Thu, Feb 24, 2022 (2 a.m.)
It happens like a stack of collapsing dominoes. Downtown Grand begins hosting video gaming competitions inside its esports lounge in 2016. Millennial Esports, a studio located in Downtown’s Neonopolis, opens in 2017. In 2018, the multilevel LAX nightclub at Luxor transitions into HyperX Esports Arena. And that same year, Rio debuts the Wall, a lounge for casual and competitive video gaming.
Today, only HyperX Esports Arena remains. So here’s the billion-dollar question: If esports are a billion-dollar industry, why haven’t they hit it off in our billion-dollar casino town?
“We’ve had a lot of people who have jumped on the bandwagon, thinking that this would be a good idea,” says Ben Fox, co-founder of Las Vegas’ annual Casino Esport Conference, a two-day event with the goal informing casino leaders on how to integrate video gaming successfully.
“Their approach is wrong, because they approach it from whatever they think works instead of approaching it from what works for gamers or video game enthusiasts,” Fox says.
If there’s anyone who understands the Venn diagram of those worlds, it’s Fox and his brother Ari. The two have worked in the casino industry for more than 25 years, and in that time, they’ve developed relationships with video game developers from around the world. That’s why you’ll see guest speakers at the CEC like Tyler Bushnell, son of Atari founder Nolan Bushnell and CEO of the arcade company Polycade; but also members of the Nevada Gaming Control Board and legal and wagering experts. The Fox brothers look at the big picture, which doesn’t focus solely on esports.
In 2014, the pair hosted their first Gameacon (Game Arts Convention), a traveling convention that will land in Las Vegas again this August. “We came up with the idea of creating something similar to the Sundance Film Festival for video gaming,” Fox explains, noting it was originally for developers to showcase their work but has since become what he calls “the Comic-Con of games.”
Gameacon offers a place for gamers to gather, play upcoming indie games, dress in cosplay, listen to panels and hop into virtual reality. Esports are still a part of the agenda, but “the offering can’t just be esports,” Fox says. “Gameacon offers more. It’s a festival.”
In the past, Las Vegas casinos have bet on esports breaking big, but “they’re [still] missing elements,” Fox says. “They’re missing the community.” Running a convention like Gameacon helps Fox understand what resonates with gamers. And with that knowledge, he can continue to educate industry leaders at CEC—and try bridging these two communities together once and for all.
“We’re watching and observing and we’re providing,” Fox says. “And that’s a lot different than coming up with an idea in a vacuum.”
Casino Esport Conference March 23-24, Alexis Park Resort, casinoesportconf.com.
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Amber Sampson is a Staff Writer for Las Vegas Weekly. She got her start in journalism as an intern at …