published on February 27, 2017 - 4:48 AM
Written by The Business Journal Staff
The popularity of eSports is increasing in the Central Valley as more local gamers take their Street Fighter and Smash Bros. skills to a competitive level.


Come March 4, these diehard gamers will finally have the chance to compete locally at the inaugural Cen-Cal Standoff, a daylong event featuring Street Fighter 5, Smash Bros. Melee, Smash Bros. Wii U, and Marvel vs Capcom 3 tournaments at Downtown Fresno’s tech hub, Bitwise South Stadium.

Blue Shell Gaming and Collectables, which has stores in Clovis and Madera, is the local sponsor of the event, and owner Rick Gonzalez said such a competition is a longtime coming for the Fresno area.

“We host weekly and biweekly tournaments at our store and they have been growing in popularity, but Central California, from Stockton to Bakersfield, doesn’t yet have its own personality for eSports,” Gonzalez said. “There are plenty of large tournaments in San Francisco and Los Angeles but nothing here, so this is exciting.”

Blue Shell Gaming is partnering with Los Angeles-based companies KNA Knova Gaming and Game Realms, and with Los Banos-based TZN Gaming, for the event. Although Gonzalez said they knew a Valley tournament was in-demand, they only anticipated a group of 50 to 75 participants this first year. As of late last week, the number of participants registered was north of 200 and now Gonzalez says they expect a turnout of 400 participants, plus countless spectators.

“Now we really see that the Central Valley is ready to have its own personality in eSports, and this is the time for Fresno,” he said.

With 400 participants at $10 a pop, plus a $2,500 pot already secured from sponsors, Gonzalez said there is between $4,000 and $5,000 total up for grabs for game winners.  

The event is drawing more than just local players, too. Several pro eSports gamers from throughout the state, as well as the EVO (Evolution) Championship Series 2016 world champion, are taking part in the Cen-Cal Standoff.

While great for the gaming community, Gonzalez said the event is also a win for Blue Shell Gaming.

“This is big for us,” Gonzalez said. “We’ve secured a local presence over the last three years as the go-to spot for retro gaming and now we plan to expand that influence. We’re hosting a pre-party meet-and-greet at our Clovis store Friday, which will give us great exposure. It’s a win for our company.”

Bitwise is the perfect venue for the soon-to-be annual event, Gonzalez said, because the Bitwise mission resonates with many Valley gamers who are also in tech.

“Bitwise was my first thought for a venue because of what they stand for, and they embraced us with arms wide open. They have a nice theater and are just a good natural fit for what we want to do,” Gonzalez said. “Our demographic is 16 to 30-year-olds and that’s really where Bitwise looks to expand its influence.”

Bitwise co-CEO Jake Soberal said the tech mecca strives to be a hub for the entire community, as well as a space for up-and-coming technologists, and hosting events like the Cen-Cal Standoff give Bitwise a unique opportunity to build that sense of community in Downtown Fresno.

“One of the key differences between us and other commercial real estate providers is we are really intent on building community, and gaming is a huge part of the technology industry, both as recreation for the people who are in it, and also, in itself it is technology. So this is an opportunity to do something fun that brings people together, stimulates ideas, and goes along with what we want to do in creating community,” Soberal said.

Talisha Brantley, a community liaison for Bitwise, said the Cen-Cal Standoff is one of three major events happening at Bitwise in March. March 3 will be Geek Night, an open house of sorts for Bitwise, and on March 30, Bitwise is hosting violinist Gaelynn Lea, winner of the 2016 NPR Tiny Desk Contest. The Gaelynn Lea concert will be the first musical event hosted at Bitwise, Brantley said. The concert is free but seating is limited.

A gamer herself, Brantley said she is excited for the Cen-Cal Standoff.

“I’m interested to see how they do it because I’ve never been to a tournament like this before,” she said.

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