Fast internet. Gaming communities. Esports leagues. Tech jobs. These cities have it all.
With the popularity of esports soaring and the video game industry smashing revenue records (surpassing $40 billion just last year), there’s no denying the power of gaming from a cultural and economic standpoint. But for millions of gamers around the country, video games are not just a hobby; they’re a passion, a social outlet and a way of life.
Of course, the great thing about gaming is you can do it from anywhere, but many cities are becoming beloved hubs for gamers thanks to their infrastructure benefits and tight-knit gaming communities. The best part? You don’t have to live in a big, expensive city like San Francisco or Seattle to find an amazing gaming community and even awesome job opportunities in the gaming industry.
To identify the 10 Best Small Cities in America for Gamers, Livability took a look at cities’ internet speeds, esports presence, the amount of video game stores per capita and jobs in the industry.
These cities came out on top.
10. Atlantic City , New Jersey
New Jersey as a whole boasts the highest broadband coverage in the nation at 99 percent — perfect for gamers in need of fast internet. But Atlantic City, best known for its casinos, is surging ahead in the video gaming world specifically. When the casino industry hit a stall, the city partnered with InGame Esports, and has since hosted three big esports tournaments (one this past April) while continuing to build support for the city’s growing esports community. Next steps for this initiative are creating an esports venue and establishing the city as a center for collegiate esports.
Creative, forward-thinking initiatives like this are beginning to turn Atlantic City around and bring it back to its former glory. Plus, those beautiful Atlantic beaches are a huge draw!
9. Madison, Wisconsin
Madison also has a large population of younger adults thanks to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which is partly why Wallethub dubbed it #19 on its survey of Best Cities for Gamers. But it’s Madison’s reputation as a tech epicenter that has put it on the map as a great gaming city. The city created the Wisconsin Games Alliance three years ago to help grow the industry in the area and build on its reputation as a hub for game developers. The Wisconsin Games Alliance hosts game conferences yearly, and works closely with K-12 schools to foster those interested in beginning careers in the gaming industry. Heavy-hitting game developers have taken note of this dedication, and several developers including Raven Software, Human Head Studios and even Epic Games have a presence here.
Madison is a fun, exciting college town that is attracting employers with its high percentage of educated workers. It’s also praised as one of America’s greenest cities, and has been recently recognized as a top music destination. Offering opportunities, affordability and tons of awesome things to do, it’s no wonder Madison has landed on Livability’s Top 100 Best Places to Live list so many times.
8. Santa Monica , California
Santa Monica scores a spot on our list in part because several huge game developers call this California city home: Naughty Dog Inc. (creators of “Uncharted” and “The Last of Us”), Activision Blizzard (think “Overwatch,” “Guitar Hero,” and “World of Warcraft”), and Santa Monica Studio (“God of War”). This game-crazed city also recently opened up its very own legit esports training facility for Team Liquid, a professional esports organization.
Thinking of moving here? Santa Monica’s high population of residents ages 22 to 29 lead the way to a fun and active way of life. In fact, Livability ranked Santa Monica a Top 10 Best City for Recent College Grads last year. If you don’t want to work in the video game industry, there are plenty of other jobs available in the tourism, education, tech and entertainment fields.
7. Orlando, Florida
Orlando may be best known for mouse ears and rollercoasters, but this Florida city has actually been named the best city for gamers in America by How Stuff Works. The city boasts the highest numbers of arcades per capita — so there’s always a place to go for game releases. More than 14 comic book, video game and anime conventions are hosted here. Orlando also topped the charts with its 17 esports tournaments in 2017, which was more than any other city in the nation.
After all that gaming, it’s nice to take a break outdoors, and Orlando definitely has plenty of outdoor activities to keep anyone busy thanks to its year-round sunshine. Need more? Orlando is also dedicated to education (there are more than two dozen colleges and universities in the area!) and residents enjoy an amazing food scene that helped the city earn a spot on Livability’s Top 100 Best Places to Live list in 2019.
6. Kansas City, Missouri
Silicon Valley might be where your mind goes when you think “fastest Internet in the country,” but it’s actually Kansas City, MO, that has that market cornered. Its average fixed broadband speed clocked in at 159.18 Mbps, in part thanks to its Google Fiber presence. Two unique gaming venues have popped up here, too. Mobile gaming theater Local Legends Gaming provides space for up to 20 people to compete side-by-side, and E-Sports Bar KC features 16 gaming stations and a full-service bar.
