By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: August 13, 2019 | 12:30 p.m.
PRINCE GEORGE – What may seem like child’s play to some has become a multi-million dollar industry that has garnered the attention of big-name companies, venture capitalists, and millions of viewers online and in venues around the world, esports has quickly grown from competitive gaming from the comfort of a living room to stadiums hosting thousands.
While many are still working to wrap their minds around how to jump into the growing world of competitive gaming, Prince George County is dabbling in esports on a smaller scale as the county prepares to host a special video game tournament at the Central Wellness Center on August 24 where nearly two dozen county gamers will compete in one of the original competitive games on the scene – Electronic Arts’ latest NFL entry, Madden NFL 20.
Featuring a group stage that culminates in single-elimination bracket play with the confines of Madden 20’s digital gridiron that will determine the winner of the county’s first-ever e-sports open. The event, which is open to the first 16 county residents between the ages of 12-18 to register online at the county parks and recreation department website and pay the $25 registration fee, continues a recent trend in the county of finding unique experiences to engage different demographics in Prince George County, such as the county’s recent success from their new pickleball program.
In an interview, Prince George County Economic Development Specialist Yoti Jabri talked about how the idea for a video game tournament came about, resulting in the esports open set for later this month.
“We attended an event geared toward sports tourism back on February 5 – The Virginia Sports Summit,” he detailed. “We attended some of the presentations there and one was solely geared toward e-sports and they said how much it was growing, how its the third-most watched sporting event in the county and they gave us some ideas on what we can do. So, we decided to try them and we got a lot of good interest as we talked about it in the community and we decided that we have our Central Wellness Center available to have this event.”
Echoing Jabri’s point, new data from Newzoo shows the growth of e-sports as gaming becomes more mainstream with the continued rise of mobile gaming and increased access to gaming consoles and computers, along with continued expansion of high-speed internet, which, for many games, serves as the backbone for players to engage in competitive play. In their research, Newzoo expects global esports revenues to grow to over $1.1 billion, with North America generating over $400 million of that amount.
In addition, in terms of viewers, again, with the continued rise of video game streaming platforms and in-person events, it is estimated esports’ total audience will grow to nearly 454 million this year. As e-sports grows, so too, in Newzoo’s projection, will exposure to those who may not currently engage with it.
While this month’s event will not be to the levels of popular, but now-canceled ESPN show “Madden Nation,” which pitted some of the country’s best Madden players against one another in a tournament, with the winner receiving a $100,000 grand prize, it will serve to show Prince George’s ability to try new things and continue to diversify its offerings to the community.
“This is going to be something unique,” Jabri detailed. “While this is just going to be open to Prince George County residents, we’re looking, potentially in the future, to get a third-party to host the event in which it could bring outsiders into the county for esports competition. There is a lot of potential.”
In terms of prizes, Jabri said the tournament winner will receive $200, and the runner-up will get a $100 prize. Third place will win two Xbox One controllers, and fourth place will win a single Xbox One controller.
“If we want to progress and, perhaps get ahead of the likes of other counties around us, we really have to start thinking outside the box to increase sports tourism and get people to want to stay within our community,” he said. “We just had Tree Time Adventures open up and that is a unique venture there so we are looking at different avenues to attract people to Prince George, having them enjoy their time here, visiting our restaurants and amenities here in the county.”
On August 24, it may not be out of the question to see Jabri pick up an Xbox One controller and show his own skills in one of the longest running sports video games out there, dating back to the late 1980s.
“I have not touched Madden in a few months, but I would love to show these kids how to really play Madden … but I haven’t played in so long, so I think I will leave it to them,” he said humorously.
When asked, County Administrator Percy Ashcraft is excited about another innovate offering coming to Prince George County, joining the likes of pickleball and arm wrestling.
“We had the arm wrestling competition and we are just trying to bring things to Prince George County that are a little unique,” he shared. “Nationwide, there is an emphasis on college campuses around esports and I have seen in some states, it is being regulated in their high schools as a sport,” as many of e-sports’ biggest names find success in their games of choice hone their crafts during their teens before possibly finding a spot on an established team or forming their own to try and reach their goals with fellow players.
To learn more about the event, contact the county’s parks and recreation department at 804-458-6164.