NAECAD Interview: Matthew Hixon, United in Gaming

August 13, 2021

Esports is most commonly associated with million-dollar prize pools and high-pressure tournaments by the world’s best players. Matthew Hixon, Director of Tournaments at United in Gaming joined us to explain why they created a home for casual players instead. Hixon is also the Head Esport Coach for Kishwaukee college. 

NAECAD: Can you tell us more about United In Gaming?

Matthew Hixon: United in Gaming is a startup company that is about a year old co-founded by Andrew Smoltz and Taylor McDermott. I came across [the company] while trying to find more spaces in esports where I could make a difference. They ended up hiring me as the Tournament Director based on my previous experience. I currently host tournaments [and handle] all aspects. Right now, everyone is trying to market toward the competitive space. 

For the last year, we’ve been quarantined, and it was a lot easier to host online. Now that the world is starting to come back to the “new normal,” LAN events are starting up again. We’re focusing on casual gamers because they game too. There’s actually a bigger market for casual gamers than competitive ones. We use our platform Gather.gg where we host our actual tournaments.

NAECAD: Many organizations tend to focus on one side of gaming — the competitive scene or the social scene. Why should they focus on both?

Matthew Hixon: The competitive scene right now is the go-to. At the same time, there are those who are interested in competing but they don’t feel comfortable yet and don’t think they’re as good enough. So, what do you do? Eventually, those casual ones build that confidence up and maybe go compete on the competitive side. You want to focus on both sides because you don’t want to leave out any demographic when it comes to esports and gaming in general. 

United in Gaming has that on our side compared to traditional sports. For example, the NBA has a competitive side, but there’s no real casual. It’s just streetball. You need to focus on the casual side because, at one point, those who are competing were casual gamers — they just didn’t have a competitive platform to play on. You take the competitive side out of it, all those competitive players are casual players as well. 

In my way of thinking, casual and competing are one and the same. You know how they say, “I don’t play competitively. I play for fun?” If there’s an opponent, you’re competing, and you should be having fun regardless. I think someday we might have to change the wording on competitive vs. casual.

NAECAD: How is United in Gaming bringing competitive gaming and social connectivity together?

Matthew Hixon: By doing casual events. We are starting to post more mobile-based platform gaming, including your typical Rocket League, League of Legends, those types of games that you find in the competitive scene. But we’re focusing more on mobile and games that people play for fun, like Fall Guys. It looks cute and fun, but it’s competitive as well — you have 60 people all trying to get to the end of the line. We’re focusing on the games that are more casual, but you never know, once players see the other titles, they might be interested in more competitive games. 

The more options they have, the more comfortable they’ll feel about playing something else later on.

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