Ready. Set. Game.
Hundreds of gamers from around the region are expected to make their way to the Alerus Center on Saturday, Nov. 2, for the third Dakno Gaming eSports Day by Evolve Grand Forks. From 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., gamers -- casual, social, competitive and professional -- will find a variety of gaming opportunities.
With a prize pool of $2,500 and regional bragging rights on the line, gamers have an opportunity to battle a few globally ranked players in three tournament games: Super Smash Bros Ultimate, Madden NFL and Halo 3.
General admission tickets will be on sale for spectators to watch the tournament and also experience a virtual reality arcade, casual gaming and fly drones.
Collin Hanson, one of the event organizers and executive director of Evolve Grand Forks, said esports has been growing substantially across the world and in North Dakota directly in recent years.
This is the third Dakno tournament and the first to be held at the Alerus Center after the competition, which has drawn more than 250 people in the past, outgrew its old location.
“This is a really big move for us,” he said. “Support and participation in esports has been rising dramatically, with some North Dakota high schools and higher ed institutions sanctioning eSports for athletic competition. It’s certainly an exciting time to get involved.”
The tournament and industry has received support from a number of businesses and organizations from across the region, including Rock30 Games, UND and the Greater Grand Forks Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Hanson said he hopes all that support will lead to Grand Forks being the “hub” for esports in the region.
Kaleb Dschaak, student representative on the State Board of Higher Education and one of the leaders for esports on the UND campus, has helped start an esports club get started on campus and was a driver behind UND adding a gaming room in the Wellness Center.
“UND is moving forward with esports initiatives on campus; students want them. We’re seeing that across the country,” said Dschaak, who has participated in past Dakno events and has served as a bit of liaison between UND and the company in the past.
Esports has been increasing in popularity in recent years as participation in physical sports, such as football, has declined.
There are high school and college esports teams across the state, and it’s possible esports could one day be a sanctioned sport in high schools in North Dakota.
Gaming is growing across the country, too. Comcast Spectacor, which owns the Philadelphia Flyers, announced earlier this year that it would be spending $50 million to create an esports arena for its professional team Fusion.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that it will be the first stadium of its kind in the United States.
A stadium for people to watch people play video games? Hanson and Dschaak each acknowledged it’s a concept that’s hard to understand for some people.
“It’s really similar to traditional sporting experiences,” Dschaak said. “People root for different teams and players. People understand the rules.”
There’s an extra advantage to esports though, Dschaak notes people are able to play alongside top-rated players in tournaments and even casually at times, something many traditional athletes don’t have the opportunity to do.
“People will say, ‘Why would you want to watch video games when you could play them?’ It’s like, why would you want to watch baseball when you could play baseball,” Hanson said. “It’s similar in that way to other sports.”
Players are making millions of dollars in tournament winnings and sponsorships, just like professional athletes, Hanson noted.
Playing video games can sometimes be viewed as something people do sitting alone in their parents’ basement, Hanson said. But playing games online is a communal experience for a lot of people and gives them the chance to make friends across the globe.
“You’re all driving toward the same goal or competing against one another, and it’s an exciting experience,” Dschaak said.
People who play video games tend to bring a different skill set with them, Hanson added. They may have more of a tech-based background, which can lead to job opportunities down the line.
Dschaak has been playing video games from a young age.
“I think at the age of 4 my dad used to sit me on his lap and we played computer games together and then branched into Nintendo and other early gaming,” he said. “I love the competitive nature of it and the problem solving required for it, so that’s really where my passion for it came.”
Hanson said he hopes parents will bring their kids out to the event to connect with them. That’s part of the reason why parents can attend the tournament for free if they pay for their children to attend. Admission is $6.
“This is for anybody,” Hanson said. “If you haven’t picked up a controller or a PC game in 10 or 15 years, there’s something for you. Or if you have kids who are constantly watching video games on their phone or on Twitch and you’ve always wondered ‘What are they actually watching?’ this is the place to come see what they’re watching.”