GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) – The video game industry is big business in the United States, to the tune of $23 billion.
It’s not just kids’ stuff. The Entertainment Software Association says the average age of a video gamer is 35.
An estimated 155 million Americans play video games on a regular basis. It’s such a big draw, businesses are hosting tournaments.
One of those competitive gamers is Adrian Cuellar, a video game tournament organizer.
“I’ve been playing competitively for two years. I’ve been playing games since the original copy on the N64, like 1999,” Cuellar says.
Cuellar is studying to become a teacher, but on Wednesdays and Saturdays, you’ll find him at Side Quest Gaming, a small shop on College Avenue in Appleton.
Side Quest Gaming buys, sells, and trades games in the front of the store. The back of the store has become a destination gaming lounge–the site of tournaments drawing upwards of 75 people each weekend.
“We’ve had people coming up from Chicago before. We’ve had people come up from the Milwaukee area, Sheboygan. We’ve had people from Stevens Point come before,” says Dean Farley, manager, Side Quest Gaming.
Farley says the shop is one of only a few in the Midwest taking advantage of the surging popularity of competitive gaming.
“We sort of have our own Super Bowls every four months or so, but our big one is probably Evo, so Evolution Las Vegas,” Cuellar says.
Evo is the grand daddy of them all. It’s a three-day tournament played on big screens and broadcast on ESPN.
Past winners have taken home $100,000 in prize money.
Other tournaments raise money for charity, donating more than $2 million.
“It’s hit a point where it’s really big,” Farley says. “It’s something where people actually sit down and they watch people play each other. People fill out brackets, kind of like a March Madness type thing.”
On a practice night in Appleton, gamers play for fun and friendship.
“We’re socializing. We’re meeting new people,” Cuellar says.
Side Quest Gaming says most of their players are in their teens and 20s, but they do have some kids as young as 13 get into the competitive gaming.
“So kids, growing up, we want them to come into the scene and feel welcomed and want to be here,” Cuellar says.
The key to these tournaments is being able to see who you are playing.
It’s different from playing at home. Home gamers will often match up with strangers and chat online through the gaming systems.
Law enforcement officers are starting to see a dangerous new trend: sexual predators are using these systems to seek out victims.
On Action 2 News at 10, Target 2 Investigates reports on how this is happening, what we saw when investigators fired up a game with our cameras rolling, and what parents need to know to keep their kids safe.