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Wyndham IDrive Orlando has closed: Florida loses a hotel, fighting game players lose a home

The host venue for over a decade of major US tournaments has been given only two months notice before closure.

Image of CEO Wyndham venue during tournament
Image credit: CEO / Alex Jebailey

Earlier this month, fighting game players across the US learned that the Wyndham Orlando Resort International Drive hotel was to close suddenly, pulling the rug out from under the upcoming CEOtaku tournament. This sucks for a variety of reasons, obviously. At a base level, a lot of hotel staff are getting laid off. For the attendees of CEOTaku, it will force a sudden change in travel plans, and the organizers must now undergo the expensive process of tracking down and securing a new venue on short notice. But more than that, it means that one of the last remaining in-person gaming subcultures is losing a home of sorts.

The Wyndham Orlando Resort IDrive has been the home of CEO and attendees events since 2011. That's over a decade of in-person gaming events, slowly growing and morphing alongside the wider gaming industry around it. CEO stands for Community Effort Orlando, a fitting name for a tournament salvaged from the wreckage of a last-minute cancellation that forced founder Alex Jebailey and Florida natives to come together and play video games despite the circumstances. Since these fledgling beginnings, CEO and Wyndham Orlando IDrive have been tied by the hip, but for the past few years it's remained a home to CEO's anime fighter sister event CEOtaku.

"I am personally devastated," states founder of CEO Alex Jebailey. "It's very hard to find venues that you create a genuine relationship with as they were the first hotel to give CEO a chance back in 2011. My first thoughts were the employees and staff that have taken care of CEO over the years to which I hope they bounce back with other opportunities. It began with Lisa in 2011 helping me understand how hotel contracts work, AV media giving me more than fair pricing on AV and Divya, who I will forever be grateful for handling my contracts since about 2014 there who always helped where I needed it."

It proved an ideal spot to hold events. Picking out the right hotel is harder than you might think. Cost, obviously, is an important factor. But you've also got to consider how much space is allocated for the event you're hosting, how much electricity and internet will cost, how far it is from food services, and so on. The Wyndham, Jebailey tells me, was ideal for a variety of reasons. Not only was there that years-long partnership, but being close to the airport and food services makes it perfect for a fighting game event. When CEO eventually outgrew the Wyndham, CEOtaku stepped in to fill the spot as its smaller anime-obsessed brother for good reason.

You might be wondering why this is all important. It's just a hotel, who cares, etc. In this era of online supremacy, the actual physical locations where modern competitive gaming has expanded into are as valuable as gold - and why this article is feature rather than a short and to-the-point news piece published two weeks ago. Crucial keystones in the bridge connected today to the past. There are countless memories chiseled into the walls of the Wyndham. Memories of the wrestling ring built in the centre of its convention hall, of K-Brad pulling off the Stone Cold Steve Austin entrance in front of a live audience, Mike Ross breaking out of the cage, wrestling superstar Kenny Omega emerging and throwing Skisonic off the livestream. CEO 2016 took place just two weeks after the Orlando nightclub shooting, and Jebailey and his team doubled security to ensure that those community members who had been at the heart of the event would remain safe.

These places, like the China Town Fair arcade in Manhattan, South Korea's Green Arcade, the basement of Downtown Dallas' Hyatt Regency for Quake 2 players, the countless early Counter Strike and Starcraft LANs. These very physical places are milestones in a digital industry. When one closes its doors, it should be a sad day for anyone who is interested in competitive play, or has tried their hand at going pro.

CEO 2016 stream footage of Xavier Woods vs Kenny Omega
I mean look, this is just rad. Look at all these people having a good time. | Image credit: CEO Gaming

As for what happens now, Jebailey shared the next steps and the hurdles in front of the team. "It's easy to find venues and start a sales contract conversation, but it's hard to find ones in a time frame you need and fair pricing. Post COVID, everything has gone up exponentially such as internet needed to stream multiple channels, hotel room rates for attendees and overall logistics to run an event of CEO's scale and quality. This came at a time where my focus is on upcoming DreamHacks, CEO Daytona in its last year before announcing CEO's big return to Orlando and a new venue for 2025."

"I've already reached out to some contacts about potential hotel options but finding something around the December time frame which I think will take CEOtaku's attendance to the next level not being so close to CEO and right before the holidays. If and when I find something suitable to replace the Wyndham for CEOtaku, I'll be sure to share with the community so they can plan as soon as possible. I'm an optimist and this is just another bump in the road to continuing CEOtaku's legacy. And trust me, I've been through a ton of bumps in the road with things out of my control. But I'll find a way."

CEO thankfully will live on. The tournament itself will continue at some other venue, so we're saved from the sort of sad news that comes with a national major closing its doors forever (RIP Celtic Throwdown). But, just as an era ended when the main CEO tournament left the Wyndham, another era has closed now as players say goodbye to the Wyndham forever. I, and others, can still go to CEO and CEOtaku. It's very much something on my bucket list, but I'll always be a little bit sad I can't see the same yellow wallpapered walls I saw through the laptop as a teenager with my own eyes.

Rest in peace, Wyndham.

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