RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- About 5,000 people are expected to attend this weekend's Halo Championship Series at the Raleigh Convention Center, the latest major ESports event the area has attracted.
"It becomes an immediate sort of shot in the arm, an immediate impact in terms of rooms and food and entertainment. But there's also a long-tail to it as well, where they may experience a city and say 'this is beautiful, I want to come back,'" said Ed Tomasi, Co-Chair of the Greater Raleigh ESports Local Organizing Committee.
Outside the money spent over the weekend, Tomasi pointed to the major digital element.
"It's marketing gold as they say. The branding is one thing, but the experience in it of itself is even more valuable. This broadcast is on live stream, so platforms such as Twitch and YouTube Gaming will be featuring this on their front page which gets millions and millions of views," said Tomasi, as he estimated there would be between 20 to 30 million views of the tournament.
Inside the Convention Center, there are full broadcast operations, with sets and hosts providing analysis for online crowds and in-person attendees, often posting to social media.
"We now start getting inquiries from global ESports producers from all corners of the globe essentially, wanting to come here because they know this market supports and celebrates ESports," said Tomasi.
Attendees must submit proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours and complete a daily health-check form prior to entering the Convention Center, and masks are required inside.
Back in 2019, the Convention Center hosted Rainbow Six Raleigh Major, an Esports event that was about half the size both in terms of tickets sold and anticipated online audience. In that case, about 70-80% of attendees traveled in, and a case study by the Greater Raleigh ESports Local Organizing Committee found it led to $1.45 million in direct visitor spending.
Competitors have noticed the city's efforts in trying to grow ESports.
"It's an awesome town. We love how Raleigh goes all out. Like the second you get off the plane in Raleigh, you know they're prepared for ESports to be here, the branding's out. It seems like the city really rallies behind that kind of stuff," said Tyler White with Spacestation Gaming, based out of Utah. They won the Rainbow Six Raleigh Major, and returned for this weekend's event, setting up a booth to sell merchandise right near the broadcast set and rows of fans.
Last month, state leaders included a rebate program in the newly passed state budget, earmarking millions of dollars to draw future events to North Carolina. Tomasi said they are already in discussions to host multiple events next year, including some that are arena-sized.
That increased interest has led local colleges and universities to offer courses highlighting skills sought after by ESports employers, clubs and competitions forming, and hosting sites opening.
In Cary, one team rented out Contender ESports for practice prior to this weekend's tournament. Earlier in the week, we spoke with local players about the energy behind ESports.
"I feel great about that because I know there's going to be more money that's going to be involved and that's going to help all of us," said Michael Chatman.
"The new Halo game just came out. People are really excited about that. It's cool that we can host an event for it," added Samuel Overstreet.