RALEIGH — Back in 2005, Triangle Game Initiative co-president Walter Rotenberry started up the Digital Game Expo, shining a spotlight on North Carolina’s game industry.

In the intervening years, its following has exploded, causing organizers to move the conference into the Raleigh Convention Center and rebrand it as the East Coast Game Conference (ECGC).

Over the next few days, thousands are expected to gather once again for the event, bringing video game professionals from around the world to network and collaborate.

WRAL TechWire’s Chantal Allam recently got to chat with Rotenberry about the conference, and the local gaming scene. Here’s what he had to say.

  • Ok, so this is the 11th year of the East Coast Games Conference. What kind of turnout are you expecting, and why is this conference so important to the region?

We are expecting about 2,000 overall this year. We’re always hoping to break a record every year. ECGC is the largest developers conference on the East Coast, and one of our goals is to promote NC as a great place to live and do business. There will be people from all over the country and world here this week.  The Triangle has 40+ local game studios in the area, including some of the largest in the world.

The conference is extremely important because it brings developers from all over the world to talk to the people here. It’s the least expensive way for the students to engage and learn from people that are in the industry. The other big conference is in California, and that costs $1800. It’s really hard for a student to be able to meet and talk to people in the industry that they are trying to get into.

Triangle Game Initiative co-president Walter Rotenberry.

  • What are some of the highlights of the show?

We always have a great speaker line up with some of the top designers, programmers, writers and artist from around the world. Also, indie developers get to compete for the best game at the show with the winner going on to London to compete in the international Indie Prize. Last year’s ECGC winner went on to win Best in Show in London, putting North Carolina on the world map for Indie development. New this year are game tournaments with over $70,000 in prizes thanks mostly to Barton College who will be starting their E-Sports team in the fall. High school seniors also get a free pass to today’s activities that start at 4pm.

  • What’s the next frontier in gaming – is it steam/streaming, the new Google offering, or is it more Battle Royales like Fortnite or both?

Streaming is becoming more and more important every year and this year T-Mobile will be streaming “True Gaming” live from the Raleigh Convention Center, we no longer need to be connected to a wire to stream. New offerings from Google and all of the mobile companies will be driving technology to be more and more realistic and games like Fortnite will continue to expand and grow with the technology.

  • You also serve as Wake Technical Community College’s associate professor of Computer and Data Science. Take us to the beginning. How did you get into gaming?

I had a student, Emanuel Whitley, in a computer programming class I taught at Wake Technical who asked a simple question: “Why do I have to go to Florida or Washington State to learn game development when we have some of the best companies right here in NC?” I then asked then-dean Witold Sieradzan, what we could do and he allowed me to go to a conference and do the research to start a new program.

  • You started and directed the Digital Game Expo in 2005 to help bring attention to NC’s game industry. That expo eventually morphed into the current ECGC. Tell us about the beginning, and how far the region has come in terms of the game industry.

Yes, our Digital Game Expo was extremely popular and we out grew Wake Tech, so we met with some of the local stakeholders and decided it was time to move downtown and make it an industry conference while maintaining its educational purpose.

  • How big a deal is it that Epic Games started right here in the Triangle. What does that mean for us going forward?

Epic Games is the largest employer of our game students from Wake Tech and is a tremendous asset to our community. We were already known in the industry as a gaming center, but Epic has really made it thrive. A lot of people use the technology that they created.

  • Is it safe to say that the Triangle is a gaming hub?

We are known as one of the game hubs. We were known for the “game engine” hub for quite a long time because we had the Unreal Engine by Epic and a couple of other game engine companies here as well. Epic has pretty well taken over that market now – the dominant portion of the game engine world right here in Wake County. It’s also developed more jobs and infrastructure for the gaming companies. If it wasn’t for the gaming technology, we might now have got people like Google and AT&T coming to lay their fiber because they require a lot of bandwidth to make things happen and some of the other companies see that and they’re investing in the Raleigh area.

  • There’s a lot more than Epic Games happening here. Any other companies to look out for?

Epic is growing fast; Ubisoft has expanded their studio this year, and from what I understand, that will continue. Limited Run Games co-founded by Josh Fairhurst — one of our first game students at Wake Tech — has become one the largest publisher and distributor of physical versions of games.

Report: Epic Games banks $3B profit for the year