State Fair

Food, fun and ... Fortnite? State Fair’s esports tournament open to anyone with game

This summer’s California State Fair will have all the classic attractions that have drawn thousands to Cal Expo every year – deep-fried goodies, prize-winning livestock – but for the first time, it will also host an esports tournament.

Players at the Bear Cup will compete in popular multiplayer games for a chance at cash prizes.

Gamers from the San Francisco Shock, a Bay Area-based professional “Overwatch” team, and Kings Guard Gaming, a professional team associated with the Sacramento Kings through the NBA 2k League, will make appearances during the tournament and will be available for fan meet-and-greets as well, though they will not be playing in the general tournament.

Fair attendees who want to compete in the Bear Cup can register to play “Fortnite,” “Overwatch,” “Super Smash Bros.,” “League of Legends” and “NBA 2k19,” among other titles.

“The 2019 California State Fair is shaping up to be one of the most adrenaline-charged yet,” Cal Expo CEO Rick Pickering said in a prepared statement. “In keeping with the State Fair’s mission of highlighting our State’s promising future, we’re excited to showcase California’s advances in technology through the creation of the Bear Cup – a celebration of California’s dynamic online gaming industry and its community of players.”

There will be three levels of play during the Bear Cup: daily free play at smaller gaming stations, tournament play on weekends among fair attendees who pay a registration fee and showcase play by the pros for spectation, State Fair media director Sabrina Washington said.

Tournament prize money is based on the number of participants buying in, Washington said, and will be awarded to the top three players in each competition. More casual gamers can watch the action from the safety of a flat-screen or remotely check out a Twitch livestream.

Washington said the decision to add the esports tournament this year came with the understanding that fairs need to reach a broader audience to remain relevant in the public eye.

Just as the State Fair has increased its diversity of food options to appeal to different people, it is increasing the diversity of its events to accomplish the same, Washington said.

This means a push for high-tech attractions, Washington said. This year, autonomous Olli shuttles will be roving Cal Expo and the State Fair is replacing its traditional fireworks shows with drone light shows, she said.

Jay Gist, an organizer for the tournament and founder of local gaming group Capitol Fight District, said although there are many traditional elements at the State Fair, it is also important for it to be conscious of the future of tech-savvy California.

ESPN reported in 2015 on the wildly popular and ever-growing phenomenon of esports, when Twitch, a video-streaming website, had about 55 million users and about 205 million people worldwide were watching or participating in esports.

Gist, who has seen his Capitol Fight District growing rapidly in the eight years since its inception, said pro-level gaming – with serious prize money, corporate sponsorships and rigorous training regimens – is gaining recognition as a legitimate sport.

“One of my goals was to run esports tournaments,” Gist said. “And two – kind of have fair-goers see what it’s like being inside this industry or see how the industry is growing and maybe how they could be a part of it.”

Even if people are unfamiliar with the new technology or haven’t been initiated into the culture, Gist said there’s some aspect of the gaming industry that people can get invested in, be it the art and music or even the economics and marketing.

“History proves that technology advances faster when competition is involved,” Pickering said in his statement. “The State Fair’s new partnership with gaming industry leaders like ASUS and Twitch will not only bring an unforgettable esports competition to players and enthusiasts of all levels, it will help drive the gaming industry forward in a new format at Fairs around the nation.”

Winners in the Bear Cup tournament – just like those prize-winning cattle farmers – will take home a ribbon.

If you go

Where: Asus stage at Cal Expo, 1600 Exposition Blvd., Sacramento

When: The State Fair runs July 12-28; tournaments take place on Saturdays and Sundays.

Registration: Entering a competition costs $12, but contestants must also purchase general fair admission.

More info: Registration to gaming competitions can be accessed here.

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Vincent Moleski covers business and breaking news for The Bee and is a graduate student in literature at Sacramento State. He was born and raised in Sacramento and previously wrote for the university’s student newspaper, the State Hornet.