Pine Park and The Cannabis-Gaming Connection
eSports entrepreneur helps link gaming and cannabis.
In October, well-known esports entrepreneur Hector “OpTik HecZ” Rodriguez announced to his international cadre of gamer fans that he was starting up his own weed brand, Pine Park. Named after a city park in the South Deering area of Chicago where he’d go to smoke, Pine Park has specifically launched its initial promotion towards the gamer lifestyle, posing the brand’s initial offerings as a safer alternative to prescription pharmaceuticals like Adderal. Launching the brand initially in California through an exclusive partnership with The Parent Company, Pine Park is initially offering six strains of flower — Blueberry Haze, Modified Mintz, Peanut Butter Breath, Grapes N Cream, Chem Driver and Chem Reserve — through the Parent Company’s stores. In a press release announcing the brand’s arrival, CEO/co-founder of Open Nest Labs, which assisted Rodriguez in incubating Pine Park, acknowledged the underacknowledged omnipresence of cannabis in video gaming, and pointed to Pine Park as a turning point: “While many esports fans are already cannabis users, there has been no beacon of authority or a brand to legitimize the convergence of the plant and gaming, until now.”
Indeed, while cannabis use and gaming have been paired endlessly over the years, there’s been even greater synergy since the pandemic increased rates of both. In an article for Cannabis Business Times, Brightfield Group content specialist Madeline Obrzut cited Brightfield data which showed an 86% jump in cannabis use either before or during gameplay between the first and third quarters of 2020. Also increasing during this time period were the amount of “CannaGamers” which had advanced degrees — from 14% to 30% — and possessed incomes of $150,000 or more — from 5% to 15%. Interestingly enough, the majority of “CannaGamers” in the 20-29 age bracket, 55%, are women, although overall most are male. And a double digit jump in married CannaGamers — 38% to 50% — shows that the cannabis-gaming nexus is no longer a bachelor/bachelorettes’ pastime. However, only 0.2% of cannabis brands bother to explicitly target any of these markets.
As far as getting into the heads of gamers and finding out how cannabis effects the gaming experience, a team of researchers in the Netherlands spoke with 47 frequent cannabis users over a period of two years to explore how they integrated cannabis into their leisure activities. They classified 18 of them as gamers, and through periodic interviews and follow-ups they determined that cannabis “enhanced the experience or modified the emotional arousal. “For me, gaming and cannabis use go hand in hand, in fact, I smoke the adrenaline of gaming away,” one of the interview subjects told the researchers. “I Include a joint and you forget time. Gaming makes you forget the rest of the world, and using cannabis makes you forget that you forget the rest of the world.“ Another gamer said it got him into a flow state: “You’re in a bubble, get totally absorbed by the game, and your concentration is enhanced.”
Outside of the living room, however, players like those in Rodriguez’s OpTik Gaming league would face stern penalties if caught medicating during competition. Since 2015, esports organizer Electronic Sports League has partnered up with the Esports Integrity Coalition to implement the World Anti-Doping Association’s Anti-Doping Policy. Prior to this, apparently, cannabis use at such competition was rampant. A 2011 article on cannabis and gaming quoted the Australian World Cyber Games tournament director Alex Walker as saying, “I’ve seen a number of players at national tournaments who came in ‘baked’ purely so they could play better.” Yet within the world of game development itself, hoary stigmas about the plant persist to this day. The “tycoon game” — a game where the object is to become wealthy — Weedcraft Inc. posed players as cannabis entrepreneurs, attempting to overcome continual cash flow issues and rapidly shifting regulations in the quest to build a successful brand. All throughout Weedcraft’s creation, life imitated game. During the game’s development, an experienced tycoon game creator brought in to consult asked that his name not be connected with the game in any way. Facebook and YouTube refused to run ads and disabled the accounts of those who sent in the ads. And once it was released in 2019, gamers who streamed themselves playing the game found their accounts demonetized. “We're mostly known for games where you kill everyone in sight," Mike Wilson, the founder of the game’s developer Devolver Digital told Endgadget. "Even though we do a lot of other types of games, but it's just, we've not run into any of this trouble with literally any game we've ever done.”
Two years later, Hector Rodriguez is playing Weedcraft in real life with Pine Park. So far, it would appear that cannabis for now is winning.