With a culture rooted in barbecue and jazz, Kansas City earned a spot on Livability’s 2019 Top 100 Best Places to Live list thanks to its awesome food scene, booming job market — projected to increase 18 percent by 2026 — and affordable cost of living. Plus, the city is home to one of the nation’s coolest arcade bars, so for gamers especially, what’s not to love about KC?
5. Birmingham, Alabama
Birmingham earns its Best Gamer City cred because esports are huge in schools here. In 30 high schools across the state of Alabama, esports has recently been dubbed an official varsity sport. It’s one of only a few states that have recognized competitive video games as a sport, and it is the first new sport the state has sanctioned since bowling in 2014. Like several other cities on this list, Birmingham also landed a spot on Wallethub’s list of Best Cities for Gamers, in part because of its “Gaming Environment Ranking.” You won’t run low on games here — the city’s game shops have all you need.
Going hand-in-hand with its love of video games, Birmingham has also made a name for itself in the tech world as an up-and-coming tech hotspot. Successful startups like Shipt and Daxco are based here, and more startups are flourishing thanks to the city’s Velocity Accelerator. If you’re looking for a place to begin your startup career without a huge West Coast price tag, Birmingham is a solid bet.
4. Gilbert , Arizona
PC gaming is the go-to method here as 97.5% of Gilbert residents own a computer, and 94% have broadband internet. But for those in Gilbert who don’t own a gaming computer or who prefer to socialize with other gamers in person, gaming center Pure Esports is the place to go. It features 50 gaming stations, Fiber Internet, cutting-edge hardware and comfortable seats, so you may never want to go home. They also host an event on almost every night of the week, including high school game scrimmages, community nights and even summer camps. Meanwhile, Arizona is making a name for itself in the video game development world. There are more than 36 developers, publishers and mobile game companies in the state, according to gamedevmap.
This Phoenix suburb is also an excellent choice for families, as it has been recognized as the safest city in Arizona. Plus, it’s one of the most affordable places in the state to settle down, and has an excellent school system.
3. Indianapolis, Indiana
If you’re a gamer who likes to peruse their options at a store, Indianapolis is the place to be. Wallethub listed this Indiana city as having the third-highest concentration of video game stores in the nation. Stores like Disc Replay and The Exchange feature great selections of retro games and newer titles sure to please all gamers. Much to the online gamer’s delight, Verizon just launched their brand new 5g service in Indianapolis with average speeds of 300 Mbps and peak speeds of up to 1000 Mbps, so there are no laggy games here!
If you need a break from gaming, you can head to downtown Indianapolis, which has been consistently ranked as one of Livability’s Top 10 Best Downtowns for its vast array of entertainment options and walkability score of 91.
2. Charlotte, North Carolina
Virtual and augmented reality reigns supreme in Charlotte. There are more job openings in the VR/AR sectors here than in any other place in the nation, so for those gamers on the job hunt, Charlotte might be your best bet. Typical high school sports like football and basketball aren’t the only options. Bradford Prep school has adopted esports as an official varsity sport, where after-school practices include hand-eye coordination drills and strategy plans.
Besides being a goldmine for jobs in the gaming world, Charlotte has a lot going for it. Physical sports are still huge here, and the city is home to the NFL’s Panthers and NBA’s Hornets, as well as being a mecca for NASCAR. Residents here are highly educated thanks to its dozen nationally-ranked high schools and more than 38 colleges and universities.
1. Irvine, California
Not only is Irvine, CA, home to video game empires Blizzard Entertainment and Amazon Game Studios, this city has the highest number of adults who own a smartphone. This comes in handy when you want to game on the go. Irvine residents are also getting quality internet — the city has one of the highest concentrations of residents with broadband. They take their esports here very seriously, and the University of Irvine recently started offering avid gamers scholarship opportunities for “Overwatch” and “League of Legends.”
Thinking of moving to Irvine? A warm climate year-round, relatively short commute times and its reputation as a safe city make it an excellent place to put down roots. An impressive number of Fortune 500 companies also call this city home, so job opportunities are bountiful.
This feature originally appeared in Livability.