Organized by Arvada's Clutch Gaming Arena in partnership with Major League Gaming, Clutch Con lingered in the idea stage for nearly two years. According to Justin Moskowitz, one of Clutch's co-owners, the X Games' move to include professional gaming in this year's lineup was what finally convinced them to take the plunge.
"The decision to pull the trigger on this was kind of a tough one, because of the short amount of notice to people," says Moskowitz. "But considering all the opportunities to bring those professional teams in right after the X Games in Aspen so they wouldn't have to make an extra trip, that combined with having a lot of the resource: the right people at the right time."
Clutch Con's main event is a Counterstrike: Global Offensive tournament that will pit sixteen top professional teams against each other across four rounds of competition, with a $15,000 pot waiting for the winners. Besides the thirteen invitees, two teams won their slots in an online qualifier; Clutch saved the last spot for a Colorado team, which it picked at an in-person tournament.
Notably, Clutch reserved two seats for all-female teams, Team Karma and Ubinited, an unusual move in the top echelon of professional gaming. The move drew flak from some fans, who criticized organizers for inviting teams for anything other than raw merit. "Like, 'You should only take the people who are flat-out the best,'" recalls Moskowitz.
Nevertheless, he says, "If they don't have a chance to compete with the pro guys, it's going to be hard for them to catch up..... A lot of the time, if you're towards the top, it's an old-boys' club, because you're always hanging out with those people, playing with those really high-level people, so you're going to get better and better."
Besides the main event, a slew of side tournaments will let players test their skills in other games, including League of Legends, Hearthstone, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and Super Smash Bros., with cash prizes for the winners.
"We've been helping to build up a lot of different gaming communities over the past couple of years, and we wanted to make sure that we held a tournament for each one of them," says Moskowitz. Non-gaming events include a cosplay contest, karaoke and panels on subjects like psychology for competitive gamers.
Moskowitz says he's hoping the event captures some of the fun of an old-school LAN party, something that's largely been lost on a generation of gamers who grew up playing online against opponents from around the internet instead of around the block.
"I don't think that's something this generation has experienced as much, the ones that are just coming into gaming," he says. "The generation that's in high school and college right now, they haven't seen too many LAN parties because that's something that was around when I was a kid. Hundreds of of computers in one room, going twenty-four hours a day, playing games until you don't feel like playing any more."
The con will run round-the-clock through Sunday night, with Lo-tek, J'Adore and other DJs spinning after organized play wraps up for the day, and anime and YouTube videos padding out the early-morning hours. To find out more about programming and tickets, go to Clutch Con's site.
Follow Adam Roy on Twitter at @adnroy.