To sleep, perchance to dream… Unless you have been asleep these past few years, esports have become a major draw across the globe. You have likely seen esports related segments in the news of late. Arlington is now currently home to the largest esports stadium in North America where you can go watch teams like Texas’ own Overwatch team, Dallas Fuel . Then of course there are the stories about colleges with their own varsity esports teams that compete like Texas Wesleyan University (who by the way offers up to 12 $2,000 scholarships for esports).
DreamHack started as a small gathering of friends 25 years ago in Sweden and has evolved into “a global community of gaming, tech, and esports enthusiasts that come together over the course of a weekend to celebrate everything that makes gaming culture unique and diverse.” Just last year DreamHack events totaled over 310,000 attendees.
This year marked a few firsts for DreamHack. It was the first year they held an event in Dallas. (Sidenote: If you happened to have seen reports of Jeff Goldblum in Dallas playing Dance Dance Revolution, it was here.) It was also the first time they included a Tabletop Gaming section amongst its many other offerings. Being in the Tabletop business myself I was quickly drawn to checking out what was going on here. Magic the Gathering tournaments were being held on the tables in the center of the area and new/upcoming games were showcased along the edges.
I was happy to see some games I had the pleasure checking out months ago during some of the Tabletop Artisans Workshops I attended in Plano such as Danger and Churrascaria (both very fun in you are in the market for new games). One game in particular really caught my eye so I sat down and chatted with the game's sole designer and artist Jimmy Ellerth. The game was HERO: Tales of the Tomes, finally available after six years of development. It has mechanics similar to CCGs (collectable cards games) like Magic or Yu-gi-oh, but instead of having to constantly buy blind packs of cards, everything you needed to play was all there in the stylish tome-like box. Everything from the concept, art and presentation were impressive so I broke down and bought a copy.
I then made my way over to the Indie Playground section to get my hands on some hot up-and-coming videogames. Here I discovered a great new multiplayer focused game called Balls Out! by Ft. Worth based developer Meddling Kids that showed much promise in its early stage of development. I can easily see it becoming a hit in the esports community with it's fast paced action and clever use of a hightech ball that can be powered up and thrown at enemies and through hoops to trigger environmental weapons then called back Thor's Hammer style.
Another Texas studio showcasing an impressive game was Spidermonk Entertainment's Winter Fury: Longest Road. Currently available on Steam Early Access, this VR experience puts you in the middle of WWII as you alternately sit atop an advanced M-4 Sherman tank and hold points on foot blasting away Nazi’s. I am not an avid VR gamer but found myself easily immersed in the game. Controls and mechanics were intuitive and I found myself completely engaged til the end of the demo. Other games that are now on my radar due to their showing here are The Eternal Castle (Remastered), Project Winter, Outpost Delta and Them’s Fightin’ Herds just to name a few.
Once I had my fill of all the new shiny games I made my way into the dark back corner of the event center where I found Texas Gaming Lounge’s arcade setup. Here my nephew and I b-lined our way to The Simpson’s arcade machine and played through a stage. A nice reminder that classics are classics for a reason. Just outside the arcade were a couple of live action games you could play. One was Sumo Sphere where you climbed inside giant inflatable balls and tried to knock other players out of the ring, sumo style. The other was a neon glowing area with light up disks that looked like a mix between Discs of Tron with Hockey. A fellow onlooker was telling us about how you had to sign a waiver to play and the facemask were mandatory, which he followed up a story about how he knocked the mask off an oposing player with his disk all with a twinkle in his eye.
It is difficult to encapsulate all that I experienced in just my one day at this 3 day event. Six hundred and eighty words in and I have yet to get back to talking about the biggest draw of DreamHack - esports. Stages were set up in a key locations where teams from all over the world were in attendance trying to up their rankings and win some substantial cash prizes..
DreamHack FGC (fighting game championship) featured fighting popular games like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Mortal Kombat 11 (over $25,000 in prizes), DreamHack Masters showcased the 16 best Counter Strike: Global Offensive teams ($250,000 prize pool), DreamHack Pro Circuit saw teams like North America favorite Cloud 9 going after the $100,000 prize, HSC Grassroots brought Halo esports back to Texas ($50,000 prize), and the DreamHack Madden 2019 tournament which was open to anyone over 16 years old attending DreamHack ($25,000). Even huge mobile gaming competitions were going on where gamers playing Brawl Stars and Clash Royale competed for $20,000 in winnings. Watching these pro-gamers and teams going toe to toe is enthralling especially with the play-by-play color commentary by hyped announcers. Just like any Cowboys or Rangers game I have ever attended, being there live and seeing it all go down in front of you brings an all new level of excitement and engagement.
Last but not least, I cannot talk about my time at at DreamHack without mentioning the barbecue brisket sandwiches. They were definitely on the upper tier of con-food that I have experienced in all my years attending such events.