Israel’s video game competitors and aficionados came to Tel Aviv in droves on Wednesday for the country’s first national championship. The strong showing for the GameIn Pro competition is an indicator of the country’s growing gaming community, said attendees and organizers, who expect up to 10,000 people to attend the two-day event.
“It’s the first time there is a big competition here in Israel in gaming and finally I can be here with many friends of mine to see the competition,” said professional gamer Sean Ohayon, 22. “I’m very excited about it, it’s amazing, I can’t even say how I feel about this.”
The crowd of mostly middle and high school-aged fans and players watch competitions in an auditorium, play games against each other and check out gear from technology companies. They also have the chance the mingle with each other and with popular figures in Israel’s gaming subculture, like Ohayon, Israel’s top player in the wildly popular soccer game FIFA. Ohayon was mobbed by young fans for autographs and selfies when he left the event’s VIP area.
“Most of the people in the community are kids, maybe from about 8 years old to their 20s,” said Kristina Pavlovsky, 15, a popular YouTube personality in the scene who posts video blogs and gaming content on her channel.
“The community in Israel of gaming, it’s a really big community, we’re all playing together. If you know Israel and know the people in Israel you can see that almost everyone has a computer and they’re playing games,” said Pavlovsky, whose YouTube channel has over 22,000 followers.
Competitors will play a total of 10 different games in the event, with winning teams taking home up to NIS 6,000. The games include sports games, like FIFA, first person shooters, like Gears of War, and others.
The organizers found the momentum to host the event after a successful video game exhibition in the fall, said Ron Kaldes, a category Xbox manager with Microsoft Israel, which helped organize the event with the production company Kapaim. The exhibition sold out with 10,000 attendees, Kaldes said.
“We got an appetite to do something for the eSports community,” Kaldes said. “What we’re doing at this event is celebrating eSports.”
GameIn Pro, which is being held at the Shlomo Group Arena in north Tel Aviv on April 5 and 6, sold about 5,000 tickets in advance, Kaldes said. Advance tickets cost NIS 79, while tickets at the entrance cost NIS 99. A few hours into the first day, around 2,000 attendees had already arrived, Kaldes said.
Worldwide, game fans now both play and watch gaming through video outlets like YouTube, Twitch and Beam. The GameIn Pro competition is being broadcast on Israeli television, another first for the scene in Israel.
The strong showing will probably lead to more similar events.
“Seeing the amount of excitement, this will definitely start as a tradition around Pesach,” Kaldes said.
Pavlovsky also believes competitions will become more commonplace in Israel. More young Israelis now have access to computers and games at home, Pavlovsky said, and the scene is growing quickly.
“I think in five or 10 years we will have a competition every week,” Pavlovsky said. “Gaming is only getting better every day.”