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Knoxville News-Sentinel (Tennessee)


Smokies Stadium isn't just for baseball anymore. The facility recently hosted an auto show and a beer festival.

And on Nov. 10, the stadium will host an unconventional event yet again — a tournament called the Smokies eSports Challenge, featuring some of the world's most popular video games.

"In general, with events here, it's just awesome to see something that never existed," said Jason Moody, special events manager for the Smokies. "We saw more demand for things like this to utilize the facility and generate revenue in the offseason."

ESports is 'a movement'

New batting cages recently were built at the stadium. When the nets are rolled out, the space works great as an events center, Moody said.

While an eSports tournament may seem random for the space, minor league baseball teams have held similar events before.

"I went to Durham and attended (the Bulls') tournament, took a look at it and saw them pull it off," Moody said. "The need and the want for eSports is not just East Tennessee. All over the country we've seen it grow and grow together with traditional sports."

It's hard to quantify how big of a deal eSports is in the eastern part of the state, but Jason Smethers has a rough idea.

Smethers is the adviser for the University of Tennessee's eSports club, which has about 200 registered members.

"I would call eSports a movement," Smethers said. "We spend most of our time focusing our our league against other universities, but we're very excited to have events like (the Smokies tournament) nearby. We're excited that the scene in the local area is growing."

In addition to UT, East Tennessee State University and Vanderbilt have eSports teams, Smethers said.

What to know before you go

About half of the games included in the Smokies eSports Challenge are team-based, so people will need to get a group of friends together to register. Multiple brackets will exist for each game, so teams can join another if they get knocked out, Moody said.

Below is a list of all the games with their respective consoles, team sizes and entry fees per bracket.

"League of Legends" (5 vs 5 on PC): $125 per team

"Fortnite" (open play on PC): Free

"Rocket League" (2 vs 2 on Xbox One): $25 per team

"Call of Duty: Black Ops 4" (4 vs 4 on PS4): $75 per team

"FIFA '19" (1 vs 1 on Xbox One): $10

"Super Smash Brothers" (1 vs 1 on Wii U): $10

"This is wide open," Moody said. "You may see professional gamers on ESPN a lot these days, but it's not going to be anywhere near that level of competition. ... I'm sure there will be some good gamers, but, in general, you should be able to compete."

In addition to the bracket prices, there is a general admission fee. People paying at the door will have the chance to buy brackets inside or simply sit and watch.

"We'll have what we call the main stage, where we'll feature one game throughout the day," Moody said. "We'll have shoutcasters there — basically a video game announcer."

The event also features a cosplay contest and will be streamed live.

"We recommend people register ahead of time because I think we'll have several brackets sell out," Moody said.

Prizes will be announced closer to the event. There likely will be one grand prize for each game instead of for each bracket. This way, the winnings will be larger, Moody said.

A VIP ticket option is available. In addition to ballpark food, which general admission will have access to, VIP ticketholders will get a T-shirt, free registration and access to a buffet, Moody said.

"This tournament does two things," Smethers said. "It raises awareness for eSports. We're always looking for people to notice it's a thing. Two, the Smokies, being part of the Cubs organization, shows someone from a corporate level is willing to invest money in this idea.

"That shows us there's something here. We're not just guys sitting around playing video games. There's actually an interest in this."

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November 1, 2018


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