A Palm Springs resort is dipping its toes into esports and seeing success

Over the past few years, esports has been inching closer and closer to mainstream appeal. Celebrities have been investing in teams, major organizations like the NBA and NASCAR have been launching esports leagues, and major networks like ESPN have been brokering deals with teams and leagues to televise tournaments.

Resorts in Las Vegas have recently begun to dive into esports too with the Downtown Grand Hotel & Casino hosting tournaments and esports and the Millennial Esports hall and arena in downtown Las Vegas. Last year, MGM Resorts took it to another level by opening the HyperX Esports Arena inside the Luxor Hotel, a 30,000 square foot multi-level venue equipped with a competition stage, a 50-foot LED video wall, a network TV quality production studio, gaming stations, a bar, food service, and regular events.

Now that esports buzz is creeping into the Coachella Valley.

This past summer, Agua Caliente Resort Casino Spa in Palm Springs and Rancho Mirage began hosting a weekly esports tournament in its 360 Sports Bar. The bar boasts massive wrap-around screens and an immersive sound system that any gamer would love in their house.

During the resort’s first few of weeks of the tournaments, hundreds of gamers came out to compete, surprising the organizers and the resort.

“We were at about 300 people the first night, then we built up to like 500,” said Bob Tan, director of operations for Conflux Gaming, the organization that organizes and runs the weekly tournaments. “We even maxed out at like 700 in attendance at one point in time. We were able to scale that back and moved it to Wednesday nights. We've been successful ever since with 300-plus in attendance every Wednesday.”

The players compete in games of Mortal Kombat 11, Tekken 7, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, and sometimes Mario Kart 8, Street Fighter V, and Dragonball FighterZ. The tournaments are free to enter but players have to be at least 21 to compete. Depending on what game players compete in, winners could walk away with $100 or more. While that’s not much money compared to the millions won in the Fortnite World Cup, it’s a start for the local desert community.

“The idea for weekly tournaments was a starting point for us as we begin to launch into esports,” said Brian Bork, senior director of marketing for Agua Caliente Resort Casino Spa. “The tournaments were a simple, inexpensive manner to test the response and grow our audience.”

The Agua Caliente Resort also hosts a number of live shows in its 2,000-plus seat concert theater, The Show. Artists like Sting, Steely Dan, Alan Jackson, and Tony Bennett have all performed there with upcoming shows from big names like J Balvin and Nelly. If the excitement around the tournaments, and esports in general, continue to grow, the resort could possibly move the tournaments into that space and host a major event.

They’re already ahead of the curve, since no other resort in the area are doing anything esports related. Players from Riverside, Cerritos, Imperial Valley, Blythe, and even Las Vegas have come out to compete.

“At the end of the day, we want to expand as much we can,” Tan said. “We're trying to promote the positive aspect of gaming, bringing the social aspect of gaming back. You know, make and meet new friends, play with new players and grow this entire project as big as it possibly can get. In December, we have a couple things that are in the works at The Show and all I can tell you now, it's basically a $25,000 tournament. That’s all I’m going to really discuss about that.”

“We want to be ‘everything gaming’ and while esports is not officially a betting game (at the moment), it is still gaming with lots of upside,” added Bork. “For now, we want to grow our base, generate buzz, and position Agua Caliente as an innovative resort casino that is always thinking forward.”