This past weekend added a new meaning to the phrase, “Winter X Games gold medalist.” More than fifty competitive video gamers battled it out for for those awards... and $50,000. That was at a tournament next to more traditional events like SuperPipe, but it had nothing to do with winter or snow. And it's part of ESPN's move to join forces with a gaming corporation and bring in more TV viewers.
The competition kicked off on Friday. That day it took a little searching to find the gaming tent at Buttermilk. But once there, a gigantic video game controller is near the entrance.
“Yes, my name is Spencer Peterson, and I’m the head project manager for Counter Strike global offensive for Major League Gaming.”
Peterson is standing outside the main tent with several security personnel. He’s pleased that all one hundred and fifty five spectator seats sold out way before the X Games began. That’s at $100 a pop.
“This is the first time we’ve done Winter X Games. We were at Summer X Games last year, we did a different game, Call of Duty. It’s something new, something exciting, something that we hope we can kind of blend into X Games over the years, and bring in a whole new demographic,” says Peterson.
The game this time around also has nothing to do with snow or extreme sports.
“Today they’re playing Counter-Strike Global Offensive. It’s a first person shooter," says Peterson.
Here’s how it goes.
"So you have a terrorist and a counter terrorist. The terrorists try to plant the bomb while the counter terrorists try to stop them from planting the bomb. One side is the counter terrorists, they are a protecting the bomb site from the terrorists. And either you diffuse the bomb to stop the terrorists or you kill the terrorists and you win,” says Peterson.
Win sixteen times, and your team takes the tournament.
“You guys want to check it out inside?” Peterson asks.
“That’d be awesome!”
It might not sound that different, but we're now in a big, dark room, with a blue and red light show, flashing on the ceiling. There's brightly lit rooms on a stage.
“So we have two booths, soundproof booths. The teams sit inside, and they’re in a chat and they talk to each other,” says Peterson.
Each gamer sits in front of a computer, calm yet very focused. Most are guys, and wearing headphones. The audience sits in stadium rows facing the stage. There's maybe about a hundred folks here, and Peterson is quick to point out it's the first round of the weekend. He projects it'll be standing room only by the end of the day.
“I’m actually playing in this event. I’m actually about to play up next,” says Florida gamer Peter Gurney. He's in the audience, checking out his competition.
“I’ve been gaming for over ten years. I’m over 24,” he says.
Gurney says he has not been to the Winter X Games before, and he’s new to icy conditions.
"I’ve already almost slipped like three or four times. So it’s interesting to say the least, it’s very beautiful, it’s a very nice place. If they had it here I’d definitely go," he says.
Plus, he really likes those those soundproof booths for the players, which he hasn't had before. The X Games medals up for contention are kind of cool.
"Uh yeah, I mean yeah, that’s, for sure, but definitely the money is you know, the main reason why we’re here. But definitely, that would be awesome if we got a gold medal," Gurney says.
The goal to bring in more money is likely true for ESPN, too, which owns the X Games.
This competition is streamed online in French, German and other languages. Announcers call the play by play, paired with a live feed of the game
Announcer: “It’s all on [a player], can he do it right here, [player] misses the shot, [player] gets the round... can they actually pull this out?"
Fortune Magazine reports the global audience for such competitions was just under 90 million last year and is expected to mushroom far higher in the next few years — 145 million in 2017. Plus there's millions more casual viewers. To reach more of that audience, ESPN has started broadcasting some of the biggest international tournaments as well.
As for the competition on the ground in Aspen this past weekend, it could also boost the numbers of people checking out actual snowsports. Again, Spencer Peterson of Major League Gaming.
“I think people come here for the video games, and they stay for X Games as well,” he says.
I’m Elise Thatcher, with Aspen Public Radio news.