Grassroots Esports – Overwatch Chicago

Starting any project from nothing is always challenging and a grassroots esports scene is no different. Many competitive players are passionate about their favorite games and love the opportunity to meet other local players and compete with one another. Esports at a global level has been booming, making now more than ever a great time to be involved in your favorite game’s local growth!

While it may sound easy to toss up a prize pool and charge admission, getting players to actually enter into your events is a fairly intense process. Luckily, the team at Overwatch Chicago is going to walk you through the major steps that any aspiring esports organization should take to becoming a staple in their local community.

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Brandon and Justin Gorson, the brothers behind Overwatch Chicago.

Starting Up

Before you start reaching out to your friends for help or put up that Facebook event, you will need to have a crystal clear vision of  how you want your event/organization to look. It isn’t enough to put together a bracket and hope that players will sign up. As anyone who has participated in amateur competitive events likely knows, they tend to be highly disorganized and chaotic. You should never assume that a participant will ‘figure it out’ or that they will read your email fully or your messages.

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Organizing teams for the next round of matches at the Overwatch Summer Meltdown. – June 17′

You can set yourself apart from other communities very quickly if you have a clear and simple message about what you are, what you are doing and how you expect players to participate in the activity. It is extremely helpful to just start small. If your preferred game can only support local community gatherings, just do that! Don’t try to organize the country’s biggest tournament before you’ve built a foundation.

Marketing

If you’re just getting into organizing your local esports scene, it can be scary to put yourself out there and potentially have zero interest and your event never takes off. Being smart and focused on how you advertise is extremely important early on.

It’s important to reach out directly to the players. We talked to people in game, in Subreddits, on forums, pretty much anywhere that we could find players that might be interested in our event. Being active on social media daily also communicates to your early followers that you are up to something and that you exist! If your Twitter and Facebook have no information or relevant content, people will be less likely to check-in on what you are up to.

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2nd place team for the Lower Division of the Summer Meltdown sporting their freshly pressed Overwatch Chicago tees.

Marketing will cost some money. Utilizing things like Facebook ads was immensely helpful for our organization. It is important that you view your new esports scene more as a business and less like a hobby, so keep track of your costs and revenue.

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Overwatch Chicago League Champions making making their way to the “Wall of Champions” plaque.

The Player Experience

So now you have a clear vision and design for your event and you’ve managed to get enough participants to sign up. Now it is time for the execution of it all. A ‘dry-run’ of the event is strongly recommended for anyone who does not have event running experience. Making sure you have everything ready from pens and tape to updated computers/games is very important. Missing any one of these things can completely throw off the experience. Players need to know the moment they step into your event that their experience is the highest priority for your organization.  You want to them really feel like they’re investment was more than worth it.

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Players in the heat of the action during Season 1 of the Overwatch Chicago League.

Throughout the experience you should be asking yourself “If I was at this event, would I be having fun?” If at any point the answer to that question is ‘no’, you need to change something! Developing your grassroots esports scene relies heavily on the early adopters who took a risk by attending your event. In most cases, players can compete and play against people from the comforts of their homes, so you need to provide a reason for them to show up. A community with lasting strength is built on the excitement of the events and intangible rewards that everyone receives by being a part of it!

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Season 4 Champions gleaming in their victory.

The world of grassroots esports can always use more heroes. So we’re hoping that you found some of this information useful and are inspired to provide awesome esports experiences for your local scene or game.

Who we are.

The founders, Justin and Brandon, grew up together playing video games their entire lives. Their gaming ranged across most every console and onto the PC. Both have an extensive history of competition in both video games and real life. As esports became more popular, the competition in video gaming became more serious and a major passion in both of their lives. Notable games for them include: Starcraft, Counter-Strike, Warcraft, Unreal Tournament, Street Fighter and Smash Melee.

What Overwatch Chicago is.

Overwatch Chicago is an amateur, in-person, Overwatch league in Chicago. We specialize in two different types of events, Leagues and Tournaments. The League event is a month long Season, consisting of organized teams that are balanced to promote even matchups throughout the season. Players compete weekly and although competitive in nature we strive for a fun and social environment. Our tournament events span across single or multiple days with pre-made teams competing for large prize pools.

