ARLINGTON, Texas — All eyes of the competitive gaming world will be on North Texas this weekend as the Esports Awards holds its second event in the Lone Star State.
The internationally recognized awards show planted its roots back in 2016 in London and held its first three events across the Atlantic Ocean.
But now, the CEO of the awards show tells WFAA the event has found a home in Texas thanks, in part, to Esports Stadium Arlington, which sits right next to the homes of the Dallas Cowboys and Texas Rangers.
The event is set for Saturday at 8 p.m. and will be livestreamed on Twitch.
What are the Esports Awards?
The Esports Awards is a celebration of the competitive gaming industry with awards handed out to various organizations, professional players and event hosts.
Esports as a whole is continuing to make a name for itself among the general sporting world. According to data from the awards show, the esports industry marked its first billion-dollar year in 2021. It's expected to hit 1.61 billion by 2024.
The show honors those within the industry with awards ranging from organization of the year to PC player of the year to even collegiate program of the year.
The awards show includes nominees from across the world to honor achievements in competitive gaming.
Esports Awards CEO Michael Ashford credits the community for esports' continued growth even during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It’s a really good time for the industry. And I think a lot of people who put the work in early are starting to see the rewards, which is really encouraging for everyone," Ashford told WFAA.
Ashford said the awards show has seen an immense growth since its inception in 2016. Esports fans get to vote on the winners of each category.
"In our first year, we had 7,000 votes. Then in the year following, we had 700,000. During the pandemic, we hit our biggest total in 2020 with 5.1 million votes. And we were like, there’s no way you top it… now we sit here going into a show that’s had 10 million people vote on the winners. It’s astonishing to me that it’s all got there," Ashford said.
Saturday's event will also be the show's first in-person event since 2019 after the pandemic canceled the one in 2020. The awards show was held online in 2020.
Organizers are ready to celebrate esports in person.
“There’s nothing else like being able to put [winners] on the biggest stage in the biggest format in the biggest black tie event in esports," he added.
The Esports Awards held its first three shows in London between 2016 and 2018, but it has since found a new home. This begs the question: Why North Texas?
"And at the end of 2018, we realized we had this global platform, it resonated outside of the U.K. and was something that hit the whole world. We also knew we had a very strong fanbase in North America and we were looking for what the next big thing could be for us," Ashford explained.
"Sometimes things line up for the right reasons at the right time… I fell in love very quickly [with Esports Stadium Arlington]," he added.
Ashford said the Esports Stadium, which is right across the street from AT&T Stadium and Globe Life Field, was a major part in bringing the show across the Atlantic.
The neighboring stadiums and amenities also helped.
"In one of the first interviews I did in 2019, I basically said it was like the best adult theme park you could go to with how everything is lined up and how it’s built," Ashford said.
The CEO said he was impressed from the start with Esports Stadium Arlington. It opened in 2018 and quickly became the spot for major events.
"[Esports Stadium] is almost validation of what we’ve all been trying to achieve over the last 10 years, which is that mainstream recognition and these purpose-built facilities that cater to our top teams, our top tournaments and top events like the Esports Awards coming into the industry," Ashford said.
“I think there’s always going to be a home for the Esports Awards in Arlington. The platform’s grown and how we build is continuing to evolve and adapt," he added.
Dallas-based organization nominated for top award
Of course, you can't have an awards show in North Texas without some North Texas representation. And the Esports Awards are no different.
Dallas-based Envy Gaming is nominated for organization of the year, but it's certainly no stranger to the awards show.
“We actually won the first-ever esports team of the year award at the first-ever Esports Awards. We are extremely honored every year we get nominated for being organization of the year," Envy owner Mike Rufail told WFAA.
The organization's nomination comes amid recent success with its teams across games such as Overwatch, Call of Duty and Rocket League.
Envy's Dallas Fuel (Overwatch) and Dallas Empire (Call of Duty) teams both made deep playoff runs in their respective esports leagues.
"I know we’re up there in the running to win this one because we’ve had lot of success across all of our games this year. We’re showing that again with another big weekend. This past weekend, Wizzrobe, our [Super Smash Bros.] player, won Smash Melee at Mainstage out in California. And our Rocket League team finished second in the N.A. regional championship," Rufail said.
With the Esports Awards being just down the road from the organization's headquarters at Victory Park, Rufail said it's a unique experience to have an international presence in North Texas.
"What’s really neat is that the biggest and best of the esports world, and truly the world, will be flying in for the Esports Awards here in North Texas, so it’s really neat that essentially the best-of-the-best pro gamers and organizations and groups within the whole esports and gaming ecosystem are flocking here for this amazing celebration of our industry," Rufail said.
And the best part of having the awards at home?
"I don’t have to drive very far as opposed to the Esports Awards being held in London the first couple of years," he said jokingly.