Competition in bits and bytes

Gamers compete live at the West End Cultural Centre

Gamers and spectators alike can enjoy the wonderful world of esports at the West End Cultural Centre on March 18 and 19. (Supplied photo)

Over the past decade, professional video gaming, or esports, have rapidly ascended from basement LAN parties and dank arcades to sold-out stadiums across the globe.

The early success of arcade legends like Billy Mitchell has been dwarfed by the gargantuan earnings and fanbases of modern professional players like Johan “N0tail” Sundstein or Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok.

The explosion of esports has churned out flocks of young people eager to compete and reach esports stardom. On March 18, Winnipeggers can see aspiring Canadian pros compete during CECS Live at the West End Cultural Centre.

Participating gamers will compete as part of the seventh season of the Canadian Esports Championship Series (CECS), a tournament that draws teams from across Canada to compete. The event on March 18 will focus on Valorant, a 5v5 first-person shooter released in 2020 by Riot Games.

CECS Live is organized by the Manitoba Esports Association, a not-for-profit that promotes esports in the province. Active since 2019, the association spawned out of University of Manitoba Esports, which started in 2014.

“Esports has always been thriving in Manitoba, but it’s always been at the community level,” Melanie Penner, the Manitoba Esports Association’s CEO, says.

Now, the association wants to extend its reach beyond the local level to gain legitimacy and, importantly, funding.

“You’re kind of solidifying that this group exists or that this industry exists,” Penner says. “It’s important that there is a non-profit to represent these people, since it’s been difficult to get validation from those higher up. You need support to get grants, funding or any investment.”

Penner says participating in esports is a chance for individuals who can’t or don’t want to participate in traditional sports to enjoy and experience competition.

“It’s an awesome extracurricular, especially during the pandemic. You can get together with friends online and hang out and compete,” Penner says. “We have had people with disabilities or individuals who can’t afford traditional sports who get to participate.”

Although the need for a laptop or $400- plus video-game console seems high, competitive games are often free to play, and traditional sports can cost from $200 to $2,000 each year. Compounded with the need to transport kids or themselves to and from events, many lower-income individuals might see esports as an equitable option for participating in competition.

Attending a live event is also an opportunity to connect with and support the larger esports community with an artists’ corner where vendors can sell video-game merchandise.

“There are a lot of aspects that aren’t just about watching the show but also supporting the community,” Penner says. “There are lots of brick-and-mortar stores that rely on these events.”

For those on the sidelines, the opportunity to watch people compete has its own level of excitement. Like any competition, esports allows spectators to get in on the action and feel the highs and lows players experience.

While many of the larger team North American competitions are centred around Los Angeles or other major United States cities. CECS Live is an opportunity for Winnipeg’s esports enthusiasts to get together around the thrill of competition.

CECS Live runs from the morning of March 18 to the evening of March 19. Tickets can be purchased online through

Published in Volume 77, Number 22 of The Uniter (March 16, 2023)

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