eSports have taken hold in Cathedral City.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY FORREST FUNK
Catering to a generation who enjoys a video game controller as much as (or more than) a casino chip, the Agua Caliente Casino Cathedral City designed its newest space to accommodate gamers of the electronic kind. Its 360 eSports After Dark events have elevated the casino into a hotspot for professionals, amateurs, and enthusiasts to compete, watch, and play.
In recent years, video gaming has evolved from the at-home consoles and arcade culture popularized in the 1980s into a global craze, with pro competitors earning seven-figure sponsorship deals and annual viewership tipping 500 million worldwide.
360 eSports After Dark was an instant winner when the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians introduced the series at its Rancho Mirage location in 2019.
“We see the 360 Sports bars as advanced sports bars and want to do forward-thinking initiatives,” says Jay Bednar, nightlife entertainment manager for Agua Caliente Casinos. “Cathedral City is our newest and youngest property and seemed like the perfect home for eSports. With space and LED walls to project games, eSports is a great fit to create a community and the next level of social gaming. It’s also an opportunity to connect with a younger demographic to learn more about their likes and dislikes.”
360 eSports After Dark concluded its second 10-week season of tournament play in January, and Season 3 begins in the spring. Admission is $15 for competitors (and includes a complimentary appetizer from the Gamer Menu) and free for spectators. Prizes are awarded to players who advance through the cauldron of double elimination, bracket-style competitive play, and events offer raffles for gaming merchandise and other prizes.
Coachella Valley-based Conflux Gaming works with the Tribe to organize and live stream the tournaments, providing live tech updating and supplying the consoles.
Echoing global trends, games such as Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Street Fighter V, and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe get top tournament billing. Novice players and those who prefer casual play and laughs over competition can enjoy arcade and console classics such as Tetris, Centipede, Galaga, and Dig Dug.
Agua Caliente Casino Cathedral City is quickly becoming a destination venue for gamers. “We have people, including some top professional players, coming from all over Southern California and even Mexico,” Bednar says. “Our Season 1 winner was a gentleman who came from Mexico for each event; the character he plays for Smash Bros. is Falcon, and he’s ranked as the No. 3 Falcon player in the world.”
Bednar sees the 360 eSports After Dark experience as an event with endless potential.
“We’ll continue to grow along this path,” he says. “We’re always trying to get better. This whole initiative is to be genuine with the gamer community and listen to what they expect and enjoy.”
Across the Agua Caliente properties, pleasing guests works in concert with appealing to the clientele of tomorrow.
“There’s the broad conversation about what the casino floor of the future looks like in decades ahead,” Bednar says. “There are still unknowns, but eSports, video games, and skill-based games will be part of that equation. It’s kind of like the ocean: You can’t see the fish, but you know they’re there. Once you know their habits, know what they like, you can start diving into their world.”
This story originally appeared in Me Yah Whae: The Magazine of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, Spring/Summer 2023.