You can find us online here:

Want to Participate?

Join us for our next tournament on January, 21st, 2018 – The Overwatch Chicago Winter Freeze Up!24799257_1527704933933365_8178752052521297798_o

 Info and Registration HERE.

Fighting Game Meetups

There are some big changes coming to Mix-Up Mondays at Ignite Gaming Lounge!

For starters, we’re dropping the name ‘Mix-up Mondays’ to adopt Fighting Game Community Meetups or FGC Meetups for short.

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We’re rebranding for several reasons:
  1. The fighting game scene is constantly evolving by adding new games and dropping old ones. We want to include EVERY fighting game into our community now, and later and we feel like Mix-up Mondays did not get that across clearly.
  2. We want to prepare the community for our second home in Skokie. We see the FGC Meetups expanding to multiple days across multiple venues and sticking to a name that had the word ‘Mondays’ in it doesn’t quite work with that vision in mind.
  3. Literally, no one called it Mix-up Mondays when they purchased their venue fees.

Next up, we’re going to be providing more systems and games! That means SFV, Tekken 7, Guilty Gear, Blazblue, and Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite will have systems ready for you every Monday. We’ll keep these systems up-to-date with new games and DLC regularly so you don’t have to lug your setups out anymore.

You’re still encouraged to bring setups for consoles/games that Ignite isn’t providing (space will be limited), but we will be effectively discontinuing the system discount on Monday, September 25th, 2017. All venue fees will now be a flat $10.

” Oww man, that’s some bullsh-”

Worry not CFGC! Although we are increasing our price at the door, we’re creating new ways for you to continue to save some dough. Introducing our new monthly subscriptions – get access to FGC Meetups for just $20 a month.

That’s just $5 bucks a week, without having to bring a setup! The subscription is simple. Sign up in 5 minutes, you’ll be automatically billed every 30 days, and you can cancel at any time. Once subscribed, check-in at the service desk every Monday and you’re good to go.

To get more info or subscribe visit: www.joinit.org/o/ignitegaming
You can also get more info and register on-site.

And the last couple of changes to the FGC Meetups – our check-in process will now include getting a wristband to verify your venue fee purchase or valid subscription. So please make sure to touch in at the service desk as soon as you arrive. We will also be providing extra monitors in the private room and maximizing the space to allow BYO monitors and full setups. On top of these changes we’ll be having more events for more games to make sure that we include everyone that is coming out and supporting (That can even mean you Injustice players). We’ve been so happy to see the FGC at Ignite grow and prosper, and I hope that with these changes we’ll see even more of that.
To kick-off the new changes we’re going to be doing a launch event on Monday, September 25th featuring:
  • Tournaments for Street Fighter V, Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite, and Tekken 7
  • Free grub
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Join us for a launch event with tournaments and free grub on Monday, September 25th!

Join the Chicago Fighting Game Community on Facebook to connect with players, see upcoming events, or talk smack about an imbalanced character.

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CFGC Facebook Group

DID YOU KNOW?

We’ve been the home to Chicago’s Fighting Game Community since 2012? Check out this throwback video of me losing a ton.

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A Letter About Our Increased Prices

Hey Igniters.

On November 16th, our rates are increasing by a buck or two across the board. It’s been a long while since we’ve adjusted our prices and we’ve always tried to keep them super reasonable, but alas, they must go up. We’re proud of some of the things we were able to do for you and still keep our prices low.

In 2012, we relocated into a new building 3x the size and filled it with 3x the equipment to fit 3x the gamers.

Out with the old, in with the new. (Ignite Nov. 2012)

Out with the old, in with the new. (Ignite Nov. 2012)


Between 2013 and 2014, we brought on the premium.

Office Max chairs just weren't going to cut it anymore.

Office chairs and square monitors just weren’t cutting it anymore.

  • Upgraded to SteelSeries award winning gear. Apex Keyboards, Siberia 200 Headsets, and Rival 300 mice on every station.
  • Rolled in the comfiest DXRacer chairs.
  • Upgraded to 24″ widescreen monitors.
  • Loaded in a blazing fast fiber optic internet line to bring you the lowest ping, consistently.
  • Beefed up our computers with new hardware to play the most graphic intensive games.

