Hurricane video game tournament turns kids into NFL superstars

HURRICANE — Kansas City Chiefs running back Damian Williams ran down the left side, past all the defenders to the glory of a game-winning touchdown. As he crossed the goal line, playmaker Gatlin Glazier raised his hands in victory from the sideline. 

That isn’t a play from today’s Super Bowl and Glazier isn’t a part of the Chiefs coaching staff. He’s an 11-year-old student at Hurricane Elementary. 

He was part of the City of Hurricane’s first-ever esports tournament Friday evening at the Hurricane Community Center. 

If the full house in the center’s new esports room is any sign, the city’s Recreation and Leisure Department’s plans for having a continuous esports program has legs.

Glazier was actually taking part in his first esports tournament. Until now, he had played, by his description, four hours a day of games at home without the social company of other kids.

Bridger Johnson, foreground, competes in the first-ever Hurricane Madden esports tournament at the Hurricane Community Center, Hurricane, Utah, Jan. 31, 2020. | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

That changed Friday night.

“I like playing video games because I really love football,” Glazier said. “And when I saw this, I play Madden 20 a lot. So I had to enter.”

The event inaugurated the dedicated room at the Hurricane Community Center for esports, which is competitive video game playing. The organizers had hoped for eight people to show up and play. The room was set up with eight video game chairs and 20 extra chairs behind them. 

Every chair was filled and not every person who arrived was able to enter the tournament, but even they were content to stick around and partake in another growing pastime: Watching others play video games. Two of the tournament competitors took the drive from St.George. 

Recreation programmer Matt Patterson developed the idea and got the wholehearted approval of his director Bryce King. Going to a tournament at Dixie State and seeing a room full of people who would not normally get together socially solidified the deal. Patterson had kids like Glazier in mind.


“We wondered if we can get kids that maybe don’t hang out with each other to come and get together and play some games and get people out of their house,” Patterson said. “Some of these kids don’t play sports and some do but those that don’t we’d really like to focus on them and get them out and get some social aspect in their lives.”


Organizer Matt Patterson, with the Hurricane Recreation and Leisure Department, lays out the rules at the first-ever Hurricane Madden esports tournament at the Hurricane Community Center on Friday, January 31, 2020. | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Patterson addressed the criticism some may have of the department partaking in a program that doesn’t involve using more than the muscles in the hands holding the controllers. He said esports was actually a way to get the kids out of the house and, ironically, to stop staring at screens.

“In today’s day and age, they’re on their cell phones,” Patterson said. “If you can get people out here talking to each other face-to-face, I think it’s a positive.”

The turnout for Friday’s event was heavy on the kids side, but Patterson hopes to have adult tournaments in the future. 

The room looks like a massive investment. Eight video game chairs, four big screen TVs with Xbox One consoles as well as carpeting and LED lighting. But according to Recreation Director King, the room was actually created on the cheap. 

Some of the equipment was donated and the carpet was purchased second-hand. The big screen TVs were bought for half-price on Black Friday. King said around $5,200 total was spent on the room, which in the scheme of the recreation budget is not much more than that that would be spent on any other program. 

The room isn’t just for esports events. It can be rented out by Hurricane residents for $35 an hour for parties, events or just to hang out and play. 

“It’s like a mini Dave and Busters,” King said. “Without the food.”  

Participants compete in the first-ever Hurricane Madden esports tournament at the Hurricane Community Center on Friday, January 31, 2020. | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

King hopes to eventually expand the room with a local area network and computer gaming consoles. 

Playing against fellow 11-year-old Bridger Johnson, after his opponent made a good play, Glazier reached out his fist, but not in anger. “Don’t leave me hanging,” Glazier said. A fist-bump ensued.

“You’re just playing,” Johnson said. “You’re playing against each other but you guys can still be friends, not like your enemies. Absolutely.”

There were actually more who showed up not to play, but to just watch. Watching people play video games online has become a “big thing” among kids and teens, with gamers like “Ninja,” “Valkyrae” and “Tfue” gaining as much notoriety among some youth as Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande and Billie Ellish. According to CNBC, more people subscribed to video game streams and videos on YouTube and Twitch than for all of HBO, Netflix, ESPN and Hulu combined.

With that, it’s not a surprise that Dallin Roulston, 11, was among the more than 20 who came to the event just to watch the others play. 

“It could be good practice to watch the others play,” Roulston said. “I just think it’s fun to do stuff like that.”

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Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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