Alex Igelman has been a gaming lawyer and consultant since the early ’90s. Based in Toronto, he helped enforce gambling debts in Canada on behalf of MGM Resorts International and Wynn Resorts properties, among other Nevada casinos. When gambling went online, Igelman jumped on it, becoming one of the first internet gaming attorneys. Fast-forward to today and he’s cornering a different type of online gaming: the emerging e-sports market—where competitors play videogames for cash prizes—as CEO of Canadian company Millennial Esports. The company’s massive arena is slated to open in late March in Downtown Las Vegas.
Betting on the Future
Already huge in Asia, Igelman is certain that e-sports is more than a fad. “I’ve had a knack for identifying big things such as online poker,” he says. “The numbers don’t lie.” According to Business Insider, global e-sports revenue is expected to surpass $1 billion this year. It’s a market too massive to ignore. ESPN now provides dedicated coverage at espn.com/esports, and local casinos such as Downtown Grand started getting in on the competitive gaming action last year. More than a hunch, Igelman forecast the trend from his own home. “As a father of three boys, I see what they do on a daily basis. They’re not watching traditional sports; they’re watching YouTubers play video games,” he says. “The new generation grew up with the internet as a way to consume media; it’s obvious it’s here to stay. Is League of Legends or Overwatch going to be around in five years? I don’t know. But is another game going to be the flavor of the year? Definitely.”
A Gamer at Heart
At 50, Igelman is twice the age of everyone else at Millennial Esports. Though he may not be a hard-core gamer like his young colleagues, he’s been an adopter from the start. He fondly recalls his first game console: the APF Imagination Machine, purchased by his parents in 1979 when he was 12. “Atari was high-resolution compared to the APF,” he says.
Downtown or Bust
Given his knowledge and relationship with Las Vegas, Igelman urged Millennial Esports president Chad Larsson and the rest of his team to open their arena in Sin City. It wasn’t a tough sell, but the second point was a little more challenging: It had to be Downtown. “If you look at the e-sports demographics, it’s not your highbrow, $400-a-night-room crowd. It’s $2 beer, good food and genuine value. No one wants to walk a mile through a casino,” says Igelman, who banked on Downtown Las Vegas years ago and purchased a home in the Huntridge neighborhood in 2009. While most e-sports arenas and LAN centers are tucked in industrial and business parks, Millennial Esports Arena is in the middle of a bustling environment. “You can have any food you want, any drink you want. You’re 50 feet away from anything you can imagine,” Igelman says. That’s one of its major selling points. “Am I going to go to an industrial park in Ohio? Probably not. Am I going to make a weekend in Vegas out of it? Absolutely,” he says. E-sports tournaments have the potential to turn into large tourist gatherings like Super Bowl weekend or March Madness, Igelman says. “It’s a natural progression for Las Vegas. … Nevada can become the e-sports capital of America, if not the world.”
Enter the Arena
Located on the third floor of Neonopolis in the space that formerly housed Krave Nightclub, Millennial Esports gave a sneak peek of its new 15,000-square-foot arena in November during an official Halo Championship Series tournament. The space was entirely rewired, the floors were gutted and bathrooms renovated. It was alive with energy once again—with elaborate staging and dozens of Xbox consoles scattered throughout for its 160 tournament players and 240 Free-for-All entrants. Even more people watched online, as the weekend-long event was broadcast to the company’s quarter million viewers on livestreaming platform Twitch. But the space will be used for more than just tournaments. Millennial Esports Arena will soon be open to the public for corporate events, launch parties and activations. People will be able to stream games from there, and Igelman hopes to also function as a training facility for teens. “We’re more than an organizer and tech company,” Igelman says. “We’re a hub for e-sports in town.”