Downtown Grand Ups Its Game With eSports

Competitive video gaming finds its home at the hotel-casino through weekly contests.

Photo by Amber Sampson

Photo by Amber Sampson

Every year, millions of gamers tune into Twitch, a popular live-streaming video platform, to watch eSports. These video game tournaments, which pit professional teams against one another for bountiful prizes, have become so marketable, even ESPN has taken notice.

But as the emerging sport grows internationally, Downtown Grand is working to foster the community within our state lines. Ever heard of an eContest?

“They’re not traditional eSports tournaments, which are generally team-based,” explains Seth Schorr, chairman of Downtown Grand “… We’re trying to create a platform and an environment for the casual competitive person.”

“[We] want to slowly grow an audience, and establish ourselves as an authentic … eSports destination, as opposed to just having 1000 people come every once in a blue moon.”—Seth Schorr

That’s not to say you won’t see competitive scrimmages of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, the famed-first-person shooter that amassed over 27 million Twitch viewers for its 2015 ESL One Cologne tournament, according to IGN. Schorr says solo play is simply the focus right now.

Each month follows a game genre theme. February is fight month, and among the headliners have been Mortal Kombat X, Super Smash Bros. and, this Friday, Street Fighter V. But for February 27, the Grand’s hosting the WGLNA finals for the mass multiplayer game World of Tanks, a favorite that ranks among the top 10 most watched video games on Twitch. March’s full calendar has yet to be announced, but March 4 will be a Madden NFL championship, presented by

Games are allocated to different platforms each contest, with Xbox One, Wii U, PlayStation 4 and PC being flagship systems. If you’re a BYOC type, all personal controllers are welcome, except for on PC. At a Super Smash Bros. event, one competitor even used his Nintendo 3DS as a controller (and whooped pixelated ass with it). As for BYOB, the same rules don’t apply, but the $15 entry fee will land you a free drink. There’s no shame in loosening up the nerves, especially when these eContests dole out $250 prizes to the winner.

Even though the eContests share the casino floor with other variations of gaming, they’ve become their own little ecosystem. Among the multiple flat-screen TV’s available for viewing the matches, two rows of high-end PCs line a segment of the contest space. This is where spectators can play other games such as Counter-Strike or the widely popular multiplayer online battle arena game League of Legends, which holds the top viewed slot on Twitch.

“I’ve always known about this video game world—the competitive element. Additionally, the gambling industry is changing in the sense of the audience is changing.” – Seth Schorr

“We only wanted to do it if we could do it in a very meaningful way, and I think that the gaming community feels that and they’re really excited,” Schorr says. “And quite frankly, it’s added to the energy of the casino.”

But eContests are just a portion of what the Grand has done to get involved in the gaming community. The hotel is one of the first to sponsor two professional Counter-Strike eSports teams: local outfit Las Vegas Neon and Australian team the L.A. Renegades, who recently placed second in the 2016 Intel Extreme Masters TaiPei, a mass Counter-Strike tournament. The Grand accommodates the teams with live-in suites and a training facility, according to Schorr.

If you ask him how the Grand’s interest in video gaming came about, the chairman will laugh and tell you he’d “like to take a little bit of credit.”

“I was actually doing Guitar Hero tournaments back in 2009,” he says. “I’ve always known about this video game world—the competitive element. Additionally, the gambling industry is changing in the sense of the audience is changing.”

As new forms of gambling come into the casinos, Schorr says eContests present a stepping-stone for video game wagering. LEET, an eSports platform startup that’s partnered with the Grand to help run the eContests, also promotes eSports wagers. The chairman says players already stick around after the contests to play rounds of Blackjack. The lines have already began to blur.

“We believe as the millennial audience becomes more of a significant presence in the casino, they will demand and expect that type of wagering and gambling,” he says. “I think we’re just sort of setting the groundwork.” This mindset means eContest attendees must be over 21, but Schorr says plans for 17 and up contests at another location are in the works.

For a hotel just rolling out its first contest in January, the Grand has done a lot in a small window of time. But Schorr acknowledges it wouldn’t be possible without support from the gamers who check out and participate in the events.

As for what’s next? Well, the Grand’s nothing short of big aspirations.

“[We] want to slowly grow an audience,” Schorr says, “and establish ourselves as an authentic—authentic being the key —eSports destination, as opposed to just having 1000 people come every once in a blue moon.”

Downtown Grand e-Contests

At the Downtown Grand. Every Friday, 7 p.m, $15 entry fee, 21 and up. World of Tanks finals Feb. 27, 12 p.m.

Editor’s Note: Initially, “League of Legends” was incorrectly labeled a real-time strategy game. We’ve since corrected this. 


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