TwitchCon Brings Gamers, Fans To Budding San Diego Esports Industry
More than 25,000 gamers, fans and online personalities will are descending upon San Diego this weekend for the fifth annual TwitchCon. It's the second time the city is hosting this event — which is not entirely out of the blue.
San Diego has a small, but growing professional and competitive video gaming industry, otherwise known as esports.
A strong local fan base
Video game center GameSync in Kearny Mesa on a Tuesday night is anything but quiet. In one corner, gaming enthusiasts are likely giving play-by-play of a heated round of a fighting game. And they are also live-streaming the game out to fans on a web platform, like Twitch.
At the other end of the room are over a dozen lit-up screens, occupied by at least 30 players and spectators. On Thursday nighta, a Super Smash Brothers Ultimate competition typically brings in more than 100 people.
So, while a few folks are providing color commentary, others are playing. And they have paid $5 to enter a competition for a cash prize. This is all part of a phenomenon known as esports.
"So esports is simply put, competitive gaming. You can think of it as a traditional sport but obviously it’s done with gaming systems online," said Agragati Siegel, the owner of GameSync.
Siegal was fixing computers in the early 2000s. After an economic downturn he said that business started to dwindle. So, he pivoted to esports in 2012.
After traveling the world, and seeing a burgeoning fighting game community in South Korea, he thought it might take off in the United States.
"Think of our business like a movie theater. You’re having an entertainment experience where you’re buying time by the hour," Seigal said.
And that's really how it is. In one portion of the room, there's even a concession stand.
Seigal said Gamesync was built from the ground up as an esports business, and it's one of only a handful of gaming centers in the city. While he still only brings in a small profit, he said he is confident the local industry will grow, especially since global figures suggest it will.
And there are figures to back that confidence up. Zachary Snader is an esports market analyst at the group Newzoo.
"The [global] market is currently valued at over $1 billion, and its continuing to grow," Snader said.
According to the 2019 Newzoo Global Esports Market Report, the esports industry is projected to reach $1.8 billion by 2022.
Snader says even pessimistic forecasts show industry revenue will grow by about 10% year over year. He says the West Coast is already a major hub of esports activity.
That’s because the industry isn’t just about the gamers.
"[It includes] everything from the game developers to the publishers to the public. And then there are players and teams that are actually getting paid to play these games professionally," Snader said.
Then, there are also online content platforms, like Twitch, that are streaming the games, advertisers, consultants and company sponsors for teams. Some professional gaming teams can win millions of dollars, Snader said.
The International Dota 2 gaming competition prize pool is valued at over $34 million. In 2011, that prize pool was just under $2 million.
And just like any other sporting ecosystem, there are some major companies, like Nike, backing teams and players.
Big players buying in, even in San Diego
That’s why it’s not just small businesses, like Gamesync, investing in eports.
At the San Diego Convention Center, staff prepare for TwitchCon, testing one of several purple gaming rooms, with loud speakers, massive screens and hundreds of seats. It's an all encompassing experience.
Convention Center CEO Clifford Rippetoe said it’s a no brainer to invest in an event like this.
"So Twitchcon is going to put us on the map technologically, similar to how ComicCon has put us on the map internationally as a brand," Rippetoe said.
Rippetoe said the Convention Center had to upgrade its technology to host TwitchCon. He said that investment will help it bring in other events demanding the same capabilities. And those events are also likely to bring in younger generations, as well.
"The ability for technology to not only create a business platform, but not only a sport and entertainment platform is here, and it’s going to stay that way in my opinion," he said.
Rippetoe said TwitchCon is an example of how the esports industry can bring people, who are willing to spend money, into the city.
And back at GameSync, it’s clear how the industry is doing that. Business owner Siegal says many esports teams from out of town are practicing at the center for TwitchCon.
"What you see in San Diego is potential," Siegal said.
There are already a number of local college teams from schools like UC San Diego and major game publishers like Psyonix. But, that’s not enough — Siegal said he wants to expand, and it’s still a challenge for him to find partners.
"The biggest challenge to expand my business in San Diego is educating potential investors and partners and co-founder on the opportunities here," he said.
As the industry gets more attention through events like TwitchCon, Siegal said, it’s just a matter of time before esports is mainstream.