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Gamers galore at the Gigazone: Sanford Center event draws players from around the region

Winter Kingbird plays “Overwatch” on Saturday in the Gigazone Gaming Championship at the Sanford Center. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer) 1 / 2
Participants play “Super Smash Bros” on Saturday in the Gigazone Gaming Championship at the Sanford Center. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)2 / 2

BEMIDJI—It was a few degrees below freezing Saturday morning, but that didn't stop some Northern Minnesota gamers from lining up outside the Sanford Center to grab a spot for Bemidji area's biggest gaming tournament.

The third annual Gigazone Gaming Championship drew an estimated 1,500 people by about 1 p.m. Saturday—about three hours after it began and about six hours after people arrived to make sure they could compete in one of the championship's tournaments for ultra-popular e-sports games such as "Fortnite" and "Overwatch."

"Fortnite's" cultural saturation, for instance, is such that victory dances from the game have seeped into NFL touchdown celebrations.

One "Overwatch" team—New Level Tactics—is made up of three friends and former students at Deer River High School. Anthony Wicklund, 20, is the team's DPS—"damage per second"—which means he tries to wail on opposing players while teammates Walter Charwood, 20, and Derek Gotzhie, 24, try to "tank"—absorb as much damage from the enemy as they can—and heal.

The trio had all played "Overwatch" for a year or two each, but they weren't very optimistic about their chances at Gigazone because they typically play on consoles, rather than the PCs set up for on the championship's main stage.

"We know enough to where it won't be that bad," Charwood said.

The championship also had tournaments for "Rocket League," a popular soccer-style game played with turbo-powered cars; "Madden '19," the newest iteration of the longrunning football simulator; two different "Super Smash Bros." games, which let players battle against one another as iconic video game characters; and "Magic: The Gathering," the fantastical trading card game.

And attendees could get a head start on Halloween for the championship's cosplay contest, which meant "The Terminator," Ursula from "The Little Mermaid" movie, Link from "The Legend of Zelda" video game series, and even a T-Rex mingled in the Sanford Center lobby and among the banks of glowing monitors and televisions.

The championship is organized by Paul Bunyan Communications. Now in its third year, it draws thousands of regional competitors who play for cash prizes in some of the most popular video games in the world.

Joe Bowen

Joe Bowen covers education (mostly K-12) and American Indian affairs for the Bemidji Pioneer.

He's from Minneapolis, earned a degree from the College of St. Benedict - St. John's University in 2009, and worked at the Perham Focus near Detroit Lakes and Sun Newspapers in suburban Minneapolis before heading to the Pioneer.

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