Edmonton welcomes Alberta’s biggest esports event

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Gamers galore are in Edmonton this weekend, with top players hitting the keyboards and controllers for the biggest in-person Alberta esports event ever.

The Alberta Esports Expo begins Saturday at the Edmonton Expo Centre, bringing thousands of people from across the province to watch professional video game players compete.

The event is organized by the Alberta Esports Association (AESA) and features main-stage tournaments and panels from industry experts and community members.

“You come out, you meet people and find people with like interests,” said Brad Jones, AESA co-founder and vice-president. “And you realize that there’s people just like you in these communities and it’s a great place to make friends.”

He said the expo is designed to entertain and educate. Panels will cover a wide range of topics including cosplay, the business aspects of esports and discussions about gender minorities in the gaming industry.

And, with top players competing over the weekend, Jones said spectators can expect to get a good feel for what professional esports looks like.

“The bulk of the event is actually tournaments,” he added. “But also there’s going to be plenty of space to spectate, get involved, learn about the different communities that are making this happen and connect if you’re maybe even hopeful for a future in esports.”

The expo is free to attend, thanks to an $85,000 Heritage Commemorative Grant from the federal government.

“That shows a gigantic change in the industry support [and] really, really good prospects for the future of esports and anyone looking into it,” said Jones.

Technical director Jordan Ananmalay said the event is the biggest he’s seen in Alberta, with Explore Edmonton anticipating the expo to have more than $1.4 million in economic impact for the city.

While larger-scale events are more common in bigger Canadian cities and around the world, Ananmalay said it’s unusual to have them supported with federal funding.

“It’s a next level of gravitas, I’m not going to lie, and something we haven’t seen in Canada yet,” he said. “I hope it starts a cascade across the nation of large events of this scale bringing communities together to game.”

The U.S. International Trade Administration reports that the esports industry in Canada is growing and contributes around $4.5 billion to the country’s GDP, with the market expected to grow by 14.5 per cent between 2018 and 2023 – almost double the global growth rate.

More than 2,100 people are expected to attend in person and viewers will also be able to tune in to a Twitch stream of the event.

For Jones, who has been playing esports for 17 years, it means a lot to see how much support and growing interest there is for his sport and his community.

“We’re growing from meeting at friends’ houses, to community halls, all the way up to expo centres,” he added. “Kind of brings a tear to my eye.

“It’s been so stellar just seeing that this is something that we’re going to introduce to way more people than we ever have before and do it in a way that we feel does it justice and really is inclusive.”

The event begins Saturday with a Super Smash Brothers tournament. For more information or to book tickets, visit the event’s website.

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