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Southeast’s First Dedicated eSports Venue Opens In Alabama

Post by Dennis Washington for Alabama NewsCenter

An arena dedicated to eSports opened Friday in Birmingham, the first venue of its kind to open in the Southeast.

The Magic City ePLEX is located at the Crestwood Festival Center in Birmingham, filling 18,000 square feet with gaming and virtual reality. Tenesha White, one of the managers at the ePLEX, said the facility features top-of-the-line HP Omen PCs and consoles, as well as VR racing simulators from a Birmingham-based Nemesis Lab.

“Gaming is serious,” White said. “Some kids in eSports are getting scholarships for this. It’s very exciting to have this in Birmingham.”

Esports began way back in 1972 at Stamford University when students competed in a game called Spacewar for the grand prize of a year long subscription to Rolling Stone magazine. But the first official video game competition wasn’t held until 1980 – it was The Space Invaders Championship and it had 10,000 participants.

The rest of the 80’s and early 90’s was relatively quiet in terms of video game competitions. The technology was not developed to compete effectively with friends and other users until the mid 90’s. 

But when the internet came along everything changed. The internet and the World Wide Web connected users like never before, and the technology for collaborative game play was inevitable. From then on the appetite for gaming competitions and online eSports arenas has grown significantly. 

One of the world’s first official eSports events took place in 1997. It was called the Red Annihilation Tournament and centered around the popular game ‘Quake.’ There were 2000 participants and the winner drove off in a Ferrari. Shortly after, in a matter of weeks, The Cyberathlete Professional League was formed and their first tournament held later in the year. 

In the preceding decades the interest in eSports has steadily increased with more and more gaming centers opening all the time. It is now a multi-million dollar industry with around 4000 tournaments operating worldwide and millions of dollars paid out in prize money every year. 

With the industry growing and evolving all the time there’s no telling how popular it will become, or if a good attorney will be needed – maybe in the future a games center won’t be big enough, they will need a stadium. 

The Magic City ePLEX operates seven days a week, offering tournaments, league play and team-building experiences for corporate outings. Co-owners Daniel Pahos and Daniel Seidel say the venue is not only the first of its kind in Alabama, but across the Southeast.

“We’re the first dedicated eSports arena in the Southeast,” Pahos said. “We’re excited.”

To kick off Friday’s grand opening, students from across Alabama competed at the ePLEX in the first-ever Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) eSports State Championship. Seidel said eSports is giving kids an opportunity to compete in school activities who normally would not have that chance.

“In the first year of AHSAA eSports in the fall of 2018, 403 students across Alabama competed,” Seidel said. “Of those 403, 350 had never participated in an extracurricular school activity. This is a great opportunity for them.”

Pahos said the top-end equipment, combined with a gigabit internet connection, is a big attraction because players have a ping latency of 5 ms or less.

“Many of these kids are used to ping rates of 40 to 60,” Seidel said. “These low-latency speeds level the playing field.”

Seidel said the team has started construction on a second ePLEX in Pearl, Mississippi, and they are looking at options in other cities around the Southeast. To learn more about the Magic City ePLEX, visit theeplex.com.

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