Atlanta esports organization strikes deal with internet giant Xfinity

HBCU Esports League owner Cxmmunity Media plans to expand its flagship event, The Kickback, to more cities.
From left to right: Cxmmunity Media co-founders Warren Davis, Chris Peay and Ryan Johnson. (Olivia Bowdoin for the AJC).

Credit: Olivia Bowdoin

Credit: Olivia Bowdoin

From left to right: Cxmmunity Media co-founders Warren Davis, Chris Peay and Ryan Johnson. (Olivia Bowdoin for the AJC).

Atlanta esports and gaming marketing company Cxmmunity Media has partnered with broadband giant Xfinity to further connect students with educational and career opportunities in gaming.

The partnership enables Cxmmunity Media, pronounced “Community,” to expand “The Kickback,” its flagship event held in Atlanta that combines educational panels with gaming tournaments and musical performances. The company will host Kickback events over the next year in Washington, D.C., Atlanta and another to-be-determined location.

The partnership is part of Xfinity parent company Comcast’s $1 billion “Project UP” initiative. That project aims to improve access to high-speed internet and digital devices, along with the skills to use these technologies, across diverse communities. Comcast also backs Cxmmunity Media’s nonprofit arm The Cxmmunity Foundation.

“Over the past few years, it’s been unreal to watch the growth of the African American gaming community throughout North America. The Kickback is a place where people can feel seen and heard, but more importantly, find opportunities to grow as an individual. That’s what we truly care about,” said Cxmmunity Media co-founder and CEO Ryan Johnson.

Cxmmunity Media declined to disclose the terms of the deal.

Led by Johnson, Cxmmunity Media’s purpose is to bring more diverse communities into the gaming and animé industries through brand partnerships. It founded and owns the HBCU Esports League, the country’s first and only competitive esports league for historically Black colleges and universities.

About two years ago, however, the company identified a need to serve other parts of the community that didn’t attend HBCUs or weren’t active in the competitive gaming: Casual fans.

Thus, the Kickback was born, a one-day event split into thirds: the first part of the day is dedicated to panels and workshops from industry leaders in gaming and music, followed by a gaming tournament with a cash prize and a concert.

Cxmmunity Media held its first Kickback event in 2022, booking it the same weekend as a massive League of Legends World Championship Semifinals at State Farm Arena. Riot Games, the developer of League of Legends, was its founding sponsor. About 300 to 500 students came to the daytime programming, and about 200 more attendees showed up for the performances later in the day. Rappers Pusha T and Baby Tate headlined, two huge names for a startup event. The Kickback was livestreamed for broader reach.

The next year, attendance surged. About 1,100 students attended the panels and the gaming tournament, and around 2,000 showed up for the concert.

Schools treated the Kickback as a field trip, because students were immersed digital learning during school hours. Plus, students were encouraged to bring their resumes to get feedback and critiques from some of the sponsors.

“Three schools left the Kickback and started their own esports clubs,” Johnson said. “They’re within their own journey.”

Much of the growth in audience Johnson attributes to planning and relationships with surrounding schools. It’s much easier to sell someone on an event with a proven concept, he said.

But Johnson said he envisions the Kickback having a much wider reach. In the future, he said he can see expanding the event to two days, bringing it to more cities throughout North America and booking larger headliners.

Xfinity is the presenting sponsor of the event, but Cxmmunity has also brought on Microsoft on a supporting level. Johnson said the company is in late talks with two other corporate sponsors.

Cxmmunity has been in an expansion mode this year. In March, the company purchased a 15% stake in Trap Sushi, a recurring animé and cosplay-themed event that meshes Japanese culture with that of Atlanta. With Cxmmunity’s backing, Trap Sushi founders will hold events every month instead of bimonthly, and will take the party internationally for the first time.