The stadium is full of screaming fans. The players are on the big screen, going through their warm-ups, getting loose.
Mice and keyboards are lined up. Computers are powered on. The games are about to begin.
And, of course, the sportsbook is going crazy with last minute bets. Who is going to come out on top in League of Legends? What are the odds of a newcomer winning StarCraft II?
This is not the NBA. It’s e-sports, and it’s growing quickly in the U.S. Around the world, it is a $1 billion industry. And as more people play, and more people watch, gaming operators are considering offering it as a new product.
Jonathan Wendel is a legendary e-sport athlete, who won millions of dollars in the early 2000s. Gamers will know him as Fatal1ty. Now, he runs Fatality, Inc. which makes motherboards, mouse pads, headphones and other gear for gamers. He also still plays in tournaments, though he doesn't train eight hours a day like he used to.
That training is key, Fatal1ty says. You have to keep focused. You have to make sure your reaction time is the quickest. You have hone your hand/eye coordination.
He argues that playing video games is a sport - and should be treated that way by the State of Nevada.
That's an important distinction. Because if e-sport is a sport, if the people who play these games are athletes, then it will be easier to bet on these games in a sports book, says Art Manteras, the Vice President of Sports Book Operations for Station Casinos.
"Our gaming regulations ... mandate that the events we take wagers on in today's world are athletic competitions," Manteras said. "So defining athletic competition is the issue at hand."
Manteras says when he first heard of e-sports, he was skeptical. But, "as I started to look into a little bit about the numbers of people playing and the numbers of people viewing, that peaked my interest, ultimately."
He points out that most e-sports enthusiasts are young and, "these are future gamblers and future customers in Las Vegas."
How many customers are out there? David Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at UNLV, and a member of the Governor's Policy Committee on Gaming, says some of the games have active monthly users of 70 million or more. "That's exponentially bigger than a lot of casino loyalty programs."
These are people who play as amateurs and watching the professionals. They have the potential to become professionals, or to come out and see - and bet - on an e-sports tournament.
Manteras and Schwartz both point out that the biggest social events and viewing activities were inevitably followed by gambling. That's why Manteras thinks that betting on e-sports is a matter of when, not if.
"What is good for TV viewership is good for sports book operations," says Manteras.
The Governor's Policy Committee on Gaming seems to agree, though many of them were blown away by the very idea of e-sports during a presentation a few weeks ago. Their No. 1 concern? Cheating.
Schwartz isn't worried about that. There's been cheating for millennia. "We have to develop good control standards and have effective enforcement," he said.
Fatal1ty points out that at live events, the computers are all controlled by the event organizer, and that mitigates against hacking. There are also referees to make sure nothing is installed on the computers. He says it is in the leagues' self interest to stop cheating.
But hacking isn't the only way to cheat. Athletes also dope, and there are performance enhancing drugs for e-sports athletes.
In 2015, the winners of a tournament run by the Electronic Sports League freely admitted to having taken Adderall, a drug used for attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder. Players think it enhances their mental acuity and reaction time. In response, Electronic Sports League instituted random drug tests. But not all leagues have followed suit, says Fatal1ty.
For his part, Fatal1ty said he doesn't understand why anyone would take drugs. He even stayed away from caffeine, and took pains to make sure he didn't have physical highs and lows during the day, so that he could play at any time, anywhere around the world.
Fatal1ty, who has played on every continent except Antarctica, calls himself the pied piper of e-sports. And a lot of people are starting to sing his tune.
Jonathan Wendel (Fatal1ty), esports athlete; Art Manteris, vice president of sports book operations, Station Casinos; David Schwartz, member of the governor’s gaming policy committee and director of the Center for Gaming Research at UNLV
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