Meet the Man Building Bridges for Esports in Milwaukee

Longtime video gamer Brandon Tschacher founded the Milwaukee Esports Alliance in 2020 to build connections in the local community.

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As a kid, Brandon Tschacher knew he liked video games – he describes “renting a PlayStation for my 10th birthday and playing NBA Live 98 as Kobe Bryant, my favorite basketball player,” as a “core memory” of his life. But he didn’t know that interest would blossom into an organized passion with impactful outcomes.

Twenty-four years later, Tschacher founded the Milwaukee Esports Alliance, an organization focused to grow the culture and connectivity of Milwaukee’s esports community. Tschacher defines esports as “when you start to play video games competitively, ranked or play for cash prizes.”

A board of 10 members, Milwaukee Esports Alliance is a group of esports experts whose “mission is to accelerate esport in southern Wisconsin,” says Tschacher. Partnering with major community organizations, the alliance’s goal is to provide opportunities to esports teams, local businesses and students looking to pursue a future in gaming.


 

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Growing up in Jefferson, the San Antonio-born Tschacher had a taste for both sports and video games. He was a long jumper who was not only conference champion, but the school record holder for 16 years. Alongside his athletic success, he became what he called a “retro video game enthusiast,” collecting and playing games like Mario Kart and Rygar. He attended UW-Milwaukee, and after he earned his degree in marketing, he want to get a sports-related job but found it wasn’t for him. He pivoted to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, were he worked in sales and marketing. Alongside the job, he was keen on staying involved with the community, doing many volunteer efforts for groups like Historic Milwaukee. Throughout, video games remained a key part in his life. 

Brandon Tschacher speaks with a TV crew at the Milwaukee Esports Summit in March. Photo courtesy Milwaukee Esports Alliance

“One night I was watching the documentary on Netflix called High Score, which was an exposé on the coming up of gaming in the ’90s,” Tschacher says. The series, released in 2020, made him wish his parents would have paid more attention to his interest. He thought about his 3-year-old son and wondered what gaming might look like for him. It was then that Tschacher decided he wanted to grow and develop Milwaukee’s esports community. Armed with his passion for gaming and expertise in starting organizations – he founded the Milwaukee chapter of Echelon, a volunteer organization that’s part of the Salvation Army, in 2016 – he got to work. 

Tschacher found there was a lot of work to do to establish an esports presence in Milwaukee, describing the scene as “sporadic” and only existing “in small pockets” – a handful of high school and collegiate teams and Bucks Gaming, the nationally competing esports branch of Milwaukee’s NBA franchise. But there wasn’t an easy pathway for startup esports teams; connections were limited and getting local information about the scene and other players was difficult. “They could have found things nonlocal, but that would be much harder,” Tschacher says, as it doesn’t directly relate to the Milwaukee environment.

Tschacher picked up the phone to contact the esports experts in the area, including Joe Loomis, the head coach of Carroll University’s esports team; and James O’Hagan, supervisor of esports for the Racine Unified School District. He soon learned that “there was never the opportunity [for gamers] to work together within a system,” Tschacher says. That, he felt, was a void he could help to fill. Cities comparable to Milwaukee – including Atlanta, Kansas City and Pittsburgh – had groups of innovators, gamers, coaches and industry professionals working together to promote esports. Tschacher brought that model to Milwaukee by creating the Milwaukee Esports Alliance in November of 2020.

In its early months, the alliance received mainly positive feedback from the Milwaukee community. Tschacher emphasized that he wanted to make sure that this alliance was “for the community, with the community, not just at the community.” Working with Lumes, O’Hagan and prominent esports expert Tarik Moody, Tschacher spent countless hours building culture and creating authenticity. 

Every month Milwaukee Esports Alliance posts a newsletter that not only shares what’s happened in the past month in regards to esports but also highlights local members of the esports community, such as Mike Dahle, the Elkhorn High School esports head coach who won the 2022 National Coach of the Year by National Association of Esports Coaches and Directors.

Also, four times a year, the alliance holds a Zoom to share an esports success story, a forum for community members to ask questions. “A reason for the alliance’s success is the way they connect not only gamers to gamers, but also gamers to community members,” Tschacher says.

Last March, the alliance held its biggest undertaking yet: the Wisconsin Esports Summit at The Mecca Sports Bar & Grill in the Deer District. More than 200 people from all over Wisconsin and some 80 organizations came together including former Green Bay Packers star Ahman Green. Attendees were given UNO cards to encourage networking, and the summit featured panels by the Milwaukee Esports Alliance, Visit Milwaukee and other organizations. Participants could choose from numerous breakout sessions on different sectors of esports. This event allowed esports enthusiasts from different backgrounds to unite but also give the broader community a chance to understand more about esports as numerous local media outlets covered the summit.

However, Tschacher says the alliance doesn’t plan to hold major (but costly) events for now, instead focusing on sponsorships, connections and backing to esports teams and colleges. “In order for the alliance to grow, the Milwaukee esports community must grow simultaneously,” says Tschacher.

Reflecting on his own parents’ lack of support for gaming, Tschacher sees the alliance as being able to provide that backing that’s crucial for gamers’ success. In the first seven months or so of 2022, Milwaukee Esports Alliance has made nearly 300 connections with companies and businesses like Fiserv Forum and Guardian ProLine, an apparel company focusing on esports and the military. These connections allow the expansion of the esports community and give more opportunities for Milwaukee esports groups like Marquette University’s team and Wisconsin’s leading esports team, Bucks Gaming. 

The Bucks Gaming crew after winning the NBA 2K League Championship this August. Photo courtesy Bucks Gaming

Bucks Gaming is the only professional esports team in all of Wisconsin. The team of five professional gamers won the NBA 2K League Championship in late August, capping a six-month-long season competing in the leading NBA video game.

It was a triumph for the Bucks organization and Bucks Gaming manager Patrick Glogovsky, who as a freshman at Marquette University founded the its gaming and esports club founded in 2016. That club that began with about five members quickly grew to over 150 members his senior year, and Marquette began intercollegiate esports competition in 2019.

Being well received by students, facility and esports professionals, Glogovsky became a known figure in the gaming community and landed with landed with Bucks Gaming. “I’m always doing something different,” he says. “I manage the staff, do business development partnerships and also help with community events.” With the help of the Milwaukee Esports Alliance, Glogovsky says, he can more easily connect with the Milwaukee community and create a welcoming environment.

In July, Glogovsky and Bucks Gaming held a youth program with the nonprofit organization Kicks for Kids. There, young people collaborated with the gamers, learning the potential of gaming while also playing video games with the pros. It’s representative of Tschacher’s mission to educate Milwaukee about esports and debunk the notion in the gaming community that the Midwest is an “esports desert” because majority of esports takes place on the West Coast.

To further build esports in Milwaukee and beyond, Tschacher is lobbying legislators to pass a bill creating state grants for high schools to launch or expand their esports teams. The bill had several Democratic sponsors, including Reps. Tip McGuire of Kenosha and Kalan Haywood of Milwaukee, and a single Republican sponsor, Rep. Robert Cowles of Allouez, but it didn’t gain traction this session. Tschacher and his team also are working with the Wisconsin Center to ensure the convention center’s $400 million expansion allows for use as an esports facility.

From spending time with his child to watching his passion become reality, Tschacher has high hopes of furthering his success by incorporating esports into Milwaukee’s community.

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