Egaming and streaming is a multi-billion-dollar industry that moves at the speed of light. And Arlington caught the wave early.
It’s difficult for a non-millennial to figure out a guy like Jonathon Oudthone, who at 30 runs city-owned Esports Stadium Arlington, only the largest and most sophisticated esports arena and streaming operation on the planet.
If you thought “What?” and if computerized battle games such as Fortnite, Call of Duty, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Dota 2, Warcraft, Overwatch, or League of Legends don’t buzz your memory chords and start your thumbs twitching, figure it like this:
You are sadly (or perhaps happily) out of touch with the growing multi-billion-dollar egaming (and streaming thereof) industry.
This also probably means you don’t know that SportTechie, the world’s leading media resource dedicated to “the intersection of sports and technology,” recently recognized the Arlington arena as its Outstanding Venue for 2018.
Keep in mind that the stadium – the city’s revamped convention center – didn’t open until last Thanksgiving weekend.
But back to Oudthone, who with a pair of dark sunglasses looks, dresses and sound like a stunt double for Keanu Reeves’s Neo character in The Matrix.
He makes no secret he’s been obsessed with esports since childhood in Little Rock, Arkansas. It’s been an evolution: Mario, Zelda, Final Fantasy, StarCraft and onward, a fascination not always shared by his parents. Particularly his mother.
“I originally had a small, slow dial-up internet player that I would be up playing on so late that my mother would rip the cord from the socket,” Oudthone said with a laugh. “Next night I’d be playing again.”
Oudthone’s hobby took an evolutionary leap in 2009 when he walked into a GameStop to buy a Play Station 3 and an assortment of games, including one that would be a life changer: Street Fighter. He walked out with a $600 tab on his credit card. Though he didn’t yet know it, it was a critical investment in a new career that would evolve over the next 10 years.
Fascination loves company and Oudthone soon found himself organizing “a community” of fellow Street Fighter aficionados for tournaments in between his two other jobs – waiting tables and working on what he then figured would be his ultimate career, computers and software, with emphasis on video.
The latter turned out to be handy because it gave him the skills to implement an idea: Why not stream the video game tournaments?
“I bought my own cameras, bought my own consoles, using them for streaming so anybody from around the world could watch a local tournament,” he said. “Some tournament organizers picked up on that. Pretty soon they were asking me to televise their tournaments.”
Oudthone’s father was a martial arts professional and tournament organizer; that experience provided a fight night and exhibition-style hype that Oudthone blended into the gaming broadcasts, where viewers can see both the action on the screen and the behavior of the contestants.
It has proven popular, helping make some players stars and personalities in the esports community. Particularly if they frequently win, some pro contestants earn six-figure incomes.
Oudthone suddenly found himself in demand, discovering new opportunities in Texas, where he moved three years ago.
He was 29 when he began working on the Esports Stadium concept as the principal with NGAGE esports, an event management company that’s part of Infinite Esports & Entertainment.
The opening event was an eight-team Counter-Strike tournament that offered a $750,000 prize pool. At an average pace of two a week, the stadium hosts popular gaming titles such as League of Legends, Rocket League and Madden NFL.
Some events are big-time global, some are small, though “small” translates to perhaps 800 to 1,000 people showing up for an introduction to a new or revised game.
Example? A new Apex Legends game (more battles) came out without fanfare Feb. 4, but within a few days hundreds of fans were watching a tournament – broadcast from California – on the screens at Arlington and sampling the game themselves.
“That’s the kind of speed that’s required because what’s popular, what’s in and out, can change overnight,” he says.
His ambition is not modest:
“My dream is to pack this house out every weekend, to expand and grow this venue to a 20,000 to 60,000 seating venue one day, so we can compete with the NFLs and the MLBs of the world.”
So far, so good.
1200 Ballpark Way, Arlington
O.K. Carter is a former editor and publisher of the Arlington Citizen-Journal and was also Arlington publisher and columnist for the Star-Telegram and founding editor of Arlington Today Magazine. He’s the author of the definitive book on Arlington’s colorful history, Caddos, Cotton and Cowboys: Essays on Arlington.