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TradeWind Games rallies area gaming community (Final Draft)

Gamers drove from Springdale and even Siloam Springs to play Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 at TradeWind Games, one of the only stores in the area that regularly hosts video game tournaments. They leaned against the black concrete walls of the game room, dubbed the “Bunker,” as they waited for the new business’s third tournament to begin.

The Bunker -- the video game room where tournaments are held at TradeWind Games.

Justin Kelsey, the 30-year-old co-owner of the store, joked casually with the players watching the game as they waited for their chance play.  Even those eliminated in the early rounds lingered to see who would win.

Hunter Wentz, a 19 year old from Springdale, heard about the tournament at TradeWind from friends. “I like that it’s locally owned,” he said. “I never felt that some of the [other game stores] were as personable.”

The popularity of the tournaments surprised Kelsey, because he and his brother Brian Kelsey, 24, opened their store at 2335 N. College Ave. less than a month before, on Oct. 22.

Like at many other entertainment retail stores, customers can buy used movies, video games and video game systems at TradeWind Games. However, what sets them apart from their competition doesn’t come from the products on their shelves, but the owners’ attitudes toward their customers and passion for the video gaming community.

“We have an intangible product,” Justin Kelsey said, “[the idea] of having a store that treats their customers well, provides products that people want and services that people desire.”

“Really, I just thought we could do better,” said Brian Kelsey, who worked at the Game X Change on Martin Luther King, Jr., Boulevard for two years. Other stores seem to have the outlook that they don’t have to try and please customers because they sell products people want, he said. At TradeWind, they put out a special effort to make customers feel welcome in the store and give them a place to interact at the tournaments.

A representative from GameStop could not be reached for comment.

In the Bunker, each player has his or her own console and TV, and an equal chance to win prizes such as store credit or brand new games, Brian Kelsey said. Players keep the noise level low, and their language family friendly, a sharp contrast to the foul language heard in many X Box Live games. “First and foremost we want players to have fun,” he said.

From Atari to Xbox 360 games, customers have their choice of used titles at TradeWind. Brand new copies of recent releases enshrined in the glass counter tempt customers as they nostalgically browse old game cartrides, and the Kelsey brothers know what they are talking about when they make recommendations.

Justin and Brian Kelsey grew up playing video games in the small town of Mena, more than 100 miles south of Fayetteville.

At four-years-old, Brian Kelsey helped Jumpman rescue Lady from Donkey Kong on Atari. By 10, he was fighting zombies with members of the Alpha team on Resident Evil.

“I remember when we first got [Resident Evil for PlayStation 1], we played it all night long,” said Brian Kelsey. “It’s one of those games where if you played it in the dark it kept you on edge. …It was probably the first game I played where I was legitimately frightened by the game.”

Justin Kelsey spent sixth grade staying up all night at his friends’ homes, playing any of the Mario games and the Simpsons.

“For me, gaming is a very social kind of thing,” he said. “It compounds the amount of fun you have by the number of people there.”

Even in high school, Brian Kelsey would finish his typing work as quickly as possible to beat the DOS version of Prince of Persia in one class period, but he never thought he would end up owning a gaming business. “Not in a million years,” he said. “We talked about it for several months before we decided, we can do this.”

Justin Kelsey has always been interested in being a business man – he owns rental properties in the area and is pursuing his bachelor’s in business administration – but  he hadn’t considered opening a store location until they began planning TradeWind Games.

Business is going even better than expected, although they have only been open for a little more than a month, Justin Kelsey said. “It’s easy to get your hopes up.”

Seven out of ten new employer businesses survive at least two years, said Patrick Morris, media manager for the Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy. Only half make it to the five-year mark, and a mere 25 percent endure for more than 15 years.

“It’s intimidating,” Brian Kelsey said, “but at the same time, we wouldn’t have even started a business if we didn’t think we had something to offer. …We really want people to have fun being here compared to a typical game store.”

Because of the nature of their business, they aren’t worried about the economy, and plan to eventually open more stores in the Northwest Arkansas region.

“The entertainment industry in general thrives, even in harsh economic times,” Brian Kelsey said. Twelve to fifteen customers come through the store on a given day, which meets their expectations for such a young business, he said.

Once the tournaments steadily attract 50 players each, they would like to set up series tournaments. These tournaments would have entry fees as well as a points system rewarding players for participating and placing. They would take place over the course of several months, he said.

In the future, they plan to develop a monthly membership program, similar to a gym membership. Members would be able to utilize the Bunker to play any game in the store, allowing them to preview games before buying them.

