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Gary Trask

Gary  Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's Editor in Chief and has worked as a writer and editor more than 20 years. The Boston native was a member of the Poker Hall of Fame's inaugural Media Committee and a current member of the Women in Poker Hall of Fame voting panel.

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Downtown Grand adds dedicated eSports Lounge

14 Mar 2016

By Gary Trask
Seth Schorr is the first to admit it. Of the estimated 93 million Americans who play video games, he has never really been one of them. Truth be told, if it weren't for relenting to his 6-year-old son Dax's persistent requests to sit down and play Star Wars Battlefront, Schorr's time spent with a game controller in his hands would be next to nil.

But Schorr isn't blind to the tremendous influence the eSports market could have in Las Vegas, where he serves as the owner of Fifth Street Gaming and chairman of Downtown Grand Las Vegas Hotel & Casino. In fact, his eyes are more wide open and optimistic regarding the enormous potential than perhaps anyone in the entire casino industry.

The eSports Lounge at the Downtown Grand hosts weekly video game contests.

The eSports Lounge at the Downtown Grand hosts weekly video game contests.

"It's undeniable that the landscape of gaming is changing, along with every other industry because of advanced technology and consumer behavior," the 39-year-old Schorr explained. "I feel it is my duty to my company and its investors to keep Nevada relevant by changing with the times and coming up with new ways to make the gambling experience more compelling."

Enter eSports.

Last year, Schorr and his staff began implementing a strategy in which competitive and professional video gaming would become a part of the guest experience at Downtown Grand, located on the site of the former Lady Luck Hotel & Casino in the center of the Downtown 3rd metropolitan district. In February, it became the first casino Schorr is aware of to open a dedicated space for video games. Right dab in the middle of the casino floor for all to see, Downtown Grand now has an eSports Lounge, in a room previously used for high-limit gaming, which can now be found next to Furnace Bar. The 1,140-square-foot lounge is ideal for five-on-five team competitions with a bank of 10 PCs, as well as Xbox and PlayStation consoles. Within the next month, classic arcade games will be added, as well as a Nintendo 64 console, an attempt to appeal to the late-30s/early-40s demographic who grew up with that wildly popular game attached to their TVs.

Every Friday, the casino runs eContests in which entrants pay a fee of around $15 and compete against others in games like Madden, Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat and NBA2K for cash prizes. The events regularly draw as many as 50 players with an equal number of spectators.

"It's really cool to walk by on a Friday night and see two people playing Mortal Kombat head-to-head with 40 or 50 people standing around cheering them on," Schorr said. "What's great is that we're finding that something like this really fits quite naturally in the casino atmosphere. It brings tremendous energy to the casino floor, which is always a good thing."

Earlier this year, Downtown Grand was the site for the opening event of the 2016 Madden Community Championship (MCC16) and the casino is also regularly scheduling eSports viewing parties where, just like the March Madness event later this week, fans gather in the Fremont Room to watch international competitions such as the Intel Extreme Masters. Also this year, the casino hosted the League North America (WGLNA) Season 2 Regional Finals for the popular video game World of Tanks, where four teams played for a grand prize of $75,000 and attendees got to schmooze with WGLNA pro gamers.

What's more, Downtown Grand is hosting the LA Renegades, a group of five eSports athletes from Australia who are among the world’s elite players of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, a first-person shooter game. The residency was forged after Schorr met a Renegades team owner last fall and, after a few discussions, offered to build it a self-contained training facility and invited the players to live at the casino. The Renegades will be part of the inaugural ELEAGUE that launches in July and will feature live coverage on TBS. The Renegades use the new space as a boot camp of sorts, training for eight hours a day, and they also participate in meet-and-greets with fans.

"We've learned a lot by becoming their partner and it really gives us credibility within the eSports community," Schorr added.

Downtown Grand isn't the only casino property that recognizes the burgeoning mass of eSports viewers, which, according to Newzoo, will grow to more than 50 million in the U.S. by next year. Worldwide there are already 134 million viewers, creating a market worth $748 million, a number that could balloon to $1.9 billion by 2018, according to gaming industry research firm SuperData.

In April, the North American League of Legends Championship Series Spring Finals will be held at Mandalay Bay Events Center. The chief executive of Ourgame, a leading online card and board game developer and operator in China that acquired the World Poker Tour last year, told in February that it would like to build "at least a dozen" eSports arenas worldwide within the next three to five years, with Las Vegas as a prime location. It makes sense. The typical eGamer falls into the same millennial demographic that casinos covet so much.

Downtown Grand, however, has taken the next step by putting its plan into action, and is clearly the frontrunner in giving eSports fans what they want.

Seth Schorr is optimistic about the future of eSports in Las Vegas and at the Downtown Grand specifically.

Seth Schorr is optimistic about the future of eSports in Las Vegas and at the Downtown Grand specifically.

"We didn't want to be about having one or two events a year; we're all about creating an authentic eSports destination," said Schorr, who has over two decades experience in the casino industry, working in various departments at Golden Nugget Laughlin, Treasure Island Hotel & Casino and Mirage Hotel & Casino and Wynn Resorts, where he was director of interactive gaming. "That's why I'm so proud of my team. We're taking some calculated risks here. We're getting into a new space and we're learning as we go, and that's the fun part.

"When we started the planning process, there was a question about how everything would mesh and if it would work, but not anymore. We're seeing the results and it works.

"At the same time, we haven't lost track of the importance of the traditional gamblers; they are still our priority. But adding the eSports Lounge is just like adding a nightclub or any other amenity. It has brought a new dimension to the casino floor, and even the people who have never played a video game in their life are intrigued."

Of course, Schorr also envisions a day — maybe this calendar year — when the eSports Lounge could serve as another source of gaming revenue. He serves on the board of GameCo, which has created video gambling machines that it hopes will attract millennials, who, studies have proven, are averse to playing the classic slot machine. Similar to video poker machines, GameCo's arcade-style cabinets use a patent-pending system that "balances player skill with proprietary game design to deliver single player games, while maintaining the same house return to players as traditional slot machines."

The company will offer a wide variety of genres and themes, including everything from sports, racing and fighting games to first-person shooter, puzzle, hidden object and match 3 games.

Gaming enforcement divisions in Nevada and New Jersey have already issued guidelines that will require the games to pay out a certain percentage of bets made and prohibit casinos from making the games more difficult or easier to win while a session is already in progress, based on a player's skill.

"It's a very cool concept and we can't wait to see them in our casinos," Schorr said. "We're also working with the Gaming Control Board of Nevada to legalize a poker-style model where people can play video games against each other based on strict rules and principles, with the house taking a rake. So unlike what we are already doing with the eContests where there is a set fee and a set prize, this would be a whole new type of gambling. It's exciting."

And because of the innovative planning and maneuvering Schorr and his team have done over the last 12 months, if and when this concept hits the floor, Downtown Grand will already be in position to convert. When it happens, Schorr fully expects other casino operators to join the fray.

"We realize that the casinos with much larger resources and deeper pockets than us are going to emulate what we're doing and already have teams designed to come up with their own strategies," he said. "But Downtown Grand is and will always be relevant because of our location. The downtown area is very authentic and urban and the fact that we are more of a boutique property makes it more compelling to this audience, as compared to a 3,000-room hotel with a 100,000 square-foot casino.

"I truly believe that even when there are other choices for eSports — and, believe me, there will be — we will still be a great option and popular spot for our audience."
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