Tracer, a character from Blizzard Entertainment’s wildly popular Overwatch video game, greets visitors at company headquarters in Irvine. Blizzard, one of the largest gaming companies in the world, employs nearly 2,000 people in Irvine.

Video games are big business in Irvine

by TOM BERG AND TOMOYA SHIMURA

Ru Weerasuriya, co-founder of Ready At Dawn

Major cities are competing in a high-stakes game to attract video game makers.

The winners receive the fruits of a booming $152 billion-a-year industry — coveted high-tech jobs, wages and talent.

Competition is fierce, but Irvine holds an advantage: The master planned city already has become home to more than 900 high-tech businesses, including some of the biggest names in the gaming industry.

“Ten years from now, when the video game industry is even more mature, Irvine will be remembered as a pioneer of this industry,” says Jon Rettinger, president of TechnoBuffalo, a consumer electronics portal with 22 million viewers.

Blizzard Entertainment, headquartered in Irvine, is considered the world’s most successful video game developer.

Irvine is also home to Amazon Game Studios, Obsidian Entertainment, Ready At Dawn Studios and other game developers.

“The growing companies want to be where the larger, more established companies are, and that’s here in Southern California,” says Ru Weerasuriya, co-founder of Ready At Dawn, headquartered at UCI Research Park. “Being in Irvine allows us to recruit from all over the world and offer prospective employees an amazing place to work and live.”

More than 2.2 billion people worldwide play video games. And last year, more than 200 million people watched the Industry’s World Championship finals, twice that of the Super Bowl. Investors are paying attention.

Sports franchises, professional team owners and broadcasters are spending millions to create professional teams and broadcast their games.

Universities are paying attention, too, because the skills overlap with the entire high-tech industry.

“It lends itself to coding, to software developing, to game engineering, to artificial intelligence,“ Rettinger says. “These are platforms of the future. They’re all so closely Intertwined.” In 2016, UC Irvine opened a 3,500-square-foot arena dedicated to multiplayer competitions, known as Esports. Its team won the League of Legends to 2018 College League of Legends championship and has broken six world records.

“I’m getting skills that I’d never get from any other class,” says UC Irvine senior Brenden Alvarez. Esports teams create a pipeline that attracts talent and keeps it in Irvine, feeding the city’s high-tech industry.

“If you think about it, Irvine has the headquarters to arguably the biggest gaming company in the world, and a university that’s preparing students for this new career,” Rettinger says. “That raises the prestige level of the city.”