In 2015, we embraced the next-gen. Loaded in Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Wii U consoles with our largest digital game library to-date and built a digital browser for you to stay up to date with the latest added games.

Over 80 games across all platforms.

Over 80 games across all platforms.

Oh, and then there is all that other real life stuff: inflation, minimum wage increase, yadda yadda.

We were able to do all that while continuously delivering a killer guest experience. The personal, caring, and friendly touch we love to offer each of you during every visit. Igniter Jorge R. puts our approach to customer service best, “Honestly the customer service here is way above the normal expectation of any human being.” 

Let’s not be mistaken though. We’re here because of your hard earned dollars, your support, and your faith in us and our service. We are able to do what we love, all thanks to you. We hope that buck or two later you still find yourself saying “Lets hit up ignite!”.

How our price increase will look.

  • 1 Hour for $7 – $2 Increase
  • 3 Hours for $15 – $3 Increase
  • 5  Hours for $20 – $1 Increase
  • 8 Hours for $25 – Unaffected
  • First Blood – 2 Hours / $8 – $2 Increase
  • Unlimited Pass for  $15 – Unaffected pricing but no longer available on Friday and Saturday
  • $4 Tuesdays – $1 Increase

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Crowd-funding the Underdog

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At the moment I’m writing this, there are 185 live projects for video games on the popular crowd-funding site, Kickstarter. Since its launch in 2009, Kickstarter has seen more than eight million backers fund more than 81,000 projects with over $1.6 billion in the fields of film, music, art, fashion, and gaming. Crowd-funding has boosted the indie developer’s chances at producing top quality products through you: the passionate and supportive audience willing to shell out the dough to help the underdog give it their best shot (and often score some cool incentives). We’ve seen developers excel with the support of the people and deliver some outstanding games. However, crowd-funding can be unpredictable; many projects never come to fruition and the passionate, supportive audience is left thousands of dollars short and without the exciting gaming experience they were promised. Does the risk of giving money to an unfinished product, and many times to an unproven developer, negate the reward of a unique game? Can crowd-funding be an integral part of the gaming industry’s future?

Backing a Kickstarter project requires a lot of thought (unless you’re a gazillionaire which, by all means, support ALL THE THINGS. Take my college debt? No? That’s fair.) if you don’t want to squander your money. There are numerous questions to ask yourself before supporting: Who is the developer? Do they have a history with crowd-funding? Are they someone you trust to make a quality product? Does the developer have a strategic development plan for what they are going to do with your money? Are there any incentives for you to back them, other than receiving the product at a later date, which could be several years from now?If you’re planning on investing a good amount into a donation, these questions are very important. Based on data collected in 2014 for Kickstarter projects funded between 2009-2012, only 37% of the video game projects were fully funded and developed. During that time, $21.6 million was invested in projects that failed to deliver. Unless directly discussed by the developer and individual backers, none of that $21.6 million was refunded to the backers. Kickstarter doesn’t refund anything itself, so if the project you support ends up on the cutting room floor, so does your money. This is why you do your research before backing a game project. Once you know who they are, figure out what they plan to do with your money. Most developers will post at least a brief synopsis of what goes into making a game so you know what your money is going towards. This is good. Look for that transparency. If a developer seems like they’re not telling you everything, they’re probably not and you should take your money elsewhere. Take it somewhere where they tell you what’s going on and say, hey, give us $10 and we’ll give you a t-shirt, too. Be smart with your money not only so you don’t lose out on the cash, but so you can help the developers who have the know how to actually produce a quality game leave a positive mark on the gaming industry.

