Fair game: Esports makes its mark at Arizona State Fair

PHOENIX – At this year’s Arizona State Fair, organizers took advantage of interest in the growing esports industry by hosting a huge gaming exhibit for the first time.

The building features dozens of top of the line gaming stations, as well as a stage suited for the many tournaments held throughout the fair’s duration. By partnering with multiple organizations to bring esports to the fair, attendees have been able to compete daily to win money from a $19,000 prize pool supplied by the Arizona Lottery.

Securing non-endemic sponsorships are crucial for the success of esports endeavors, said Bryan Hollis, the stage director Activate Entertainment, one of the exhibit’s partners. Receiving support from the Arizona Lottery helped make the event possible.

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Hollis added he got involved to give attendees more exposure to esports so they can better understand the phenomenon that has captivated many young gamers.

“Our end goal is to give exposure to esports to show parents that this is legitimate,” Hollis said. “Doing this gives people a glimpse of what an esports event is like on a smaller scale.”

Attendees have gotten to experience what it’s like to be an esports competitor almost every day of the month at the fair, during various cash tournaments. After paying a small entry fee, the winner can walk away with up to $1,500 playing games like Fortnite and Overwatch ]. Otherwise, anyone can catch all the action from the crowd.

Community and attendee support has been strong so far, said Kat Landingin, the director of sponsorships for the Arizona State Fair.

“We have gotten a lot of support online from organizations all around the city, and the support at the event is growing too.” Landingin said. “We have seen esports grow immensely, and that’s why I wanted to bring it to the state fair.”

Landingin said there were some initial growing pains but that the exhibit’s success means this likely won’t be the last time esports appears at the Arizona State Fair.

“Our goal is to bring in more sponsors that want to capitalize on the esports world,” Landingin said. “This year was a good start. With our partnership with the Arizona Lottery we were able to give away $19,000, which is more for an esports event in the history of Arizona, and we want to be able to do bigger things in the coming years.”

In the end, Landingin said this event is for the people, and that the people who put on the state fair want to form deeper connections with the esports world. She even encouraged members of the esports community to reach out with their ideas on how to grow the event in the future.

Video by Erik Ruby/Cronkite News

Sports Reporter, Phoenix