Local gamers start own weekly tournament

Lake Okeechobee News/Richard Marion
Gamers in Okeechobee started hosting their own video game tournament after a local comic book and board game shop closed in 2015.

OKEECHOBEE — After Thunderdome Gaming, a comic book and board game store in Okeechobee, closed its doors back in 2015, many of their local customers found themselves traveling to the coast to find the same kind of niche products they had grown accustomed to having in town.

One of those customers was Alex Clifford, who was a junior at Okeechobee High School when the gaming and comic book store closed its doors. Alex enjoyed competing in some of the many video game tournaments held at Thunderdome Gaming, specifically in the Super Smash Bros. tournament. Super Smash Bros. is a fighting video game published by Nintendo that features characters from various franchises like Pokemon and The Legend of Zelda and such battling each other in something akin to a last man standing or king of the hill scenario.

In the years following 2015 Alex and his friends found themselves traveling to Jensen Beach to compete in the weekly tournaments held there. But now, four years after losing their local tournament meetup spot, Alex and his friends have started their own weekly organized Smash Bros. for video game enthusiasts in Okeechobee.

“Not everyone has means of transportation,” said Alex of the benefit of a local video game tournament in Okeechobee. “I figured it could be a fun thing for the youth of Okeechobee to get into if they could just come out a few hours a week, let loose, and have a good time.”

The tournament is held weekly on Mondays at 6:30 p.m. at Oakview Baptist Church, and Alex reports that the event has attracted players not only from Okeechobee but from Lorida, Lake Placid and Jensen Beach. Players arrive and spend a few minutes warming up and practicing before being placed into a bracket where they then compete for the top spot.

Esports, or video games as sports, have exploded in popularity in recent years. Newzoo, a company that provides analytics on video games and esports, estimates that esports revenue will hit over $1 billion in 2019. Many of the top professional gamers in the world earn a six-figure salary, and one video game tournament, the 2018 League of Legends World Championship Finals, drew nearly 100 million viewers. For comparison, the 2018 World Series drew an average of only 14 million viewers.

Some colleges now offer scholarships for athletes competing in esports, and according to High School Esports League, over 50 high schools in Florida currently have an esports team.

“I would have definitely participated in something like that if it was at OHS while I was there,” said Alex of esports in high schools. “I would have loved it.”

Alex helps run a group on Facebook that posts updates on the weekly tournaments as well as the results. The group, which can be found at facebook.com/groups/OkeechobeeSmash, also serves as an impromptu discussion board for members.

According to Alex, the group is open to anyone, not only in Okeechobee but all around the lake.

“Everyone is welcome to show up,” said Alex. “We post on our Facebook page every week about the different tournaments. And if anyone has any further questions, they can message me personally on Facebook and I’d be more than happy to answer any questions.”

The next Super Smash Bros. tournament is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on March 25 at Oakview Baptist Church in Okeechobee.

Richard Marion is a staff writer and photographer at Lake Okeechobee News and can be reached at rmarion@newszap.com.

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