Chart from evilasahobby.com

For those of us who like our numbers in picture form. Chart from evilasahobby.com

For game developers, Kickstarter and other crowd-funding options like Indiegogo have given them the chance to create the projects that they have always dreamed of creating. As in most creative fields, the money to create these projects comes from large companies and producers. However, very often we will see these companies pass on projects that are too weird, too niche, not marketable. They have that right, since they will be the ones funding the entire production, but it unfortunately leaves the market saturated in the same five or six kinds of games. For game developers who have very small teams and/or unestablished careers, crowd-funding allows them to take their idea directly to the gamers, who can decide if the idea is good enough to warrant their hard-earned or parent-distributed cash. This not only allows developers to get around the hardship of finding funding from a major corporation, but also brings them closer to their audience, allowing for input and participation in the process. Crowd-funding isn’t only for the little guy. Chris Roberts, despite creating the very successful Wing Commander series, was turned away by everyone he took his new idea to because these companies were convinced the audience wasn’t out there, that “space sims are dead”. Roberts didn’t believe it and took his idea, “Star Citizen”, to Kickstarter. It’s success was immense, which I’ll touch on further in just a bit. Said Roberts, getting to make a game “without having EA looking over your shoulder, or Activision looking over your shoulder…it’s pretty awesome.” When developers are free to bring their ideas to the democratic system of crowd-funding, they often find their audience, and their audience is able to find them.

Now that you’ve funded a gaming project, you’re going to have to wait a while. Games don’t happen overnight. A game needs planning and then execution, which can take several years depending on the length and budget of the game. What happens in the meantime? Hopefully, the developer is extremely transparent with you. You are an investor now and you deserve to know what’s going on with your money. Double Fine Productions, an indie gaming company based in California, promised a documentary with their 2012 project, “Double Fine Adventure”. Double Fine came out with the idea that they wanted to create a point and click adventure game, but didn’t have an exact story in mind or planned yet; so, in lieu of a timeline expressing exactly what they’ll be doing with your money, they said your money will go towards our game and a documentary of the entire game development process; which I think is awesome (you can check out the documentary here). The documentary came out in full once the production was complete, but it was filmed in monthly chunks, given to backers to showcase the process. Double Fine’s transparency showed that they really care about the support and want you to know exactly what’s happening with your money. This helped them cross over into the millions again with their second Kickstarter last year for the recently released “Massive Chalice”. Another example of an amazing developer-backer relationship is the one for the highest grossing crowd-funded projects of all time, “Star Citizen”, a space simulator for PC. Cloud Imperium Games and Chris Roberts kickstarted their project and let backers support directly through their website. They made constant updates, stayed connected with backers and fans on gaming sites and forum sites like Reddit, and they added more incentives and stretch-goals as they made more money. As of the day of this posting, Cloud Imperium Gaming has raised over $76 million (only $2.1 of that was on Kickstarter). That’s seven times the budget of the original Star Wars. Their transparency let backers in on the nitty gritty details and it boosted their support and credibility. The same cannot be said for developers who don’t fully develop their projects. Sometimes, projects fail to reach their monetary goal and backers are left wondering where all their money went. Refunds don’t happen unless you harass the developer, but even then, they’ve probably already blown through your money on a project that’s sitting in numerous digital trash cans. I know I’d be less pissed if the developer kept me informed throughout the process and I knew that they didn’t blow my money on trips to Belize or those awesome Barbie/GI-Joe jeeps that I totally wanted but never got as a kid. I understand that “shit happens” and developing a game is hard, but if you keep me in the dark, I’m less likely to cut you some slack – or support your next project.

The project status for "Star Citizen" on their website: robertsspaceindustries.com

The project status for “Star Citizen” on their website: robertsspaceindustries.com

Crowd-funding is probably here to stay. The benefits for everyone involved are too important for us to see it diminish. When projects are completed, we are often given gems that never would have seen the light of day if not for the contributions of passionate gamers. I’ve donated to Kickstarters here and there and it’s a really great way to feel like I’m a part of the game development process, as I don’t have many abilities that would otherwise lend themselves to that kind of work. Crowd-funding can be a really fabulous way to bring indie games to the forefront of the gaming industry, if we all do our part. Developers need to keep us up to date and treat us like big name investors; we’ve given them our money and now they need to deliver. The relationship between developer and gamer can be rewarding for both and improve the process of game creation. I think the boost indie games have seen within the industry can only take us higher. Do your research, stay passionate, and stay supportive, like a great bra or a well-meaning mother.

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No, we will not host a [insert game] tournament.

It’s not a surprise that with the explosive growth of eSports in the past five years we get asked on a daily basis if we’ll be running a [insert game] tournament.

In short, our answer is no.

