New Orleans-area calendar for Oct. 16-22, 2015 _lowres

Photo provided by MLG -- Spectators watch a video game battle on the giant screen during a Major League Gaming convention in Dallas in 2012. Thousands will compete in the New Orleans edition of this convention this weekend.

Not all gamers are created equal. Ever since the good ol’ days of hunting for high scores in “Space Invaders” and “Pac-Man”, competition has been a driving force behind the popularity of video games.

As games have evolved, so has the stage for its greatest players. Behold Major League Gaming, combining the flash and polish of sports broadcasts with games of a decidedly digital nature. For the first time, Louisiana gamers will get a chance to enter the fray as the MLG Finals come to the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center Oct. 16-18.

The term “e-sports” might sound strange to some, but MLG co-founder and CEO Sundance DiGiovanni says MLG tournaments really aren’t so different from traditional sporting events.

“It’s really pretty easy to show somebody what e-sports is once you get them into that room because they say, ‘Wow, this feels just like a regular sporting event.’ The only difference is that the competition is happening on a virtual playfield, and they’re playing, you know, video games,” said DiGiovanni.

The event will see sponsored teams of pro gamers go head to head in “Call of Duty,” “Dota 2” and more, with over $500,000 in prize money at stake and will be broadcast in over 120 countries. It’s a big undertaking, to say the least.

“Luckily we’ve got over 10 years of experience doing these things … there are dozens of people who make the show happen flawlessly, everything from making sure we have enough T-shirts for fans to take home to making sure that everybody has fun even if they get knocked out in the first round.”

DiGiovanni, as the co-founder and CEO of MLG, wears a lot of hats. One thing that keeps the job fun, however, is that he is a gamer as well.

“One of the reasons why I still get so much enjoyment out of my job is because I do enjoy playing video games. Now, I’m not anywhere near as skilled as the people you’ll see compete at our competitions, but I get into it. I’ve been known to trash talk a little bit.”

DiGiovanni is looking forward to the return of “Smash Bros.” to the event, since it’s one of the games he plays with his children. “Smash,” like many games, is easy enough for a child to enjoy but complex enough to bewilder an uninitiated adult.

“That’s the madness of that game. It seems so simple, but there’s actually a lot of complexity to it … and that’s one of the things that we see in high-level games. … Millions of people may play them, but a small percentage are going to be the top-level players, just like with traditional sports.”

MLG makes sure that the audience can follow the fun, even if they aren’t experts in a given game.

“We have scoreboards, we have replays, we show you who’s leading and who has the advantage. The idea is to present it in a way that not just the hardcore player can enjoy it but also somebody who’s just coming in casually.”

This marks MLG’s 100th major event, but the first held in New Orleans. DiGiovanni is excited about what he hopes will be the beginning of a multi-year relationship with the city.

“We have a promotion where anyone with their student ID from any Louisiana school, whether it’s a high school or a college, can get in for free as a spectator,” said DiGiovanni. “We really want to make this an event that the state of Louisiana will look forward to every year ... We really hope that a little bit of New Orleans rubs off on us and a little bit of us rubs off on the city and state as well.”

Even if you’re not the greatest gamer in the world, you can still enjoy the MLG Finals. After all, not everyone who plays basketball is Michael Jordan. Sometimes it’s more fun to just sit back and hand the controller to someone else.

“We’re never going pro, I hate to break it to you,” said DiGiovanni. “But we can still have fun. It’s one of the great things about what we do.”

More information about the MLG Finals can be found at majorleaguegaming.com/Finals.