Cineplex Entertainment has plugged into the eSports industry and hopes to give gamers “a pathway to go from their home to the World Championships.” The Toronto-based exhibitor bought World Gaming in September for $10 million and has invested an additional $5 million to expand its competitive gaming market, giving gamers the opportunity to compete in quarterly tournaments in the recently launched Canadian Championships.
We got a preview of the event when Cineplex opened the doors of the Toronto Scotiabank Theatre to the media on Feb. 12. The move showed off the setup that will be used in 24 theatres across the country during tournaments that will be open to the public for houseleague play. Boasting 12 seats — perfect for 1v1 play or 6v6 — the event is sponsored by Sony, which explains why the PS4 is the console of choice.
The first regional championships will be held Feb. 21, while on March 6 the first Canadian eSports Championship will be held for Call of Duty: Black Ops III. It marks the first time a company has launched a national Canadian eSports tournament. It’s a bold move, and one in which Cineplex Chief Financial Officer Gord Nelson sees the potential for growth.
“We wanted to get there early and stake a claim to be a part of that market, and be at the forefront of developing competitive gaming for Canada and elsewhere,” he told the gathering of journalists. “We’re doing that by creating a community that connects live, online gaming with unique location-based experiences.”
World Gaming CEO Rob Segal was similarly excited about the new role his company has in the eSports world. He’s well aware that Canada has plenty of talent when it comes to gaming, pointing to the recent winners of the DOTA 2 championships, as well as Starcraft II and DOTA 2 mainstays like Chris Loranger and Artour Babaev, respectively.
“What we’d love to see are feeders, guys who win our tournaments, getting into the world championships,” Segal told Dork Shelf. “We see this as a natural path for Canadians to get to Korea or the Staples Center in L.A. We’ll always ask the publisher to hold a few seats back for our Canadian champions.”
Cineplex is looking to add competitions for titles like NHL 16 and Street Fighter V in the future, though no announcements have been made as of yet.
Of course, eSports is not a new phenomenon. Street Fighter was once released in a four-cabinet set to emulate an eight-player tournament bracket in 1993, while the Evolution Championship Series was founded in 1996. DOTA 2 and League of Legends have been mainstays in recent years, with championships that attract roughly 20 and 32 million viewers, respectively. Even the 1989 film The Wizard (starring Fred Savage and a very young Tobey Maguire) touched on the idea of playing video games for cash prizes.
So far, eSports hasn’t become as big in Canada as it has in South Korea, Japan and the United States. Cineplex Entertainment is looking to change that, and hopes to expand as it becomes more widespread.
“You see that gamers want to congregate socially to share that experience,” Nelson said. “This is a place where you come share a social experience.”
Dork Shelf will be providing ongoing coverage of Cineplex’s first World Gaming Canadian Championships. Check back after Feb. 21 for the results from the regional championships.