The Bunker will also be enhanced to include more video game systems and additional larger TVs, Brian Kelsey said. Groups will be able to rent the Bunker for private events, and some student groups from the University of Arkansas have already held events at TradeWind.

The level of positive interactions with customers through the TradeWind Games Facebook page surprised Justin Kelsey in the beginning. Players and customers ask questions about upcoming tournaments or different products and are answered quickly, sometimes in as little as ten minutes. Deals are announced at a moment’s notice, buy one and get one free on certain products, or a challenge to come play one of the owners. Customers can also get involved in polls to choose the games for future tournaments.

Chris Upton, 15, was excited when he found out that TradeWind Games was opening next to his dad’s store, C & E Lock & Safe, Inc.

“The prices are good. I like their tournaments,” he said. Upton has been playing video games since he was five, because games allow you to do things you couldn’t, or shouldn’t, do in real life. A competitive player, the tournaments give him the chance to interact with other gamers and see their reactions as they play.

Gaming tournaments have been gaining popularity around the country for years, leading to the formation of Major League Gaming in 2002, but little was available that was specific to Northwest Arkansas.

Wentz has played in online MLG tournaments with higher stakes than the free tournaments at TradeWind. However, before the Bunker, he couldn’t experience events like the Call of Duty tournament in person, he said. He plans to come back to TradeWind for other tournaments, and to buy games in the future.

“Oh, that was a good kill!” Wentz praised his opponent. The final round of the tournament pitted Wentz against a much younger boy. His friends laughed as he became increasingly nervous. “This kid is scaring me. …I feel like the volume got turned up. My heart is pounding,” he said.

The crowd remained tense until the final kill replayed: Wentz had won. He and the boy smiled and shook hands, complimenting each other on the game.

“The way I feel about it, anyone, regardless of skill, can win in gaming,” Brian Kelsey said. “It’s whoever is having fun.”

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All photos provided courtesy of TradeWind Games.

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TradeWind Games rallies area gaming community

Justin Kelsey, 30, commands his troop of 25 gamers with a booming voice and a clipboard. “You have a few seconds to adjust your controls. No one moves until I say move,” he orders.

He assigns a gamer to each of the seven flat-screen TV and Xbox 360 stations set up in the middle of the “Bunker,” the video game tournament room at TradeWind Games. At 8:00 p.m. on Sat., Nov. 19, 25 players are eagerly awaiting their turn to play in the business’s third free tournament, this time a free-for-all on the new Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. More players trickle in as the first 10 minute round continues. The top three players from each will be allowed to continue and play for the top prize, a brand new copy of the game, or equivalent store credit.

Kelsey patrols the room, keeping an eye on the gamers about to play and talking with others he remembers from previous tournaments. As the round begins, the chatter drops to a murmur, pierced by cries of outrage from the participants.

“Oh, come on, really?”A  marine yells. “I’ve been killed by my own care package!”

Another player shouts in alarm as his controller warns him his batteries are about to die. Kelsey rushes across the room, pulling a pack of AA batteries from his pocket.

Groans and cheers fill the room as the round ends. The final kill is replayed on all the screens in slow motion and the final scores are revealed.

After a year of planning, Kelsey opened TradeWind Games at 2335 N. College Ave. with his younger brother Brian Kelsey Oct. 22.

Like many other stores, they sell used movies, video games and video game systems, from Atari and the original Nintendo Entertainment System games to computer and Xbox 360 games. The glass cases forming the counter house a few brand new copies of recent releases, such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, a mix of gaming accessories and game cartridges for the early video game systems that have outlived their packaging.

However, what sets them apart from their competition doesn’t come from the products on their shelves.

“Really, I just thought we could do better,” said Brian Kelsey, 24, who worked at the Game X Change on Martin Luther King, Jr., Boulevard for two years. Other stores have the attitude that they don’t have to try because they sell products people want, he said.

“We have an intangible product,” Justin Kelsey said, “[the idea] of having a store that treats their customers well and provides products that people want and services that people desire.

Justin and Brian Kelsey grew up in Mena, a small town more than 100 miles south of Fayetteville.

Brian Kelsey has memories of playing Donkey Kong on Atari at the age of four, and playing video games on the original PlayStation throughout his childhood.

“I remember when we first got [Resident Evil for PlayStation 1] we played it all night long,” said Brian Kelsey, who was around 10 at the time. “It’s one of those games where if you played it in the dark it kept you on edge. …It was probably the first game I played where I was legitimately frightened by the game.”

