North Carolina budget offers rebate in push to attract worldwide esports tournaments

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- A new rebate program included in the state budget is aimed at drawing esports events to North Carolina.

"My phone and email inbox was filled and started to fill with interest. In fact, the day after, we had calls from groups all over the world, (including) one from the Middle East looking to bring their global event championship," said Ed Tomasi, the Co-Chair of the Greater Raleigh Esports Local Organizing Committee (GRELOC).

Modeled after the state's film industry program, production companies can apply for a rebate of up to 25% on qualifying expenses. The funds will be managed by the Department of Commerce, and max out at $5 million per year.

The Triangle has worked for years to expand its gaming footprint, with a number of companies based here and local schools offering courses and clubs.

"We're hoping that the incentive also allows greater Raleigh and North Carolina to be able to develop educational programs and job training programs so that we become a leader in developing folks that become leaders within the space of gaming," Tomasi said.

During the Rainbow Six Tournament in 2019, Ubisoft, which is based in Cary, utilized the thousands of fans in attendance for hiring purposes.

"They had a need at the time to fill about 50 positions. So they ran literally at the event a job focused engagement. Their HR people were out. They received over 1,000 inquiries and 300 resumes just on-site," said Loren Gold, GRELOC co-chair.

Gold noted the fans in attendance reportedly brought in $1.45 million in direct visitor spending. The event also had a major digital component.

"Sixteen million views, 6 million hours of content. It was the R6 Raleigh major. So Raleigh was consistently mentioned," said Gold, who referred to the event as marketing gold.

Caleb Smith, co-owner of Contender ESports Gaming Center in Cary, was excited by the announcement of the program.

"We do believe it starts with the young and the grassroots level. And the more people to know about it, the more people that get behind it, then that's when it's really going to start really truly taking off," Smith said.

Much of Smith's business is youth-oriented, and they offer STEM-focused camps revolving around gaming. He's hopeful the presence of larger tournaments can increase interest in esports.

Smith said he's already received an inquiry to host players prior to next month's Halo Championship Series at the Raleigh Convention Center; tickets for that event sold out within a day.
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