The inaugural PiviP event will take over the FestHaus at Cincinnati’s Kings Island amusement park on Saturday (May 18) for the first-ever day of the Esports tournament and video game conference, complete with game demos, Fortnite competitions, guest speakers and, in a unique twist, a ticket to ride all the rides. The event is free with the purchase of a full-price ticket to the park and is the brainchild of local entrepreneur Bill Donabedian, a veteran festival promoter and founder of the local Bunbury and Bellwether music festivals, who tells Billboard that the intial inspiration came from inside his own home.
“I have two boys, 9 and 6, who are super into video games and I used to love video games, but not like kids today,” says Donabedian, 52. “The video game industry is already bigger than the music and movie industries, but it seems like it’s also kind of underground at the same time. And it’s not set up like most professional sports, where you usually start by creating a league… here the game companies make their own leagues around their games, so I wanted to get invovled in it from the events space.”
Donabedian — whose ESK Presents is also behind the local Kentucky’s Edge bourbon festival and the Brandemonium branding conference — says he saw an opening in the amateur gaming space to create an experience that appeals to non-professionals, which inspired him to find a unique venue that would be willing to take a chance on hosting the inaugural PiviP gathering.
And while Kings Island has never invited a conference like this before, Cedar Fair VP of strategic alliances and business development Matt Shafer, a partner in the event, tells Billboard that from his first conversation with Donabedian he was confident that experimenting with PiviP at KI could be a good test for a potential larger roll-out at the company’s 11 other amusement parks across the U.S. and Canada. “I’m attracted to the idea of this as a local event, but Bill and I both have an eye on scaling it to other Cedar Fair properties… because our number one mission is to broaden our guest experience by making it more immersive,” he says. “I’m in the business of creating memorable experiences and I see this as exactly that.”
Donabedian collaborated with the Oxford, Ohio-based Miami University Esports program to get up to speed on the gaming competition world, primarily because his alma mater’s varsity Esports program is a national leader and their League of Legends and Overwatch teams have had a great rep in national tournaments.
For gaming fanatics, the list of special guests on hand for Q&As and keynote speeches reads like the top-line of a major summer festival, including YouTube star Markiplier, Lordminion777 and Muyskerm. Markiplier (born Mark Fischbach), 29, was born in Hawaii, but acutally got his gaming start in Cincinnati and to date has amasssed more than 23 million subscribers to his YouTube channel, which has racked up more than 11 billion views thanks to his high-energy Let’s Play YT videos, where he usually plays horror games.
“I mentioned that Markiplier was coming and my son rattled off all kinds of stuff about him right away,” says Shafer, who sees the immersive event as a unique, authentic opportunity to tap into a millenial and Gen-Z audience that might otherwise be hard to reach given gaming’s repuation as an indoor, sometimes solitary (or virtual community) pursuit.
The dive into the new digital arena made sense to Donabedian considering that professional Esports are expected to generate more than $1 billion in revenue in 2019 and there is currently nothing like PiviP — a pallindrome he landed on because it is similar to the Esports acronym for “player vs. player,” has the pharse “VIP” embedded in it and kind of looks like a video game player’s handle. Neither man could predict what attendance for the first-year event will be since there is no hard ticket this year, but Donabedian is confident that dedicated gamers and those just standing in line for a ride who catch a bit of an Overwatch tournament on a monitor will get caught up in the excitment of the day’s action.
The cost of admission to the park includes a full day of access to KI’s rides and facilities, as well as a PiviP Action Zone with the VR Rhythm Game Beat Saber, selfie opportunities with some of the region’s leading cosplayers, an indoor exhibitors hall, meet & greets and Q&As with leading gamers and a parkwide Pokemon Go contest.
The tournaments will be MC’d by Jess Brohard, a frequent host for the CODWorld League and veteran Major League Gaming (MLG) host based out of neighboring Columbus, Ohio. Due to its preview nature, the qualifying tournaments for the competitions in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Fortnite, League of Legends and Overwatch were held in March and April, with finalists from those tournaments competing for a share of a $20,000 prize pool in battles that will be streamed live on the Twitch video platform from KI’s Festhaus.
For Donabedian, 2019 is a trail balloon for what he hopes will be a much bigger event in 2020, with on-site competitions and a larger takeover of the park, and, possibly, a musical aspect as well. “Our goal is to expand the tournament into [KI’s] Timberwolf amphitheater,” he says of the park’s barely-used 9,000-capacity venue, which in the past has hosted everyone from Britney Spears to Johnny Cash, Plain White T’s, Jimmy Buffett and INXS.
“We’re looking for something that can scale and if it works here there’s no reason we can’t pick it up and move it to another park and have the same guest experience benefit there,” says Shafer, who has been “blown away” by the guest reaction so far and reach-out from brands interested in partnering with PiviP. “It’s a great way to connect gamers to Kings Island and give them a chance to go to a conference, then connect with people and say, ‘let’s go see Markiplier and then ride the Banshee together.'”
Donabedian says the deal with Cedar Fair is for this year only at the moment, but if the first one works out, he expects to move forward with the 2020 expansion and have PiviP in multiple parks by 2021.