Justin Kelsey remembers being in the sixth grade, staying up all night at his friends’ homes, playing any of the Mario games and the Simpsons.

“For me, gaming is a very social kind of thing,” he said. “It compounds the amount of fun you have by the number of people there.”

Brian Kelsey wasn’t looking to start a business. “Not in a million years,” he said. “We talked about it for several months before we decided, we can do this.”

After completing two years of general studies at a community college, he came to Fayetteville for more opportunities and to help with his brother’s rental properties.

Justin Kelsey, who is in the process of completing his bachelor’s degree in business administration, has always wanted to open a business, but hadn’t considered opening a store location before they began working on TradeWind Games.

Business is going even better than expected, although they have only been open for a little more than a month, Justin Kelsey said. “It’s easy to get your hopes up.”

More than just trying to build a strong business, the Kelsey brothers are trying to build a community of gamers.

“We really want people to have fun being here compared to a typical game store,” Brian Kelsey said.

The initial popularity of the tournaments was unexpected, Justin Kelsey said. Players have driven from as far as Siloam Springs to play in the tournaments, each featuring a different game, and are usually held every other Saturday. He was also surprised at the positive interactions they have been able to have with their customers through Facebook.

Chris Upton, 15, was excited when he found out that TradeWind Games was opening next to his dad’s store, C & E Lock & Safe, Inc.

“The prices are good. I like their tournaments,” he said. Upton has been playing video games since he was five. He likes how games allow you to do things you couldn’t, or shouldn’t, do in real life. A competitive player, he likes how their tournaments allow him to see the other players’ reactions in person.

Friends told Hunter Wentz, 19, about TradeWind Games and the tournaments. He drove from Springdale to participate in the Modern Warfare 3 tournament. “I like that it’s locally owned,” he said. “I never felt that some of the other places were as personable, the employees weren’t as happy to be there.” He plans to buy his games from TradeWind from now on.

Wentz has played in Major League Gaming tournaments with higher stakes before, finishing in the top 12 in three bracketed tournaments, but those tournaments were played online. Before the Bunker, there wasn’t a LAN center in the area that allowed gamers to play Xbox 360 or other systems together in one location, Wentz said.

In each tournament, one player is assigned to each TV and plays using default settings. No entry fee is charged, and winner receives prizes ranging from store credit to new copies of recent releases. Games are usually played following close to Major League Gaming rules, which vary from game to game, Brian Kelsey said.

Players are asked to stay below a certain level of noise, so they don’t interfere with other players’ experiences., and to keep their language clean for a family friendly atmosphere that everyone can enjoy, he said. “First and foremost we want players to have fun.”

Participants sign a form to play, agreeing to a certain standard of behavior. Parents also have to sign a release form for their children to join in on the games.

In the future, they plan to develop a monthly membership program. Members would be able to utilize the Bunker to play any game in the store any time, allowing them to preview games before they buy them.

The Bunker will also be enhanced to include more video game systems, and additional TVs. Purchasing larger TVs would allow more than one person to use each console. Most people don’t enjoy playing with a split screen on a 20 inch TV, Brian Kelsey said.

Groups will be able to rent the Bunker for private events, and several student groups from the University of Arkansas have already set up events at TradeWind.

Once the tournaments steadily attract 50 players each, they would like to set up series tournaments. These tournaments would have entry fees as well as a points system rewarding players for participating as well as placing and would take place over the course of several months, he said.

Eventually they plan to open new locations in the northwest Arkansas region, Justin Kelsey said. Because of the nature of their business, neither one of them is worried about the economy.

“The entertainment industry in general thrives, even in harsh economic times,” Brian Kelsey said.

As the rounds of the tournaments progress, most of the players stay and watch. They comment amongst themselves, arguing about different aspects of gaming strategy or plausibility.

An awed silence falls over the crowd as the final two contestants, Wentz and a younger teenage boy, face off.

“Oh, that was a good kill!” Wentz compliments him after being caught by surprise. His friends laugh as the match continues, and he begins to get nervous. “This kid is scaring me. …I feel like the volume got turned up, my heart is pounding.”

The crowd remains tense until the round ends and the final kill plays, Wentz has won. He and the boy smile as they shake hands, and complement each other on the game. Wentz’s relief is evident.

“The way I feel about it, anyone, regardless of skill, can win in gaming. It’s whoever is having fun,” Brian Kelsey said.

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