The new Super Mario Odyssey was projected outside the University Centre. Photo: Parker Townes.
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Ottawa 2017 sponsored event to support local tech sector

On Wednesday, Nov. 15, the south wall of the University Centre at the University of Ottawa was lit up with the lights, sounds, and high energy commentary of a live video game tournament. Part of a week-long event sponsored by Ottawa 2017, the king of the hill-style tournaments hit post-secondary institutions across the city in the leadup to a championship event taking place at Ottawa’s Makerspace.

Sponsored by some of Ottawa’s local tech talent, the Ottawa Video Game Competition and Expo seeks to draw attention to the city’s established and developing tech companies, and will feature many of Ottawa’s indie game developers. Catherine Busson, an organiser for Ottawa 2017 and the video game expo, feels that the general public is unaware of how prevalent Ottawa is in the game development industry.

“A lot of people don’t realise that a lot of really big game companies have bases in Ottawa. A lot of the games students are playing at home every day were developed here, and the city and people don’t even know that,” said Busson. “We will have local studios come in with their demos, and people will go, ‘oh, I have that game, I had no idea it was developed so close to home in Ottawa.’”

Despite being a drop-in event at the university, the stakes were high for contestants, with prizes befitting Canada’s 150th birthday, ranging from Via Rail round tickets to $150 Roots gift cards. But what might seem like light-hearted fun is only part of the lead-up to a final all-day event on Saturday featuring a $5,000 prize pool.

Young people have often criticised Ottawa’s tech sector, as much of the work done here involves backend systems like payroll managers, medical record tracking software, and wireless radio technology optimisation. While these are indispensable parts of our modern world, they often lack the flashy, Silicon Valley-innovation culture that draws many into computer science.

Busson is working to change that perception.

“So one of the things we’ve done is … every single night, including the weekend, we are showcasing Ottawa-based companies. So if someone came, they would get to learn about  Snowed In studios, which is developing games for Nickelodeon, a worldwide company,” she said.

The daily events went beyond many of the competitive gaming staples and included everything from Nintendo’s new mainstay party game Arms to a slew of more artistic experiences from local talent, like Windforge, a nostalgic steampunk experience drawing inspiration from Terraria and classic high fantasy tropes.

U of O students have reacted favourably to the event, with many seeing it as a welcome development from a campus with a reputation for being dull.

John Quinn, a fifth-year computer science student, welcomed the event’s spontaneous nature and the sense of life it gave the campus.

“You just kind of round the corner and there is this big screen, flashing lights, and an announcer,” he said. “People are curious, so they check it out, and you get a crowd. I think it would be great if the university did more events like this, it really gives a sense of community.”