Former pro athletes to speak at Las Vegas esports conference

February 7, 2023 1:06 PM
Photo: Courtesy Casino eSport Conference
  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports
February 7, 2023 1:06 PM
  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports

Two former professional athletes and an esports star will be featured speakers at the Casino Esports Conference in Las Vegas later this month.

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The conference runs Feb. 27 to March 1 at Alexis Park Resort, 375 E. Harmon Avenue, across from Virgin Hotels Las Vegas. Registration is underway.

Former NBA All-Star Charles Oakley, who played with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks, is among many former athletes and celebrities who compete in esports video games. He’s the author of The Last Enforcer.

Oakley will be joined by former NFL running back Ahman Green, who played with the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks.

“Former athletes love video games. It’s a great way to get that competition without breaking a sweat,” said CEC founder Ben Fox. “We’re going to get more athletes involved in this and they will show up. Even current athletes will start coming, because they also play video games.”

Professional esports star Johnathan Wendel, known as Fatal1ty, will also appear. Fox said he was the first gamer in history to break the $1 million ceiling.

Brothers Ari and Ben Fox started the CEC seven years ago as a teaching tool and to integrate the gambling and esports industries. They’re also the founders of Gameacon, a consumer-focused convention that launched in Atlantic City in 2015.

The CEC has expanded its education conferences to include Web 3, NFTs, the metaverse, immersive experiences, and virtual, alternate, and mixed reality. There will also be a two-day esports tournament.

Gaming Labs International is providing education and information on esports and how to integrate it into online and land-based casinos. There will be panel discussions, networking, and an expo.

Some of the topics include gambling and wagering; collegiate esports; professional esports; esports and video gaming ecosystems and cultural aspects; esports marketing; tourism impact; hardware; hosting esports tournaments; esports and igaming; esports legal and regulation; investment; casino of the future; and immersive experiences.

A CEC mixer will take place at the Illuminarium Las Vegas at Area 15, an entertainment venue that hosts next-generation immersive experiences. The evening includes a guided tour of Area 15, Omega Mart, and Meow Wolf.

“The tour immerses all of the attendees in the type of relevant entertainment that they should be providing,” Ben Fox said. “It’s what Millennials and Gen Zers do. Up until now, casino people knew about it, but they haven’t experienced it themselves. We’re immersing them in it, so they can get a better hands-on concept of what they need to provide for people. Though they’re making attempts at it, nothing they’re doing currently engages in it in a way that works.”

Even without any support, companies focusing on immersive experiences are successful. Casinos operate on a model that seeks out people, but doesn’t have a way of exciting them other than what they already know and have done in the past, Ben Fox said.

“They do bring in staff who are more creative, but those people aren’t at the point where they’re looking at what’s around them that’s working,” Ben Fox said. “We’re trying to open their eyes and their hands.”

The first day of the conference is called CEC-U, providing hands-on classroom-style training.

One featured speaker at the conference is Jan Jones Blackhurst, executive director of the UNLV Black Fire Leadership Initiative.

Others include Michael Kilpatrick Morton, senior policy counsel with the Nevada Gaming Control Board; Seth Schorr, chairman of the Downtown Grand and CEO of Fifth Street Gaming; Oliver Lovat, an expert in customer-facing real estate and the evolution of Las Vegas; and Lukas Eggen, co-founder of LAN Parties, a gaming and esports podcast at the Las Vegas Review-Journal.