Video game competition, industry and culture came together this weekend as the inaugural Mid-America Gamers Expo (MAGE) took place in Council Bluffs.
The esports festival, which was put on by the Iowa West Foundation, brought a number of gaming connoisseurs and esports competitors from the area and neighboring states to the Mid-America Center.
The expo included vendors who provided hands-on console and virtual reality gaming experiences, services and peripherals; a 26-hour LAN (local area network) party; Valorant and Rocket League tournaments; panel discussions; and more.
The moderator for the “Esports in College” panel was former Nebraska Cornhusker and NFL All-Pro Ahman Green, who was asked to be a part of the festivities during the event’s conception.
Many people know Green for his career on the football field, but he has also been an avid gamer for most of his life. He even even hosts his own gaming podcast, Ahman Green’s Gamer’s Lounge, and he is currently the esports coach and program director at Lakeland University in Wisconsin.
When Green was asked to help with the event and heard it was in Council Bluffs he said “that’s basically my hometown.” He was born in Omaha and said he started gaming around the same time he was starting to play organized sports as a kid — starting with games like Donkey Kong.
“Then the Nintendo came out in 1984 and I played Super Mario Brothers, The Legend of Zelda, 10-Yard Fight, Tecmo Bowl ... and then the journey began.”
Green said he is amazed how far the technology has come since those days, as well as how big gaming’s popularity has grown, gesturing behind him to the arena stage with teams competing in a Rocket League tournament and play-by-play commentary being live streamed out to the world.
Green said the esports community is a passionate one, and he’s made many great friendships and learned many things about the industry while traveling to some of the biggest expos and conventions across the country. That’s why he was happy to be a part of MAGE in its first year.
Green said that there are many people who want to pursue a career in esports and gaming, and he noted that there is so much more than just playing the game. At Lakeland, he teaches his students to get into other industry-related areas like commentating (known as shoutcasting in the esports world), streaming, broadcast production, game design and more.
“There are different avenues for everyone in this industry,” he said.
Green enjoys competing online, trying to get into as many games as possible. While many gamers may have their go-to titles, Green’s are games in the Madden and Halo franchises. He said there are several different games played in esports competition. He said he tries to keep up with relevant releases so he can help his students expand their skillsets.
“I gotta know how to play these games to know the premise so I can coach it for my players,” he said.
Other panel discussions included “Women in Gaming” and “Esports and Logic.” A dance party also took place Saturday night.
The expo is expected to return in 2022.
— Reporter Emmalee Scheibe contributed to this story.