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A New Type of Gaming Experience at Talking Stick Resort

Contest winners and judges strike a pose together for a final photo on stage.

Dozens of competitive video gamers visited the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community’s Entertainment District on a recent November weekend.

Talking Stick Resort has partnered with Ultimate Media Ventures to bring eSports (electronic sports) and cosplay (costume play) to Arizona, known as E/AZ. eSports is competitive video gaming for prize pools of money.

On November 18, in the Showroom at Talking Stick Resort, more than 200 Super Smash Bros. Melee and Super Smash Bros. 4 players competed in the popular tournament. Professional gamers and teams from universities were in attendance, such as the Arizona State University eSports Association. The event lasted all day, with players being eliminated through bracket rounds until one winner remained. The event was broadcast live through a streaming website,

Top video game players battle on stage while being streamed live on Cosplayer contestant catwalks on stage performing as her character.
The cosplay contest took place in between the game matches. Sixteen local cosplayers competed to showcase their costumes, which they made themselves. Costumes were all pre-judged before they took the stage in front of three professional judges. One judge was Los Angeles–based professional photographer Martin Wong. Wong has been shooting cosplay photos for more than a decade. He shared how the judging was based.

“Our judging we base on three categories,” Wong said. “We look at their craftsmanship, we look at their detail and the difficulty it is (to make the costume), and we also check their accuracy (to the character they are embodying). We use these three metrics to [judge] the cosplayer.”

Over a year ago, Talking Stick Resort approached Ultimate Media Ventures to bring residency to Arizona. Teams from both sides toured the area to figure out how to bring competitive gaming to a casino and how they could attract young people to come out and participate. Nate Eckman, co-founder and chief brand officer of Ultimate Media Ventures, explained how grateful they are to be working alongside Talking Stick Resort.

Judges gather around the cosplayer examining her costume craftsmanship while asking her what materials she used to create it.
“You could tell eSports was super important to [the resort],” Eckman said. “If you walk around the hotel and the grounds of the resort, it’s on the video screens, in the elevator, it’s on the signage on the main floor, there’s billboards on the freeway, there’s radio spots. The team at Talking Stick Resort is really embracing this event and this series. With that level of commitment and support on their side it really gives it a great opportunity to be more successful.”

Eckman shares his hope for the people who got a taste of E/AZ.

“People are super passionate about video games and the culture around gaming. I think that’s the thing that hopefully people take away from this type of experience.”

E/AZ will return in January with both gaming and cosplay categories.