Esports is headed to Gig City. Chattanooga, Tennessee, has the fastest internet in the U.S., and the upcoming TenGig Festival intends to make the most of that. From October 6 to 8, TenGig will be hosting tournaments for the massively multiplayer online shooter PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and the multiplayer online battle arena League of Legends. It will also feature panels on technology and innovation and a pub crawl for the 5-v-5 arcade machine Killer Queen.
The festival name comes from Chattanooga’s 10 gigabytes-per-second upload and download speed, which the city’s mayor Andy Berke says has invigorated its tech industry.
“We have a growing tech industry, but it isn’t just tech,” said Berke in a phone call with GamesBeat. “Any business now needs fast, reliable internet. Our feeds are symmetrical, so you can upload and download at the same level. No matter what business you’re in, that’s a huge advantage. You never have to worry about bandwidth.”
Berke says that they’re keen on showcasing what their internet speed can do, and naturally, they’ve been having conversations with folks from the games industry. When TenGig founder Jared Nixon approached him about hosting an esports festival, he thought it was an excellent idea.
“What [TenGig is] doing shows off our city at its best,” said Berke. “It’s about experimentation and innovation, using our ultra high speed broadband. We wanted to bring people from around the world to see what can happen in Chattanooga.”
Nixon learned about competitive gaming when he met with Next Generation Esports, a Los Angeles-based company that specializes in hosting tournaments. But Chattanooga had already been on his radar, ever since he visited several years ago and got to know the tech community. Nixon’s a partner at Shark Branding, which is a part of FUBU founder Daymond John’s company The Shark Group. His background is in mainly marketing, promotions, and the music industry, but esports captured his imagination.
“Of all the things I’ve worked with and seen, I’ve never seen a market like this and a culture like this, that’s that loyal, that dedicated to their craft and what they’re doing,” said Nixon. “But then also, there are all these other ancillary things coming in around it. It’s got everything.”
The esports market could hit $1.5 billion by 2020, and a lot of young viewers are tuning in to watch, say, a League of Legends match over traditional sports. Nixon is hoping to grab a mix of hardcore gamers as well as a more casual audience with the programming at the festival.
“On the League of Legends side, we have our collegiate invitational. Riot signed off on us doing that,” said Nixon. “And for the PUBG stuff, that’s the hardcore gamer. We’re hoping those guys come out because we’re doing something first. This will be one of the first events in North America centered around the game. We’re trying to attract that fan.”
For PUBG, Nixon says they’ll have 100 computers set up on a LAN, and they’ll be broadcasting each player’s screen on the livestreaming platform Twitch. They’ll have one or two channels where they’ll be commenting and showing highlights from the matches.
And to appeal to people who are altogether unfamiliar with esports or video games, TenGig is hoping that Killer Queen will be a friendly introduction. It’s housed in a familiar retro-style arcade cabinet, and up to 10 players can battle it out at a time in two teams. Three Killer Queen cabinets will be set up in bars around the city, and they’ll be free to play.
“Here’s a 5-on-5 arcade game in a bar, and it’s really addictive,” said Nixon. “If you put five player teams in a bar, drinking, having a good time, and before they know it they’re technically playing esports. We’re trying to break down those walls and mash those communities together and get people experiencing and having a good time around gaming as a whole.”
TenGig isn’t just meant to be an esports festival, though. Nixon says they wanted to include culture and the local startup scene. Alongside the tournaments, there will be panels on subjects such as net neutrality and women in games. It will also feature live music, such as a kick-off concert from the musical group Crystal Method.
To Nixon, it’s not just about getting more people into games. It’s about stimulating economic growth for local businesses, getting people excited about the technology, and bringing these kinds of events to places outside usual metropolises like New York or Los Angeles.
“You look at a city like Chattanooga that’s got about 650,000 people,” said Nixon. “But it sits in the middle of a 12-million-person region, within [four to five] hours. Spurring that growth—that was one of the things that attracted me to it. Go back and look at Austin, or a place like Coachella, and look at what live events have done for those places.”