With a statewide esports tournament coming up in Wasilla, local gamers are getting ready to go for the chance to compete among their peers.
Aharon Hughes, president of the esports and gaming club at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, is one of the tournament participants headed down from Fairbanks. He and others from the club will be traveling to Wasilla during the first week of October to compete in the eUnlimited BYTE Gaming Tournament.
“I just like testing my skills against other people who I normally can’t play because they’re, you know, hundreds of miles away,” Hughes said.
Hughes went to the tournament last year as well, which he said was fantastic. The people, the spacious venue and the atmosphere all contributed to Hughes’ decision to return this year, he said.
The eUnlimited tournament is put on by Matanuska Telephone Association and takes place at 9 a.m. Oct. 5, starting registration for the tournament is free. This is its third official year, after an initial “grassroots” tournament association employees put together, said Jessica Gilbert, manager of the eUnlilmited brand.
“So, over the course of the last few years, we’ve really been excited about emerging technologies,” Gilbert said. “Knowing that we provide the internet, we want to figure out ‘how are people using our internet?’”
A few years ago, employees with the MTA support center who were passionate about gaming came to the company, Gilbert said, and suggested the idea of an esports tournament for their annual meeting.
The first employee-centric tournament was so well received, Gilbert said, the company eventually created its own branded program to “empower students in our serving area who are passionate about esports.”
MTA reaches out for sponsorships over the year. This year there is a mix of sponsors local to the valley and sponsors from the national gaming sphere.
It’s been a growing event. The first official year had about 50 participants, Gilbert said. Last year, 150 registered gamers participated.
This year, over 300 people are registered to compete. Because registrants often bring friends or family to accompany them, Gilbert said she would not be surprised to see 600 people arrive for the tournament.
Twelve of those registered are from the Fairbanks area. The gaming club is bringing about 10 people, Hughes said.
Based on his own experiences in other tournaments across the state, Hughes said eUnlimited BYTE is about as big as Senshi Con, an Anchorage-based convention. This year, Hughes is signed up to compete in the “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” bracket, which is nearing 130 registered competitors.
“I don’t think there’s been a 128-person bracket in Alaska for as far as I know,” he said.
Evan Aldridge, another member of the club at UAF, said he’s wanted to go to the tournament for a few years but hasn’t had the opportunity until now. He plans to fly down to stay with a friend in the area, then the two of them plan to drive in to eUnlimited BYTE together.
“I have a lot of friends that are going down, and I know a lot of people in Anchorage that are going to the event as well, so I figured this would be a good time to go,” Aldridge said.
He said the social aspect of esports tournaments is one of the reasons he attends, and, although he likes competing, it’s not his main focus.
Aldridge, like Hughes, is signed up to compete in the “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” bracket.
Other games available to those who register are “Super Smash Bros. Melee,” “Tekken 7,” “Hearthstone,” “Fortnite,” “Overwatch” and “League of Legends.” There is one final game bracket, available only to students within the school district: “Rocket League.”
The team that wins in the “Rocket League” bracket will win $1,000 for their school’s esports program and official gaming jerseys, Gilbert said.
While the tournament has an official partnership with the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District, Gilbert said the company has discussed opening it up to more schools.
“I think for us, when it comes to pioneering esports, we want to see that growth all over the state,” she said.
As teachers began reaching out about the tournament, Gilbert began responding to them. To that end, she said interested schools can send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and she’ll see if she can get them added to the list of competitors.
There is a new youth specific bracket this year as well, for anyone under the age of 14. Gilbert said this bracket will have different prizes than the others and allow younger players to compete on a more level playing field.
The other brackets will have the chance to earn cash and other prizes, such as gaming chairs and equipment, as well. Overall, more than $12,000 in cash and prizes will be given out throughout the tournament.
The cash and how it is distributed will depend on how many people are registered for each game, Gilbert said.
Registration is at www.mtasolutions.com/event/byte/. The tournament will be held at the MTA Turf Arena inside of the Curtis D. Menard Memorial Sports Center in Wasilla. It will be streamed on MTA’s Twitch channel, as well as on the AlaskaGamer’s Twitch channel.
Contact staff writer Kyrie Long at 459-7510. Follow her on Twitter:@FDNMlocal.