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E-sports log in for first time at OC Fair & Event Center’s Imaginology

E-sports are making their debut this weekend at Imaginology — a three-day event hosted by the OC Fair & Event Center that emphasizes science, technology, engineering, art and math.

The eSports Playground is presented by Esport-Management, a global online platform that helps competitive video game players form and manage teams and evaluate and improve skill levels.

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The eSports Playground features an area for cosplay — “costume play,” in which people dress up like a character of their choosing — Twitch streaming booths, coding workshops, open gaming stations and a League of Legends tournament among local teams, plus other displays and panels.

Games available for one-on-one play include popular titles such as League of Legends, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Fortnite.

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Katherine Amoukhteh, vice president of operations for Esport-Management, said the playground’s goal is to “grow the gamer base from the grassroots level.”

The organization is partnering with software and game developers to educate the public about the e-sports industry and the opportunities available to students interested in pursuing a career in competitive gaming or the gaming industry in general.

Afton Aygoren — known by her Twitch streamer handle, DaintyxMarie — has a following of about 2,500 people. She principally plays Skyrim and Fallout but was streaming League of Legends on Friday, Imaginology’s opening day.

Aygoren, who has been streaming on and off for about 2½ years, said she streams for a “feeling of community.” She said she sometimes takes breaks from Twitch but when she returns, her followers welcome her back like “seeing an old friend.”

“There is some truth ... in that [gaming] can be a waste of time, but if your child is really passionate and is showing ‘Hey, I want to do this,’ it can be a career, whether that be actually competing or other things in the gaming industry,” Aygoren said.

Cindy Cline took her daughter, Rebekah, to the eSports Playground, which she heard about through the Imaginology website. She said “it looked like there was a lot of cool stuff with e-sports.”

They spent most of their time at the eSports Playground. Rebekah said she didn’t have a favorite part but that she played Minecraft earlier and likes “the creativity it gives you.”

“I really like playing video games,” Rebekah said. “I like also coding, so I could see myself working [in e-sports].”

Cline said she was “interested and intrigued” by e-sports because they could open doors for Rebekah to learn new skills and give her “something to be passionate about.” But there would need to be limits, she added.

Though this is the first year e-sports have been included in Imaginology, they are increasingly common in Orange County.

Nearly 40 teams from 25 local high schools competed last season in the OC High School eSports League, with a team from Fountain Valley High emerging victorious.

The eSports Arena in Santa Ana was known as the first of its kind when it opened in 2015. It was followed by UC Irvine’s e-sports arena in 2016 and recently by the Boys & Girls Club of Newport Beach “little league” for younger players.

“It used to be that ‘nerd in the corner of the room’ or ‘that engineer,’ but [e-sports] really transcends all of that,” Amoukhteh said.

Esport-Management also is partnered with area institutions such as UCI and the North America Scholastic Esports Federation, the latter of which organizes high school level competitions and is based in Orange County.

Amoukhteh said she is a former teacher in the county and considered herself a “member of the Imaginology family” for a while. She said she previously oversaw three League of Legends teams at area high schools.

She said there are strong parallels between e-sports and physical sports, such as the need for teamwork and coaches, but believes the playing field is more level.

“My son’s an athlete,” Amoukhteh said. “I would never tell him ‘Don’t go play football,’ ‘Don’t go run.’ It’s the same thing with e-sports. It’s a craft, a skill you develop over time, and if you’re good at it, you can actually do really well. I think that realization is really coming to the forefront now.”

Imaginology is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, closing day. Admission is free, but parking costs $9.

For more information and a schedule of events and activities, visit ocfair.com/imaginology. The OC Fair & Event Center is at 88 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa.

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