Tech at Its Best

By Sherri Middleton, Managing Editor

I’m always on the lookout for new technology and gadgets that might appeal to sports events planners. In January, I headed to CES 2019 in Las Vegas to see if I could find enough innovative products to highlight in our regular Tech Tools section. I was not disappointed.

    As the largest and most influential tech event in the world, CES 2019 overwhelms the senses. I was among more than 180,000 attendees from all over the world who attended this mega tradeshow that dominated the scene utilizing the Las Vegas Convention Center, the Sands Expo Center and numerous hotel properties with meeting space.

From virtual reality and robotics to self-driving vehicles and artificial intelligence, CES reveals the future of technology and allows individuals to try the products and ask questions of developers who are transforming the world. From entrepreneurs to big-name manufacturers and even college groups creating technology for credit, anything you can imagine and most things you’ve never considered is revealed in the 2.9 million square feet of exhibition space.

    At first glance, this seemed easy. Many of the sports-oriented technology was housed in a central location, but as I soon realized, a central location or hub might involve multiple floors or a totally different site where a product was being revealed.

    Since this was my first CES event, I studied the floorplan, schedules, and logistics of covering so much in such a short period of time. With more than 4,500 exhibitors, there is no way to see everything, so I planned to find all the sports technology possible during my three-day stay.

    To compound the problem, I had the bright idea to incorporate some site visits and interviews at various sports facilities in the city.

    From the early planning stages, my contacts at the Las Vegas Convention Center and others throughout the city told me it might be impossible to book a hotel room or find an available time slot for interviews. Undaunted, I prepared anyway. I’d been to Vegas before and surely with all the hotel rooms available in and around the world-famous Strip, I’d find something within close proximity to the meeting spaces.

    The first thing I learned was that CES attendees and exhibitors book hotel rooms a year or more in advance. With more than 180,000 people coming to the show and another 4,500 exhibitors and their staff, lodging was at a premium. Some rooms were priced upwards of $4,000 per night. I’m old school and cheap so, traveling on a budget for personal reasons or for business is the only way to go.

    As I learned from many people I met during my stay, finding rooms that did not break the bank was no easy task. One gentleman I met who designs robotics that can be used in sports applications told me that he checked the availability of the nearest Motel 6 and found a couple rooms for $600 per night. We had both found some of the last available rooms at Circus Circus – the casino hotel near the end of the strip. I picked Circus Circus because rooms were less than $300 per night and the property was within walking distance – several blocks to the convention center. The hotel/casino also was along the shuttle route and Las Vegas Monorail.

    By being a little flexible in my travel dates, I also found reasonably priced airline tickets by choosing Southwest Airlines Wanna’ Get Away option. After an early morning at the airport and a change of planes in Houston, I arrived in Vegas right on time and headed to the hotel to drop my luggage.

    While Circus Circus is one of the older properties on The Strip, it is popular with families and includes the largest permanent big top in the world, in addition to an indoor amusement park, casino, restaurants, ballrooms and three swimming pools. I caught a glimpse of the circus show on my way to the convention center, and I dropped a few bucks in the slot machines, but other than that, my guestroom, shuttle pickup and lobby were all I saw.

Circus Circus like other properties in Vegas was a pickup location for CES badges, so the hotel lobby was packed with show attendees. I should have figured that would be the case, but as a CES newbie, I anxiously waited in multiple lines hoping I would not miss my first appointment to visit the HyperX Esports Arena.

    After hailing a cab, we crept through traffic and finally made our way to Luxor Hotel & Casino to meet with Denise De Jesus, catering sales manager with the arena. The 30,000-square-foot, multilevel arena is open to the public and designed for competitive gaming. With a competition stage, a 50-foot LED video wall, PC and gaming stations, network TV-quality production studios, virtual reality platforms, retro gaming consoles and food and drink options, the arena appeals to gamers for daily play and high-stakes tournament players.

    Walking in from the casino, visitors will find video game consoles, a retail shop and cashier. Prices start at $10 per hour and virtually any game imaginable is available for play.

De Jesus introduced me to Aaron Smith, marketing manager for the arena who described how the arena is used for unique events and parties. With six private VIP rooms and open spaces, the arena can be customized for small or large groups with everything from logos and branding on the display screens to live-streaming events. The HyperX Esports Arena also partnered with Allied Esports, a global Esports entertainment company based in Orange County, Calif., in a multiyear agreement. The partnership allows HyperX and Allied to co-brand events and experiences, including bringing personalities, Esports athletes and social platforms together in the first dedicated Esports venue on the Strip. The partnership also allows HyperX to equip gamers with HyperX headsets, keyboards, mice and mouse pads for tournaments and special events.

    After touring the entire arena, I headed to the Venetian for a press conference before trying to make my way back to the hotel.

    If you’ve ever been to Las Vegas you may know that there are lots of sparkly, glittery things to catch your attention. So, what should have been a short walk to find the nearest monorail station took an hour or two longer than expected. I ultimately found the monorail and made my way toward my hotel. Should I stop at the convention center and walk by myself through a construction zone at 11:30 p.m. or take the next stop and walk through another questionable part of town? I instead took the monorail to the last stop, walked into the hotel, looked for a cab, walked back into the hotel and caught the monorail back before locating a ride from a different location.

I didn’t eat out anywhere in Las Vegas because the media room provided lunch and dinner and I attended enough press conferences to have snacks and cold drinks. Besides, the whole day would fly before I even had time to think about food or the fact that I hadn’t eaten.

The following day was all about CES. My busy morning started in the Las Vegas Convention Center where I checked out AR/VR and gaming in the South Hall while looking for sports and fitness booths, which happened to be in the Sands Expo in the Venetian. So, after stopping in the Sands, I discovered wearables before locating sports and fitness gadgets but soon discovered more sports technology was located in Aria.

It would take weeks for me to write about everything to see at CES, but I’ll tell you that I discovered many fitness trackers, sports simulators, running shoes and apparel, bikes, skateboards and other items of interest to the sports tourism industry. I also found some amazing massaging chairs, flat screen TVs, AI toys, 3D-simulated food and automated some amazing brewing equipment, all at price tags I couldn’t afford.

    If you want to learn more about CES 2020, register for the show. If you are easily distracted by fancy gadgets, make a better plan than I did. If you have a fear of hundreds of thousands of people walking around in surgical masks, stay home. And if you want to see Vegas and enjoy gambling, shows and attractions, visit at another time.

I’ll be highlighting some of these products throughout the year in issues of SportsEvents.

    May the future be with you!