Colorado gamers, developers surge as video games become new lifeline during the pandemic

Colorado gamers, developers surge as video games become new lifeline during the pandemic

Ky Kennedy, 25, plays a video game at N3rd Street Gamers’ Localhost Arena, an esports mega center, during the facility’s grand opening on Dec. 7. (Andy Cross, The Denver Post) Epic Games, which publishes the online title Fortnite, this week removed police cars from its digital world of 250 […]

Old-guard media also continues to warm up to games’ artistic and entertainment value, following decades of trade and fan publications knowing the same. In the last few months, The New York Times has published articles questioning their bad rap with non-gamers, their potential to become career pathways, and how addictive they really are. A March 23 op-ed featured the headline “It’s a Perfect Time to Play Video Games. And You Shouldn’t Feel Bad About it.”

In Colorado, esports have taken firm root as an industry, The Denver Post reported in January, connecting students and real-world athletes in virtual environments such as League of Legends, Rocket League and Overwatch. Every four-year college in Colorado has some level of organized esports, The Post’s Kyle Fredrickson wrote, although the state lags behind others that offer college scholarship dollars for recruited gamers.

Industry investing in esports topped $1 billion in 2019, and Kroenke Sports — which controls the Colorado Avalanche, Denver Nuggets and Colorado Rapids teams — owns multiple esports teams in Los Angeles. And why not? The audience is there: On YouTube, the top five gaming streamers alone account for 59.5 billion in total video views, according to recent data.

The esports industry still faces a public relations battle. A recent survey found that nearly half of all respondents (46%) do not view esports as a real sport. That, despite the fact none of the participants in the interactive survey were able to beat pro gamers in an apples-to-apples skills challenge. (In fact, 75% said they did not think they could be a professional gamer.)

The unscientific study, commissioned by online gaming/casino site Casumo, must be taken with a grain of salt, given the sponsor (you can try it out yourself at casumo.com/en/blog/esports-elites). But it includes commentary from Matt Huxley, a tournament director and esports lecturer at Staffordshire University in London.

“There is still a strong perception that games are only for the lazy and unmotivated, a means to escape their responsibilities and pass time,” he said in a press statement. “Gaming is reduced to something simplistic and dismissed as such, without any effort made to understand the levels of which most games are played competitively. Esports also makes little attempt to be perceived as a genuine sport more widely because what other people think isn’t important!”

It’s difficult to conclude why Coloradans scored so high on the survey (or Arizonans, for that matter). Could it be our generally high engagement with arts and entertainment? More people attend art events in Denver than any other city in the U.S., according to a recent National Endowment for the Arts study, and the state is No. 1 in the percentage of residents who personally perform or create artworks.

To harness kids’ love of popular, free-to-play mobile games such as Fortnite, Minecraft and Roblox, Winder and his team “baked in” the learning tools but dressed them with adventure-gaming mechanics. The result is a musical role-playing game that now has the backing of the aforementioned industry veterans Ridgway and Hodous — the latter of whom created the $2 billion Guitar Hero franchise.

There’s renewed potential in “gamifying” educational software in the age of coronavirus and shuttered schools. Disney reported this week that its Codeillusion educational game saw a 300% increase in signups while social isolation orders have been in place. Most of the new players were adults.

Interactive arts company Meow Wolf has said virtual and “extended reality” will be part of its forthcoming Denver installation, blurring the lines between physical and digital installments at its 90,000-square-foot, $60 million new building.

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