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Why the KC Pioneers refuse to stay in their lane; esports league teams with Kansas Speedway for weekend event

DATE POSTED:September 9, 2023

First they watched from stadium seats at the speedway, then from pit road. Now the fans-turned collaborators at the KC Pioneers are on track with one of their biggest partners to date: NASCAR.

Kansas City’s premiere esports league has teamed up with the Kansas Speedway to bring traditional racing and esports gaming into the same heat with the Stateline Showdown Series — a string of events aimed at invigorating two fan bases and creating new connections between generations of sports enthusiasts, said Sam Kulikov, co-founder of the Kansas City Pioneers.

Worldwide Express driver Carson Hocevar talks with professional eNASCAR driver Wyatt Tinsley of the KC Pioneers during a May event at the Kansas Speedway; photo courtesy of the KC Pioneers

“We’re looking forward to showcasing the intersection between esports and traditional sports and highlighting how both industries can learn from each other to drive innovation and growth,” Kulikov said.

The next leg of this shared journey: a free-to-enter Rocket League Tournament Sunday, Sept. 10 at Kansas Speedway, where competitors will face-off in the popular arcade-style multiplayer that combines soccer and driving games.

The event is inclusive, allowing streamers to join their iRacing teams for a chance to win a $2,000 cash prize, all while the NASCAR Cup Series race unfolds simultaneously at the Speedway, adding an extra layer of excitement, Kulikov said.

“If you’re a dad, and you like NASCAR, but your kid isn’t as interested, you can say, ‘Hey, there’s also a Rocket League Tournament for you to join,’” he added. 

Click here for event ticketing information.

As with a similar partnership at the speedway in May, Sunday’s event is set to feature appearances by professional eNASCAR drivers Wyatt Tinsley and Derek Justis from the KC Pioneers.

The Kansas City Pioneers — one of Startland News’ Kansas City Startups to Watch in 2023 — turned the ignition on recent momentum by creating content and experiences that blended traditional sports with gaming, Kulikov detailed. As they delved deeper into that realm, they saw the chance to revitalize fan communities of sports like NASCAR, and form partnerships with Sporting KC and even recruiting players from the Kansas City Chiefs.

“We’ve noticed that traditional athletes have an opportunity through gaming to engage their fans on a deeper level,” said Kulikov. “So, instead of just being a number on the field with a helmet on, you can be a streamer and you can connect with your fans through that.”

The climax of this strategy happens when NASCAR drivers come to Kansas City for the event, he added. 

They won’t just race; they’ll also compete in the Rocket League Tournament, Kulikov said, reflecting a synergy between traditional sports and gaming, where Rocket League even features NASCAR cars — blurring the lines between mediums and offering a unique and engaging experience for fans.

Click here to purchase discounted tickets for the NASCAR cup series race. 

Gamers compete during a May KC Pioneers event at the Kansas Speedway; photo courtesy of the KC Pioneers

Bringing KC gaming to the national stage

KC Pioneers’ partnership with NASCAR, the Kansas Speedway, and the Army National Guard for this event is just one example of how the Pioneers are collaborating with major brands and organizations to leverage gaming effectively, Kulikov added.

Other significant partners like QuickTrip and Price Chopper are also joining the ranks, he said.

RELATED: Esports league brings new Midwest Fest event to KC, launching new Army National Guard partnership

“These high level tournaments and partnerships furthers the brand of uniting the Kansas City community,” Kulikov said. “We want people to realize that we’re fighting for the city to win championships, and we’re fighting for our esports community to gain more support, because our region still doesn’t understand the opportunities gaming can bring.”

Click here to follow the KC Pioneers on Instagram.


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KC Pioneers’ mission involves tackling three crucial challenges: awareness, access, and talent development, he said. 

“We have to beat the awareness problem first, because some parents are against [what they think is just video games], and some kids don’t know esports exists,” Kulikov said.

An academy team to provide access and autonomy to aspiring gamers is in the works, he added, a development that would give young players the resources and opportunities to make their own choices and shape their future. 

“Some of the best gamers in the world come from Kansas City, and a lot of people don’t know that yet,” Kulikov said.

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