Don’t get me wrong we love esports, tournaments, and packing our venue. As I mentioned in a previous entry, I think a largely appealing factor for gamers to play at Ignite is competition. Giving our fans an opportunity to put their skills to the test in a high energy environment is exhilarating, and not only for the participants, but us too. In fact, since we’ve opened doors at our new location (first event held on Feb. 2013) we’ve run roughly 45 unique tournaments in League of Legends, Starcraft II, Hearthstone, Dota 2, CS:GO, Call of Duty, Street Fighter IV, and a myriad of other fighting games. In just two years we’ve distributed over $40,000 in cash and prizes and had thousands of gamers compete from all over the Midwest.

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Our inaugural Summoner Saturdays event held on February 9th. Three hundred-something League of Legends fans ascended to watch forty-two 3v3 teams battle it out in the Twisted Treeline.

Our tournaments helped spearhead opportunities to create rich partnerships with SteelSeries, DXRacer, NVIDIA, and Red Bull. They connected us with the most loyal and passionate gamers that continuously show us support. We believe tournaments are an instrumental tool in helping us raise brand awareness, engage with our fans, and build strong communities.

Great, so you love ’em. We love ’em. What can you possibly mean by no tournaments, Sam?!

I’d like to take this opportunity to offer a transparent perspective on how we view tournaments at Ignite – the process behind producing one, some of the struggles we’ve encountered, and our plans for the future. When we first moved into our new space we tripled in size, both in square footage and gaming stations. We have always been huge advocates of eSports and from the get-go we had envisioned a space large enough to accommodate tournaments and our regular foot traffic. Something we could no longer pull off at our previous location. Our goal was a minimum of 2 tournaments a month.  We jumped straight in by committing to a once-a-month League of Legends tournament dubbed Summoner Saturdays. The response was more than any of us had fathomed with lines forming hours prior to doors opening.  We were starry-eyed. We rushed to bring a diverse set of tournaments ranging from weekly fighting game ran bats to two day cash payout Dota 2 tournaments. By the time our first summer hit, we were running a different tournament every weekend.

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Our June 2013 event line up. Sleep was a tertiary concern.

Man, that sounds like a lot of money and fun!

It was a ton of fun. So much fun that we didn’t get a chance to step back and realize that we were overlooking some crucial factors. After each sold out tournament (really, each one was sold out), we would sit back and talk about how we can bring an even better experience to the players. What we failed to realize was how they impacted our brand identity, finances, and most importantly our walk-in guests. Although we had planned for more of them well into 2014, we began more closely dissecting results and discovered several things:

Not Enough Stations for Everyone

Naturally our goal for every tournament was to sell out. It intensified the competition for tournament participants, padded the prize pools, and brought that energy that we all look for at a live event. Consequently, it also meant that we needed as many stations as possible to move the schedule along in a timely manner. The Freljord Cup, a two-day League of Legends tournament we held back in Jan. 2014, had sixteen teams battle it out in a double elimination bracket. The tournament went from 10am to 8pm each day to determine a victor. Thats 10 hours each day. This meant that for over half of our operational hours those days, all of our PCs were occupied for the tournament. This effectively displaced any patrons that were interested in coming and playing games over the weekend. Now if it were an isolated occasion it wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but when every weekend or other weekend they would have to worry about getting seats because of it , well, you could imagine the frustration. It reached a point where we would get calls each weekend to see if we were running any tournaments. This lead us to discover what this over saturation of tournaments was doing to our brand.

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In the heat of the action during our SC2 Red Bull Midwest Qualifier. Photo cred: Daniel Hauswald

Ignite Gaming Tournaments or Ignite Gaming Lounge?

Digging through our various marketing channel archives we quickly discovered that a predominant focus for us was tournaments. For a period almost anything that came from us was tournament related; promoting and advertising upcoming tournaments,  photos, videos, and media from them, countless Facebook posts and tweets, newsletters. We felt that from the outside looking in, we began resembling more of an event company then a gaming lounge. This permeated into our staff structure too. We had developed a three person team that was working full time on designing, promoting, and running tournaments. Our initial goal to use tournaments as event marketing transformed into somewhat of an eSports league company in the likes of ESL or MLG (albeit at a much smaller scale). The only difference was we didn’t create a foundation to monetize it.

