South by Southwest (SXSW) Gaming, presented by Razer and Twitch, is back with three event-filled days, March 17-19. Among the highlights is a $25,000 Nintendo Super Smash Bros. Melee tournament that Twitch will livestream to the world. ESports panels and pro gamers will also be attending the event. The annual SXSW Gaming Awards will be hosted by YouTube personality Seán “Jacksepticeye” William McLoughlin and popular eSports icon Rachel “Seltzer” Quirico on March 19.
Over these three days, all of the panels, video games, concerts and events will be available for free and accessible without a SXSW badge. Topics range from virtual reality and augmented reality to eSports and indie games.
Over 56,000 gamers attended last year’s event, which continues to attract larger audiences each year. Justin Burnham, producer of SXSW Gaming, talks about the role eSports plays at this event in this exclusive interview.
How has the role of eSports grown at SXSW over the years?
ESports has grown as quickly as the rest of our show. We started featuring an eSports tournament at our show in 2012 with League of Legends. From there, we’ve produced even greater events for Dota 2 and Street Fighter IV, and now we’re set on having an exceptional year with Super Smash Bros. Melee. ESports has now become a staple of the SXSW Gaming event.
How big is eSports at this year’s convention across panels and this Nintendo event?
A tenth of our panels involve eSports, and when you consider how large the scope of our panels actually is, you’ll realize how huge an indicator this is for how quickly eSports will grow in the coming years. Some of our key speakers who are heading up eSports in both major and startup companies are Ujesh Desai of Logitech, James Grunke of Nvidia, Rahul Sood of Unikrn, Chris Puckett of Activision-Blizzard and many more.
How does eSports connect with the SXSW audience?
Austin is actually a hotbed for eSports. We’ve had so many great things start and come out of Austin, including the former collegiate-club-turned-national-organization TeSPA, leading eSports publication The Daily Dot, and now we can include the world’s largest eSports LAN event, Dreamhack, making its U.S. premiere right here at home.
We also have a diverse crowd of almost every eSports fan base, which allows us the flexibility of showcasing new and great games every year. With the convergence of mediums and interests that we bring at SXSW, we’re even creating a new wave of eSports enthusiasts year after year.
How big of an attraction have these types of live eSports tournaments been over the years for attendees?
Each year our show has grown greatly from 30,000 attendees only a few years ago to over 56,000 attendees just last year. ESports has been instrumental in driving large crowds full of energy and action to our show, and each year both our eSports fan base and our general gaming attendees grow hand-in-hand. It’s become so great that we’re even giving eSports the star treatment by using the famous Vimeo Theater at SXSW to host our tournament this year.
How are you working with Nintendo on this year’s Super Smash Bros. Melee tournament?
Nintendo is looking for more ways to become involved in the eSports scene, and with our history of hosting special events together in the past, we decided to use this year as a way to capitalize on the bustling Super Smash Bros. community found here in Texas. The feedback for our tournament thus far has been overwhelmingly positive, and we feel like we’ve struck gold going forward.
What’s the prize breakdown for the $25,000?
A full breakdown of prizes is: $13,000 for 1st place, $5,000 for 2nd place, $3,000 for 3rd place, $1,500 for 4th place, $750 for 5th and 6th place and $500 for 7th and 8th place.
How were the 20 players for this invitational selected?
We invited the best players from around the world based on a mixture of tournament results, online ranking statistics and availability. Although we wanted to ensure that we had every best player from around the world, we had to factor in their availability and how easily it would be to travel internationally. Even though the public may not see a perfect Top 20 ranking in our roster, we assure you that this is going to be a clash of champions throughout the tournament.
Is this tournament an experiment to add more live eSports to SXSW in the future?
We wouldn’t call this tournament an experiment, as we’ve been heavily involved in growing eSports at our show for the past few years. If anything, this is just another way of proving why eSports deserves the recognition it receives at one of the largest festivals in the world. We’ll continue to grow our panels and events relating to eSports as the eSports industry continues to grow itself.
PAX has become synonymous with eSports events over the years. Do you feel SXSW could become a part of established eSports league or competition stops in the future?
We wouldn’t consider PAX as synonymous with eSports as say, Dreamhack, but we have noticed the increase in interest for eSports at shows like PAX. For now, SXSW will continue to host exceptional events and tournaments for eSports and welcome new opportunities for tournament tours in the future as well.
What’s your big picture goal with eSports at SXSW?
Like with anything gaming-related, we’re looking to be on the cusp of innovative trends and be a leading event for every field we possibly can. We want to give eSports more recognition, not just within the gaming industry, but all over the world and across different industries. This is something that fits really well within SXSW as a whole, and we’re excited to continue building and supporting eSports in the years to come.
What opportunities does eSports open up for the convention in terms of new sponsorships?
It gives an opportunity for brands outside of the normal games industry to be able to participate that want to be involved in gaming in some way, but wouldn’t make sense otherwise. In most cases, these are general consumer brands such as automobile companies, energy drink companies, etc. The possibilities only continue to grow as we continue to diversify our portfolio of events at SXSW.
How do you see the Twitch broadcast connecting the SXSW brand to the gaming audience?
It first raises the awareness of what SXSW actually is, which a lot of gamers aren’t completely aware of. The benefit to this is that once audiences become familiar with SXSW, they’ll then already know we’re a brand that caters to them with our fully fleshed-out SXSW Gaming event. On the other hand, working with Twitch is another key example of how SXSW can help the games industry begin to branch out beyond the usual clientele that everyone works with event after event, year after year. Twitch’s broadcasting provides a highly valuable experience for all parties involved, and we’re proud to be working with them this year.