THUNDER BAY – Video games have come a long way since Atari Inc. released Pong in 1972.
Nearly 50 years later, competitive games is disrupting the entertainment industry landscape, with championships of games such as Fortnite or League of Legends selling out football stadiums, and broadcasting competitions to millions of people around the world.
On Saturday, roughly 50-or-so gamers filled two rooms at the Valhalla Inn to compete in Fortnite Duos with the chance to win $500 by the end of the Battle 4 Valhalla tournament.
According to Ryan Landry, owner of Morituri E-Sports, everybody has to start somewhere.
“There’s a lot of talent here. Now it’s about getting them confident to play in a venue like this so they can get recognized,” Landry said. “I can see the potential for some of these kids being the next ‘Bugha,’”
Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf is a 16-year-old boy from Pennsylvania who won $3 million at the 2019 Fortnite World Cup, and the newest snarky response from kids whose parents tell them they are wasting time staring in front of the screen.
While a million dollar pay-day may not be the most realistic end-game to taking up the sport, Landry says the tournament provides legitimate career options, and gives a platform to a group of young people that once felt alienated.
“For those kids who don’t have the size to play football, or don’t have the speed to play track and field, but have the hand-eye coordination of a surgeon without the stomach to handle that… Well, eSports is a choice for them.”
It isn’t just playing the game either. Landry said the rapidly growing industry is offering more and more for people interested in gaming design, production, and communications.
“There’s a lot of money to be made for kids, adults, and young adults for video games.”
Landry, who owns Moriture E-Sports which is currently the only independent gaming organization in Thunder Bay. Created in 2016, his team has gone as far as Las Vegas and California to compete in tournaments.
Landry envisioned the organizations to be a uniter for kids who may have had a hard time doing so without the platform.
“With our history of First Nations student coming in for school and that, we want to make a place where people can make friendships quickly. Video games are a great uniter, I believe.”
Courtis Rapley, a member of the Thunder Bay Smash Bros. Club, says the Battle 4 Valhalla helped bring a number of smaller gaming communities to the same venue for the first time.
“Our group is small, but we’re all very passionate about it. So we’d love for people to join us,” Rapley said.
The group of 20-or-so competed for the $200 ‘ultimate’ division prize, and $200 ‘melee’ division prize.
Like any sport, Rapley had some preparations to take care of before the smash.
“It’s a lot more intense. You have to practice and train. There’s a lot of technical skill that goes into it, there’s a lot of mind games involved as well.”
Four years ago, Rapley’s game disc deleted and he had to quickly unlock all the characters he once had, using YouTube videos to accelerate the process. That’s when he came across the competitive gaming group.
“I was super interested in it because (Smash Bros) is very nostalgic to me. I played it my whole childhood, and now there’s this whole different scene.”
Whether because of childhood nostalgia, or love of competition, there’s over $5,000 to be won throughout the weekend. Sunday will feature the championships of Fortnite, Apex Legends, Smash Bros., Counter Strike, and FIFA.
“We thought, there’s a demand for this to happen in Thunder Bay,” said Amy Chiappetta, sports sales manager at the Valhalla Inn. “It’s happening in different communities on smaller levels, but we wanted to do something on a different level with lighting, music, streaming, and all that good stuff.”