Companies like ESL and MLG monetize their tournaments, both live and online, through major sponsors and ad revenue generated through viewership of their broadcasts. Essentially they are digital eSports content producers that offer advertisers an avenue to reach a coveted young male demographic. In fact, even large companies like these still haven’t quite figured out the surefire way to generate sustainable revenue. If you’ve been following MLG since 2002, you’ll realize that they’ve significantly scaled down on the amount of traveling live tournaments they host. They’ve gone as far as building their own arena in Columbus, OH to offset the costs of producing original content for their proprietary streaming platform MLG.tv. All in all, producing these events is no walk in the park and without a robust strategy to produce premium content that captures ad revenue, it makes tournaments at any scale difficult to sustain.

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Spectators watching live at the newly built MLG Arena in Columbus, OH. Photo cred: xgames.espn.go.com

So does that mean you’ll never run a tournament again? Say it ain’t so!

It ain’t so. Again, we love eSports and thoroughly enjoy the thrill and excitement live tournaments bring to the gaming community. We still plan on hosting some in our space, but we’ll just have to be more picky about the time and size of the tournament. We are being more sensitive than ever to our walk-in guests experience by making sure we don’t inconvenience them. At the end of the day we are a gaming lounge, and its important that we make it as easy as possible for any gamer to walk in and play some games, anytime. Nevertheless, we have been hitting the drawing boards and thinking of new ways to bring those large scale tournaments more consistently to the Chicago community. Who knows, we might even go outside of our four walls to make it happen…

If you have any questions or comments about the direction we’ve taken our tournaments, send them my way, I’d love to talk about it.

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Dying Light Launch Party – What to Expect

If you’re already planning on attending, on the fence about it, or have plans but wish you could be there – here’s what’s in store for our Dying Light launch party tomorrow!

Background on NVIDIA and Ignite

Last September, our friends from NVIDIA, you know, that one company that makes those ultra powerful GeForce graphic cards, tasked us to bring the Game 24 experience to Chicago. It was a world wide celebration of PC gaming that took place in Los Angeles, Shanghai, Stockholm, London, and Chicago. There was a 24-hour stream that featured a Dota 2 tournament, product announcements, world records being set, live PC modding, and much more. We had the privilege to bring part of that celebration to Chicago and it was fun. as. hell. If you missed it, heres how it went:

In the end, everyone had such a good time that NVIDIA challenged us to bring that same experience to the Dying Light launch.

What is Dying Light?

For those that don’t know, NVIDIA works alongside game studios by providing them with tools and software to develop the cutting edge visuals we see in games today. This time they teamed up with Techland, the creators of Dead Island, to bring us Dying Light. If you haven’t played it yet, Dying Light is a first-person action survival game. The game is set in a vast favela-like city called Harran. A mysterious epidemic has ravished the city and you’re sent on a mission to find out the cause of the infection. To survive, you have weapons (which you can scavenge or create) and parkour levels of mobility. Think Assassin’s Creed meets Dead Island caked with some insanely brutal zombie slaying.

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Off with its head! (Photo cred: http://www.vg247.com)

It’s exhilarating, fast paced, and down right fun. Especially since you get to pair up with up to 4 friends to play the story. On top of that, there is a mode where you can play as a zombie Night Hunter and when night falls you can invade players games and wreak havoc. The game is beautiful and the mechanics are smooth. It makes jumping off a zombies head and piercing another zombie with your sword thrilling through and through. We have it on PC and you should totally come try it out.

The Launch Party

If there is anytime to try it, tomorrow (February 13th) is the time. The event is going to feature open play PCs, casual competitions, complimentary grub, and swag. All free. The party starts at 6pm and goes till 2am.

OTN schedule

Scheduled Events

You’ll be able to play the game at your own pace, join up with friends to take on the campaign together, or play as a zombie to invade games of players around you. Each time you play you’ll receive a raffle ticket for chances to win tees, mousepads, in-game content, Dying Light games, and one of three GeForce GTX 960’s.

Come out and crush some zombies with us!

The event is free to enter. Complimentary food available whiles supplies lasts. The event will be recorded and all participants will be required to sign a release form. Guests under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult.

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