Despite successful year, Canada’s largest gaming tournament faces challenges

There is hushed chatter throughout the large event ballroom of the Grey Eagle Casino as competitors walk across the stage. Eyes online and in the room follow the two players, known by their handles, Poongko and r/Kappa Pepedey, as they prepare their game controllers and take their seats in the middle of the stage.

The room grows even quieter as the players get comfortable behind the TV and begin selecting their characters from the Street Fighter IV roster. The large projector screen above the stage shows the camera closing in on their gritting teeth, their eyes narrowing in concentration. Poongko settles on the white monster-man known as Seth from the roster. Pepedey settles on his best character El Fuerte, the muscular Mexican luchador. The match is about to begin.

It was one of many scenes that took place at Canada Cup Gaming on November 7-9, one of the country’s biggest gaming tournaments. But that Calgary-based event is facing an uncertain future that may include moving elsewhere, despite growing support online each year.Canada Cup also has a side tournament, Master Series, which showcase the best players from all over the world.

Photo by Jan Kirstyn Lopez

Canada Cup has gained attention from all sorts of players and enthusiasts all over the world. It became one of the most viewed fighting game tournaments on Twitch, the largest video game streaming site in the world, for the last half of the year with almost 25,000 followers across all three of its channels, and over eight million total views on its primary channel.

Supporters, such as Brian Chrysler, says that “Canada Cup had three times, if not more than that of players, compared to other tournaments like Salt Flats,” which is hosted at the University of Calgary.

Chrysler has competed in many fighting game tournaments like Canada Cup. He says while many people do not place high in the rankings compared to professionals, the environment is worth the experience.

“There was a lot of excitement, and a lot of hype. It’s a lot more exciting to watch it in person than to watch it on a stream. After I saw what it was like to watch something like this in real life as opposed to stream, I decided to keep attending,” Chrysler says.

Despite that support, it’s been a money-losing venture according to Canada Cup director Lap Chi Duong, who has been with the competition since the beginning in 2010.

“At our calculations, it has been a pretty huge loss,” Duong says.

I think in Canada people are more kind of ‘stuck up’ in the sense that they don’t think that esports isn’t really a sport where in the States it’s a little bit different.

– Bryan Chrysler, Canada Cup Supporter

Nevertheless, there has been a turnaround for the tournament in 2014. It was the first year that the tournament had generated a surplus. This may have been due to the fact that on top of all the support, Twitch approved Canada Cup Gaming to be subscription-based, which added significantly to the extra revenue.

Moreover, according to Duong, “Before, we had to fly in the players, put in a big prize pot. This year, we just didn’t fly anybody down, and we didn’t put up a prize pot.”

Even with this recent success, it’s still difficult to predict what can happen to the tournament in the future.

“Canada Cup 2015, it’s a possibility that we are in the negotiations to have it elsewhere, somewhere in the East Coast at the end of this year. We’ll see how that goes,” Duong says. “We’ll probably follow the same format that we did in 2014, and go from there.”

“It’s a year by year process. It’s kind of sad that we need to weigh out our brand name that we created in the last five years with the efforts and money that we put in,” he adds.

Canada Cup’s side tournament, Master Series, was hosted by Jason Chen and UltraDavid, who are widely known fighting game commentators.

Photo by Jan Kirstyn LopezPart of those money issues may come from the fact that even though the tournament is the largest in Canada, it is still relatively small compared to larger ones across the border.

Fighting game events such as EVO, the largest gaming tournament in the world, have gained worldwide attention from players, ready to compete against each other for thousands of dollars in prize money. EVO 2014 was their most successful tournament yet, having over 140,000 viewers at their peak online.

Chrysler says that Canada Cup’s problems could also be connected to Canadians not taking gaming tournaments seriously.

“I wish [Canada Cup] could get more support, but we don’t really have a large fighting game scene here,” Chrysler says. “It’s not much of a surprise that we’re not getting as much support as most people would like. Fighting games are more popular down in the U.S. than here in Canada. They have more sponsors; they have an actual e-sports scene, here in Canada we don’t.”

“I think in Canada people are more kind of ‘stuck up’ in the sense that they don’t think that e-sports is really a sport where in the States it’s a little bit different.”

Even with the unpredictability that comes with hosting these events, Duong says that fighting games are a strong passion for him, and wishes to continue Canada Cup.

“I think that if I don’t do it, no one else is going to do it in Canada,” Chrysler says. “Which is kind of sad, because I get burnt out and I don’t want to do it, and you lose money. It makes me want to do it because everybody always wants to see it, and go out of their way to talk to me. Yeah it’s mainly a passion and it’s interesting, and it’s something to do [for] Canada.”

jlopez@cjournal.ca