Alberta Esports Strategy inspires economic growth for the Edmonton region

Sector
Digital Media and Entertainment
Published On
November 24, 2022

The steady growth in popularity of video games  has given rise to a booming economy in the esports industry. Esports is the umbrella term used to describe any form of competitive video gaming. It represents a huge and exciting economic opportunity for Alberta. Currently the esports industry sits at a global revenue of $1.1 billion with a year over year growth of 15.7%.  In order to understand the opportunity that esports holds for Alberta, in 2021 Calgary Economic Development, Edmonton Screen Industries Office, Explore Edmonton, Edmonton Global, Tourism Calgary, and the Alberta Esports Association commissioned the development of an esports strategy that would benchmark the province and provide a roadmap to capitalize on this opportunity.

Global context and economic opportunities

On November 16, 2022, the International Olympic Committee announced that Singapore would host the first Esports Olympics from June 22-25, 2023. The benefits of hosting such an event are substantial, both financial and in terms of elevating city recognition on the world stage. Like traditional Olympics events, it’s not just the teams travelling to the sporting event. It’s an opportunity for fans to plan a trip as well. Esports demonstrates a real opportunity to boost international tourism- inspiring travel to countries and cities people may not have considered before. IEM Katowice in Poland is a fantastic example. The city was not well known prior to being chosen as the host city for the Intel Extreme Masters tournaments. Now, it is one of the largest esports events globally, and draws 174,000 attendees into the region.

The opportunity to invest in esports has been widely recognized among professional athletes and celebrities. Big names like Jennifer Lopez and Shaquille O’Neal have invested in teams with NRG Esports. Zach Hyman of the Edmonton Oilers is a co-owner of Eleven Holdings Corp. which includes SoaR Gaming LLC and has a competitive team for Riot Games’ video game, Valorant. Beyond individuals, organizations like Canucks Sports and Entertainment boast their own Overwatch and Call of Duty teams, as well as OverActive Media with Toronto Defiant.

The Alberta Esports Strategy and the Edmonton region

The Alberta Esports Strategy identified four main pillars that must be cultivated and enhanced for a thriving esports ecosystem here – all areas where the Edmonton region has some strengths.

 

1) Strong grassroots community

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The Edmonton region has well attended community tournaments and a strong presence on interactive livestreaming platforms such as Twitch, YouTube, and Facebook. A community run organization, Edmonton Community Meet-Up, brings all of these content creators together regularly online and in-person. Increased and continued support for current grassroots communities within the Edmonton region will help position us as a competitive gaming destination.

 

2) Place(s) to play

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In 2021, Edmonton Direct was created from a partnership between the Edmonton Screen Industries Office (ESIO) and the Alberta Esports Association (AESA).  The event was hosted online and sought to unify and bring visibility to Edmonton and celebrate its gaming communities.  It was incredibly successful and reiterates the need for optimizing the technological capabilities of existing spaces within the region to be used for future in-person gaming events. In 2022, the Edmonton Direct video was featured to kick-off GDX (Game Discovery Exhibition), an event put on by Interactive Arts Alberta to promote  the culture of making and playing games as drivers for economic growth and diversification in Alberta.

 CK Dhaliwal, Manager of Business Development & Academic at the Alberta Esports Association says, “We have a lot of positive things here in the Edmonton region and we have the potential to become a headquarters for esports and gaming. We are good at building communities and continue to see an increase in engagement from these communities along with a demand for visibility.  What we need to do next is make use of our local spaces, connections, and resources to grow effectively.”

 

3) Talent Presence and pipeline

The Edmonton region has the talent. Danny “Shiphtur” Le is one of Edmonton’s elite in esports and at one time was considered one of the world’s top League of Legends players. In 2013, he was the first esports player to receive a pro-athlete visa to move to the United States to live and train there with his team. Another professional esports player from Edmonton, Nolan Burdick, who uses the gamertag “Shinboi,” earned $1 million with his team Zenith Esports in a PlayerUnknown’s Battleground (PUBG) tournament in South Korea at the age of 19.

The Edmonton region has growing communities fostering talent development within education programs like Vimy Ridge’s esports academy and the UAlberta Esports League in Edmonton.

Vimy Ridge, a junior high school in Edmonton added esports to its roster of sports academies to join this fall, 2022. The program focuses on holistic training for competitive and coachable esports student-athletes. Students undergo training sessions that include strategic game breakdowns, physical fitness for improving reflexes and avoiding injuries, mental fitness, and exploring career opportunities within esports including audio/visual design, and video game development.

The UAlberta Esports League has an active esports community and offers competitive opportunities for games like League of Legends, Valorant, and Apex Legends. William Su, president of the UAlberta Esports Association says that the volunteer-based organization is working with students to get them jobs within the esports industry not only as competitors but also in positions like announcers for live-streaming events. He notes Edmonton has an especially strong Super Smash Bros. community sharing that the club would consistently pull in 100 weekly attendees and participants.

 

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4) Proper partners

The partners that came together to collaborate and develop the Alberta Esports Strategy, are just some of the key players working to elevate and grow esports in the province. Compared to other large metropolitan regions, the Edmonton region has 25% lower operating costs which is advantageous to investors and start-ups. The region is ranked third globally in AI research which has the ability to enhance the user experience in video games. Additionally, it has attracted and retained world class talent to set up studios here and has more than 85 game development studios.

 

 

Going forward

Alberta’s esports strategy reveals that many of Alberta’s and the Edmonton region’s economic goals can be achieved through esports, including economic diversification. Alberta has a strong innovation ecosystem primed to support growth and is a globally recognized leader in innovation. Through investment to build or harness existing venue infrastructure (like Edmonton’s Rogers Place), the Edmonton region can create premium entertainment and event experiences centering on esports tournaments and gaming events. With the right infrastructure to further grow and support esports, the Edmonton region can look forward to increased tourism activity, job creation, economic growth, and increased competitiveness of the region.


Linked below is the full report and fact sheet:

Alberta Esports Strategy

Alberta Esports Strategy Fact Sheet

For more information on opportunities in the Edmonton region and how to get involved, please contact Madison Côté, Senior Manager of Business Development, AI & Tech at mcote@edmontonglobal.ca.

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Chelsey Wilson