WASILLA — The third annual E Unlimited gaming tournament of the Matanuska Telephone Association in the Menard Sports Complex on Oct. 5 will be the largest gathering of gamers in the state of Alaska.
Not only will the Menard Center see over 500 gamers and gaming enthusiasts show up for their chance at winning some of the $12,000 in prizes and giveaway items, but MTA is offering an opportunity for local Rocket League teams to compete for district-wide bragging rights, new jerseys, and a cool $1,000 towards their school’s eSports team.
MTA Public Relations Manager MTA Jessica Gilbert said that nearly 300 unique gamers are already registered, and she expects upwards of 500 participants and spectators through the doors of the Menard Center for the event that grew exponentially in its first two years. The competitive brackets will start at 10 a.m. on Oct. 5, and gamers can compete in either Personal Computer games or console games. Hearthstone, Fortnite, Overwatch and League of Legends tournaments will crown champions on the PC as well as Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Super Smash Bros Melee and Tekken 7 on gaming consoles. Brackets will be offered for all skill levels, and all sponsorship donations go towards the MTA charitable contribution fund.
The growing popularity of the eSports industry has spread to the Mat-Su Valley, with inaugural eSports teams formed in 2018 in the Mat-Su Borough School District, who partnered with MTA to make the incredibly popular extracurricular activity possible. The Alaska School Activities Association has sanctioned eSports for 2019 with a move from the Electronic Gaming Federation to Play Vs. as the governing body of high school eSports in the Last Frontier.
Gilbert is excited about the growth of gaming in the Valley, but was worried about the sheer numbers of gamers interested in competing in the third annual E Unlimited tournament.
“We were going to run into an electrical issue if we had that many gamers because this is the biggest that Alaska has ever seen,” said Gilbert.
Gilbert said that the original iteration of the E Unlimited tournament in 2017 featured mostly MTA employees who were dedicated to gaming, but has grown as the popularity of competitive video games has flourished worldwide. By holding the event on the MTA turf at the Menard Center, the tournament not only secured an area large enough for the crowds willing to assemble to watch and play in the tournament, but an added competitive element.
“We think visually that’s really cool to have an eSports competition on an actual field,” said Gilbert.
The demand of eSports in the Valley resulted in the hiring of Brandon Meiners to be MTA’s eSports coordinator. Meiners is the only Alaska resident to hold the distinct job title of managing the needs of gamers. Valley students competed in EGF national semifinals last school year, and students have begun to seek college scholarships for gaming as they factor university level eSports teams into their post-secondary education decisions.
“This gaming tournament is a vehicle to raise funds for our foundation,” said Gilbert.
All of the sponsorship donations go toward the MTA charitable contribution, and Gilbert said that the E Unlimited tournament is unique in that the work MTA is doing can directly benefit the gamers that pay to compete in the tournament. The $25,000 in sponsorships will go directly to the MTA charitable foundation. Not only is MTA helping to foster a gaming community, but building a relationship with gamers whose skills translate into possible job opportunities with MTA.
“Gamers are the best of the best to work for MTA, theres the motivation right there to participate in the schools. The gaming community in Alaska was very disjointed. What we want to do is help bring them all together. All the leaders from all these different parts of the eSports community are now communicating on a monthly basis,” said Gilbert.
“It’s creating a really really strong and beautiful community that I don’t think Alaska has seen before in the eSports world.