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Getting creative with esports tourneys

Like everything else on the Las Vegas Strip over the past month, the Luxor’s HyperX Esports Arena is empty.

But right before the statewide shutdown, HyperX and Allied Esports, the arena’s parent company, decided to fund a rather unique shelter-in-place scenario.

Picture it: five guys, 15 computer stations, 20 monitors crammed into a 15-by-25-foot living room in a large Las Vegas home.

From what Allied Esports CEO Jud Hannigan calls the “Quarantine Command Center,” the group sets up and produces for online broadcast tournaments of popular video games such as Fortnite and Call of Duty.

“A team of the production staff from the arena came together and said, ‘Let’s quarantine together in the living room, since we can’t be in the arena, and put on these tournaments,’” arena spokesperson Hannah Hurlburt said. “They all decided to move in together, in a 3,100-square-foot house.”

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As the coronavirus pandemic spread in early March, all major sporting events were canceled or postponed, and social-distancing practices were put in place. Initially, a skeleton crew continued to work from the Esports Arena.

“But we kept thinking about, “Well, what happens next? What’s the plan for when we aren’t allowed to come back to the building?’” Hannigan said.

During a staff brainstorming session, Kevin Forrstrom offered his four-bedroom home, which he shared with a roommate and a dog.

Within a week, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered all Las Vegas hotels and casinos to close. So, Forrstrom, along with team members Gerard Cana, Stephon Millon and Justin Carter, gathered equipment from the arena and the company’s production truck in Las Vegas to set up the command center in his home. Allied Esports boosted the house’s internet speeds to meet the needs of this new makeshift facility.

The sequestered group produces tournaments, some of which offer cash prizes, that can be viewed at the website Twitch. Prospective players can sign up through the arena’s website for events six days a week — the command center is dark on Mondays.

“We’ve built up a miniature version of what we have in our premium production facility (at the HyperX Esports Arena),” Hannigan said. “We can continue to run events, online, and produce content to a similar quality that we’ve been known for.”

Most days, the group runs afternoon (typically 12:15-6 p.m.) and evening (6:15-11:59 p.m.) tournaments.

The Esports Arena’s move online comes as Nevada officials have OK’d betting on esports.

In late March, the Gaming Control Board allowed Nevada sportsbooks to begin taking bets on the game Counter-Strike: Global Offensive’s ESL Pro League Season 11 in North America. Gamblers could make bets on head-to-head outcomes, match winners and season winners in the esports league.

William Hill U.S. was the first Nevada sportsbook to take wagers on esports. Nick Bogdanovich, William Hill’s director of trading, said his company gets lines from its headquarters in Leeds, England, where esports betting was already legal.

Then, last week, the Gaming Control Board approved four more popular games — Overwatch League, League of Legends European Championship, North America League of Legends Championship and the 2020 Call of Duty League — for betting. Nevada sportsbooks have also taken wagers on eNASCAR races.

Hannigan expects these games to grow in popularity, especially as the country goes months without traditional sports to watch and bet on.

“I think the big tie-in is there is still a path forward for esports as a form of competitive entertainment,” Hannigan said. “Because esports can happen online, there is a viable option for esports to fill the void that is missing in this world where traditional sports have pretty much stopped on a dime.”

Prior to the Gaming Control Board’s March 27 ruling, there had been legal wagering on a few individual events. But the approval of wagers for Counter-Strike was the first for a full esports season.

“I think ultimately what this is doing is it’s fast-tracking the accepted norm of esports in the wider world of sports betting in the U.S.,” Hannigan said.