SAN ANTONIO – On May 6th, 2022, there were a lot of firsts at the new Tech Port Center + Arena.
“This event is a really big deal. It’s the opening event, if you will, for the Overwatch League season number five. And we have the Dallas Fuel playing the one, the only Houston Outlaws,” says Lori Burgess, COO for Beasley eSports, owners of the Houston Outlaws
The event was called “Battle for Texas,” the first esports tournament held at the newly completed Tech Port Center + Arena. It was the first time a tournament for “Overwatch League season 5″ was held in person in North America since the COVID-19 pandemic canceled past seasons.
Two teams from The Overwatch League -- the Dallas Fuel and the Houston Outlaws -- battled to be #1 in Texas in the video game tournament.
“The Tech Port Arena, the ownership group, had reached out to us before they even started building here and suggested to us that they were going to be creating a multipurpose arena that they wanted to host major esports events in, and they convinced us to help them open this arena,” says Burgess.
A big reason for that is that the arena of esports itself is growing, from huge prize money for competitive players to esports scholarships for students. Many industries are looking to the world of esports to recruit top talent in tech fields.
“If you look at our aerospace customers, robotics, cybersecurity, and even the military missions, they’re all looking at esports and gaming as a new area to find, recruit, retain talent, a way to optimize their operations and virtualize their training,” says Will Garrett, vice president of talent and technology development and integration at Port SA.
You can probably tell by now that esports is more than a few friends sitting on a couch gaming together. It is an organized competition. All kinds of games are included, such as “FIFA” or “NBA2k,” first-person shooter games like “Call of Duty,” or fighting games, such as “Super Smash Brothers,” “Tekken” or “Mortal Kombat.”
“Overwatch is a team-based hero shooter (game). And basically, you have a team of five going against another team of five, and they’re trying to accomplish certain objectives. This game has a dedicated fan base that’s been following the game and the players every step of the way before the game was even out for the public,” says Malik Forte, master of ceremonies at the Battle for Texas.
A lot of esports games are played in teams with different leagues. Those leagues run for a predetermined amount of time, similar to a season in other sports.
Teams or players are also ranked based on performance as they compete throughout the season. Eventually, the top teams or players make it to the playoffs. Then, the top two compete in the finals. The winnings can be large amounts of money.
In 2021, the prize pool for a year-long season of one of the most popular esports games, “Dota 2,″ was $40,000,000. The top team took home $18,000,000 split among its five players.
“There’s a whole industry around esports that’s really being fostered and cultivated. It’s more than just gaming, but it’s like the broadcasters behind it, the marketing behind it, the graphic design behind it. So it’s really a whole industry,” says Chris Saenz, the local YMCA’s esports director.
In the state of Texas, gaming accounts for 25,000 jobs, with an annual economic impact estimated to be $4,100,000,000.
The Tech Port Center + Arena is unique when it comes to esports. It is not the first esports arena in Texas, but it is the first to be built specifically for this. The facility is expected to be a major competitor to the already established esports venues around the state.
“It starts with infrastructure. Typically, like our traditional esports arenas -- the Dallas arena being a converted convention space, the HyperX Arena being previously a restaurant -- there really hasn’t been anything built from the ground up quite like what we have here,” said Sam Elizondo, director of esports for Tech Port Center + Arena.
”This is probably the most sophisticated arena that I have seen built specifically for esports.”
“The fact that this arena has tons of concessions -- multiple levels for people to sit and watch the game -- I feel like you can really immerse yourself and still be a part of the event, no matter where you are in this venue,” Elizondo said.
The venue was near-capacity for its first esports tournament.
So will this $70,000,000 investment be worth it?
It is probably too soon to know, but it is safe to say San Antonio has joined other texas cities in trying to up its game.
”Different cities, like San Antonio, like Houston, like Austin, and other cities around the country are thinking about esports. You know, being able to have facilities that allow kids to come and practice,” Elizondo said. “The right kinds of internet, the right kinds of equipment that is needed, the right kinds of coaches that are needed. And then in addition to that, really celebrating esports and not saying, ‘Hey, my kids shouldn’t be playing video games.’ That’s silly. It’s, like, no, no, no, this is a sport and an industry that is growing like mad.”