The esports industry in the Triangle

Gaming stations at Contender Esports | Photo by RALtoday

Playing video games all day is not just a phase, mom — it’s also a way to be a professional esports player in an industry that gave out ~$238 million in prize money in 2019. 

Didn’t know you could make an actual living playing video games like Fortnite? We didn’t either — until we sat down with Caleb Smith, part of the father + son duo that owns Cary’s Contender eSports.  

History of the industry 

Esports of today can trace its roots back to the 1980s when Atari held tournaments, Caleb said. Fast forward to 2012 + the industry really began to take off. 

By 2019, the scene was reaching its peak with a total prize pool for the year of ~$238 million, according to Esports Earnings. The top player for 2019, a 29-year-old from Finland, made just over $3 million that year alone. 

“People are always amazed like, ‘Wow, it’s amazing that people make a career out of this,’” Caleb said.

How it works

Esports: aka the industry of competitive video game playing. Players of all ages can compete against one another, sometimes individually but most often in teams, in a range of different games at tournaments. 

These tournaments usually offer a cash prize, and sometimes might even require a small cash buy-in fee. Companies can sponsor the tournament + in turn provide the prize money. 

While these competitions can happen virtually, most players prefer to compete in person so that everyone is on a level playing field, Caleb said. Meaning, all competitors will be connected to the same WiFi and other factors that may impact playing. 

Some tournaments are open-entry, but others require previous bracket-style play in order to qualify. 

During down time between tournaments, players aren’t just taking a break. They spend hours on hours practicing with their team or by themselves, Caleb said. 

“It’s like practicing any sport. You do film study, you watch other people play,” he said. “People think you’re just playing games all day but no, you’re doing specific things to help improve and strengthen your skills.”

For a lot of video games, players will have different positions or different characters with assigned roles. Players also may have to learn certain maps or modes in games.

Esports in the Triangle

The Cary franchise location of Contender Esports opened in October of 2020 + is one of the only gaming centers in the Triangle area. 

Customers can go to the center to play games, host a birthday party, sign up for the center’s after school workshops, or STEM camps

Contender also hosts tournaments, and is sponsoring one at the Sheraton Raleigh Hotel this month. The Triangle Throwdown event is taking place Sun., Oct. 24 + includes singles and doubles Super Smash Bros competitions. Follow their social media to keep up with upcoming events. 

Caleb said expanding to other locations in the Triangle is not out of the question, as he hopes to help the esports industry grow in the region. One of his goals is to make a push to get a legit professional team in the area.

He also wants more people to know about opportunities like Wake Technical Community College’s esports team. The student team won the Spring 2021 NJCAAE Overwatch Championship in May.