games—new, old, and retro—all day, in between the short, informative panel discussions with celebrity guests. And it all happens in a cool and calm environment that encourages personal interactions. “We weren’t interested in an event with 50,000 people roaming around and standing in long lines,” Naschke says. “[We chose Galveston because] we wanted an intimate environment that was fun, next to the beach, and allows guests to get up close to the exhibits without being rushed,” Steverson adds. “Guests will be able to go up to the panelists and ask questions, and that’s what this event is all about. The networking at our event is unparalleled, compared to what else is out there right now. You can get one-on-one time and really feel part of this community.” Naschke puts it simply: “We wanna be the best, not the biggest.”

Robot battles, surprise guests, virtual reality, a visit from the Mars Rover, and lots of educational opportunities are all sure to make this event a huge success. “This event is for anyone that loves video games, not just competitive players,” Steverson adds. “[We have lots of] things to do for people that aren’t interested in competing in esports tournaments.” 

LGBTQ players should feel especially welcome at this event, according to Steverson. “It means the world to me to give a home to ‘gaymers’ who aren’t necessarily the type to go out in groups—people like myself who are more internal and like to play video games. It means so much to give people the opportunity to come and network in a safe and fun environment.”

To buy tickets, visit galvestonesports.com. Get $10 off through August 20 by using the code “OutSmart” at checkout. 

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Zachary McKenzie

Zachary McKenzie is a marketing professional and freelance writer in Houston, TX. He received his bachelor's degree from The University of Texas at Austin in 2014 and has lived in Houston since. Zachary is a volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters and enjoys spending his free time with friends, exploring the richness and diversity of Houston.
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