Imagine hundreds of highly trained athletes gathering on the world’s biggest stage to engage in intense battles. Instead of a court, field, pool or track, however, these athletes sit in front of a computer, mouse in hand and their faces lit up by the glare of the screen.
Welcome to the 2024 Olympics, where competitive video gaming could take its place between canoeing and cycling in the sports lineup. The IOC is considering whether to include eSports in future Olympic Games.
For Cat Tompkins, the image isn’t hard to imagine. The former Long Beach State student and current director of Beachcon believes the virtual gaming industry deserves its place among the other sports. And who’s to argue?
She has watched eSports grow from the grassroots level to worldwide recognition and a billion-dollar industry. Newzoo, a marketing research company, predicts that this year’s eSports revenue could hit $905 million, a 38 percent increase from the previous year’s $655 million. Brand investment could put it in the billions, with Coca-Cola, T-Mobil, Sephora and Audi putting their name on tournaments.
ESPN even has joined the gaming realm, featuring tournaments on cable television and on its web page.
“Seeing it grow the past five years is kind of crazy. It’s been cool to see it outgrow its roots in a sense. It just blew up after last year. It’s been a wild ride,” Tompkins said shortly after the 13th annual Beachcon.
Beachcon is an annual gathering of gamers that got its start in the dorms at Long Beach State in 2005 when Frank Lima, then a student, created a tournament for student gamers, something to keep them busy between studying and eating.
The concept quickly caught on and soon it was the A versus B LAN party with approximately 50 gamers. Three years later, the event was so popular that it outgrew the dorms, moved to The Pointe at Walter Pyramid and became Beachcon. It was only the beginning.
At that time, eSports was on the rise and quickly becoming part of the national conscience. Tournaments were everywhere and anyone with a computer was catching the fever. In 2013, Tompkins, then a writer for the Daily 49er, was assigned to cover Beachcon, fueling a love of computer games that her father instilled.
“What was intriguing to me was that there were so many people playing and coming together for a certain cause or because they loved gaming,” said Tompkins, who played Tomb Raider and Mortal Combat at age 3. “It was really rewarding to see.”
The following year, Tompkins was organizing the event with a team of people from the eSports club on campus and shifted the focus from “Bring Your Own Computer” format to competitive gaming. Console gaming brought the event more interest and in turn, more gamers.
In 2016, Tompkins and her staff began inviting and marketing to other schools, giving Beachcon a “community vibe,” Tompkins said. Cosplay, anime and mechanical keyboard were added in 2017 and 2,400 gamers of all kinds turned up at The Pointe.
This year, Beachcon was held at the Thunder esports Center in Long Beach and drew more than 3,000 and was featured in ESPN magazine.
Tompkins, who works public relations for IBuyPower, a gaming console system, said the goal of Beachcon is to showcase quality gaming to the Long Beach community and provide a must-play event for all area games.
While Tompkins is thrilled with the growth of the annual convention, she said she is more pleased with the increased acceptance the eSports Association has received at Long Beach State. The gaming club is now listed with other recreational campus clubs.
“We went from a special interest group to a sport a couple of years ago,” Tompkins said. “…I had that thought in my mind, so I moved the club from special interest to athletics and they were finally able to cultivate some sort of relationship with the club sports and recreation departments. It’s been really cool to see that happen and see the club with official team jerseys and everything.”
Tompkins credits the Long Beach community for Beachcon’s longevity. It is the longest running student event at Long Beach State.
“Frank came from a time when it was really grassroots and he’s like what really just happened? So, it’s definitely mind-blowing for him and his generation,” Tompkins said. “On my end, I had a lot of hope that it would be something big.”