MORTON, Il. (WMBD) – Interaction was a big theme that Gabriel Casey had in mind when he first opened his gaming venue, Arena ESports.
“Not all video games are just sitting around, not doing anything,” he said.
The facility is filled with computer games, consoles and virtual reality headsets for individual and multiplayer setups. The Morton native cites his lifelong interest in gaming as a motivating factor for launching his business.
“I grew up with the systems as a middle thirties man where, you know, we had Nintendos and then they came out with the PlayStations and everything else. So whether I had something or a friend had something, I’ve always played some aspect of games my entire life,” said Casey.
But making the vision a reality took quite the untraditional route. Casey is a practicing attorney who decided to close down his physical practice in downtown Peoria during the coronavirus pandemic.
“So I was looking for a law office space here in Morton. And I looked at this space. It had a couple rooms in it. But you could walk in—over to the side and you could see this big industrial space that was outside of the rooms and I just got the idea,” he said.
That idea ultimately became Arena ESports, which has also filled a community void.
Casey said, “In Morton here, there’s not a whole lot of activities for kids of course. The Pumpkin Park is just a couple spaces down. It is extremely popular. There’s a lot of downtown presence of kids. Kids walk home through here. And I wanted something fun and safe that children could do in town.”
His number one supporter has been his wife, Rachel who also serves as the co-owner of Arena ESports.
“That’s something he’s enjoyed doing is playing video games and things like that. So it’s something he was pretty familiar with. So he kind of sold the idea to me,” said Rachel.
The couple has been in business since just before Christmas of 2020. It was a risky decision to launch in the midst of a pandemic, but the two have been implementing additional cleaning measures, including equipment wipe-downs and hand sanitizers.
“It’s given us good baseline of just healthiness to begin with because we have those extra steps that we probably would have taken, but we’re more cognizant of it because of COVID,” said Casey.
The husband and wife team said while at times challenging, their business investment has paid off.
“It has been a little bit of a change in terms of just our own personal family schedule and the pulls on our time, but I think it’s also been something that’s fun for us kind of build up together,” Rachel said.
The two said they’re ultimately hoping to expand beyond just Morton, but they’re grateful for all of the village support they’ve seen.
Casey said, “Morton has been very supportive. A lot of repeat customers. Junior high and high school kids. Parents love it. Their kids are well behaved. They come down. They drop them off for a couple of hours. They play games. They pick them up, they know they’re not getting into trouble.”
Arena ESports is located at 318 S. Main St. in Morton.