PIVOT is a word that has come into its own in 2020, with its definition evolving to encompass anyone or anything that has been able to move fluidly through a changing landscape of health restrictions.
The organizers of events that have adapted to radically changed circumstances and still move forward (with success, no less) are nothing less than heroic. One of those is HV Gamer Con, a home-grown esports event presented last year at the Albany Capital Center. The event was honored in SDM’s 2019 awards program, Champions of Economic Impact in Sports Tourism.
Initially, the spring 2020 in-person version of the event was postponed. By late summer, three things became obvious to organizers: (a) the pandemic was going to be affecting sports for an extended period, (b) the gaming population was still eager to participate in the event, and (c)) if the event were to go forward, changes needed to be made. Organizers made those changes and put on a successful event.
In part, says Doug McClaine, the GM of the Albany Capital Center, success came about because HV Gamer Con is a partnership – with all parties working together, including Albany Capital Center (ACC), Center for Economic Growth (CEG), Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) and Collegiate Sports Management Group. The event is supported through a grant from the Regional Economic Development Councils and I Love NY.
“It was in August when we decided to move the event to a virtual format,” says McClaine. “We decided to keep the same program, but to break the event up over two weekends.”
According to McClaine, panel discussions were hosted on Facebook Live and on YouTube.
“Our sponsors thankfully were still on board,” he notes, “and we covered our production costs.”
The festivities kicked off the weekend of September 12 and 13 with virtual tournaments and livestreamed panel discussions. HV Gamer Con partner Gaming Insomniacs hosted a tournament that was open to the public, competing in Fortnite and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate tournaments. Those events drew more than 375 participants.
According to McClaine, the public tournament featured prize money.
Super Smash Bros. and Fortnite were selected because, in addition to being popular titles, they are fast-moving and can be run efficiently.
The second weekend, the finale of HV Gamer Con 2020 took place over October 17 and 18, with event partner Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference (ECAC) hosting its National Championship tournaments virtually. Thousands of viewers tuned in to the competition, powered by LeagueSpot, streamed live on the ECAC Esports Twitch channels where 24 schools -- including the Elite 8 in Overwatch, Rocket League and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate -- brought in 96 competitors virtually to face off. When the dust settled, the winning teams included Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Overwatch, Syracuse University in Rocket League, and Farmingdale State College in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. (MVPs for each title were named as well).
McClaine noted that last year, the event included different games, which caused competition to run very late – undesirable for a live event held in a staffed venue.
“We had people here after 1 a.m.”
Taking HV Gamer Con virtual obviously meant making some significant changes. While gamers didn’t have a problem moving to an online format to compete, McClaine notes, one of the more in-demand and valuable aspects of the in-person event are those that allow gamers to connect with colleges, as well as esports companies in the area. And the growing high school gaming population in the region definitely appreciated it.
“We have quite a few gaming hubs and clubs in the capital region, as well as lots of schools with esports programs, and we’re used to doing a college fair with admissions officers present. One of our panels addressed egaming in colleges, which was very informative and we were able to field questions. We wanted to have that in-person feel, and the fact that we could take a lot of that same components and put them together worked out well.”
In between competitions, the Albany Capital Center hosted virtual panel discussions that were broadcast on the livestream of the public tournaments as well as the Albany Capital Center’s social media platforms. Topics covered included “The Boom of Gaming Studios in the Capital Region,” “Esports in High School, College and the Real World” and “The Health and Wellness of a Gamer.”
The analytics for HV Gamer Con were impressive. The public aspect of the event in September reached 258,742 individuals, with 334,352 impressions.
HV Gamer Con 2021 plans to return to an in-person format at the Albany Capital Center on Saturday, April 10 and Sunday, April 11.
In 2019, the event had an estimated economic impact of over $300,000 in its first year. The figures for the 2020 event will be far more difficult to figure out, says McClaine but he sees the event as a tremendous success.
“A lot of folks were happy we were able to do this. They wanted to play their games and compete with other people.”
And, he notes, it went smoothly – with only one exception.
“Even though it was a virtual event, we actually did have someone show up to play. We had to tell them, “You’re six months early.”