Denver is set for the biggest video-game party that this city has ever seen as DreamHack makes its local debut this weekend.
For gamers, it’s a music festival combined with a weekend of March Madness. For everyone else, it’s a chance to sample games and see just how intense e-sports have gotten lately.
About 1,500 people will unplug their computers and consoles and lug them to the National Western Center, including professional e-athletes who are competing for $400,000 in prize money.
In all, the organizers expect 20,000 people will cram into the expo halls to watch high-stakes virtual action on gigantic screens, participate in an elaborate costume contest, race drones, meet pro gamers and more.
“It originally started as a game tournament competition, but now it’s shifting into something completely different,” said Zhenghua Yang, president and CEO of the Boulder games studio Serenity Forge.
“The term ‘gamers’ is diversifying — it’s changing along with the industries. It’s not a boys’ club anymore … It’s a place where people can really share ideas, look at each other’s work, play all sorts of games that they’ve maybe never heard of.”
If you’re feeling confused but interested, this is for you: The noob’s guide to Denver’s first DreamHack.
DreamHack runs in Denver from Oct. 20 to Oct. 22, this Friday through Sunday at the National Western Center. For general admission, a one-day pass is $22 and a three-day pass is $45. That will let you do pretty much everything at the festival, including watching tournaments and trying out all the fun stuff on offer.
If you want to actually bring your own computer and play multiplayer games for an extended amount of time, it’s $70 for the weekend. But you probably don’t need this guide if you’re doing that.
“If you’re trying to get a true feel for it, you’ll want to give it an eight-hour day,” said Justin Moskowitz, U.S. marketing manager for DreamHack and a longtime video-game organizer. “If you’re trying to walk through, you can probably get a decent feel in a couple hours.”
So, you want to watch games.
The Denver Coliseum will be home to three gigantic viewing screens and presumably thousands of fans. Professionals from around the world will be facing off in tournament play in three shooters: Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Quake and Halo 5.
Basically, you’ll be watching rounds of fast-paced virtual gun combat between people who are very, very good at these things. Other games featured in the tournaments are focused on magic and martial arts.
Tons of people follow this stuff intensively, but it should still be an interesting sight for a total neophyte, complete with incoherent yelling and overexcited announcers — just like other sports.
“There’s huge screen, lights, announcers that are just calling the shots as if you’re at a soccer game,” Moskowitz said.
“E-sports are very similar to traditional sports in terms of what’s going through your head. You’re evaluating the situation, you have to be strategic about what’s going on. … There’s huge amounts of money on the line, and it’s very intense.”
So, you want to play games.
One of DreamHack’s main draws is the freeplay area, which will feature a ton of board games and a selection of computer, arcade, console and virtual-reality games. You could also sign up to play in tournaments for various racing and fighting games.
This also is a chance to meet game developers who are pushing the boundaries of what a “game” can be.
For example, Yang will be out there demonstrating four titles from Serenity Forge, which has 12 full-time employees. Their offerings in the expo area will range from a “psychological narrative adventure” called Once Upon a Coma to a “momentum-driven” jumping game that aims to give players “a sense of freedom and wonder.”
“We focus on creating interactive experiences that really change the way people think about the video game medium,” Yang said.
So, you don’t care about video games.
Well, this might not be the party for you, but there are a few interesting side activities.
Drones: You could strap on a set of augmented-reality goggles and fly a drone, with a drone’s-eye view. On Friday and Saturday nights, drone pilots will fly their drones in combat and in races.
Cosplay: People will be wearing very elaborate costumes and competing for $2,500 on Saturday evening at 7:45 p.m.
Archery tag: It’s like dodgeball but with “bows and foam-tipped arrows.” this is open to the public and looks… intense. The website doesn’t list a schedule yet.
Panels: You could listen to people talk about anything from designing tabletop games to growing varsity e-sports.
This is one of DreamHack’s first events in America.
While these parties have been huge in Europe since the 1990s, Denver is only the third U.S. city to host one. The company is expanding in part to capture the incredible growth of e-sports and online game streaming.
The research firm Newzoo, for example, estimates that there are 148 million “e-sports enthusiasts in the world,” and that a fifth of male American millennials watch video games as spectators.
Some things, however, are the same across all media — including rivalries. This weekend’s activities include a face-off between Colorado State University and the University of Colorado in the game League of Legends. That’s Saturday at 10 a.m. Bring your jersey.