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Sask. gamers promoting esports as positive pursuit for Indigenous youth

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The faint smell of cigarette smoke wafted through the air at the Bear Claw Casino in White Bear, Sask., some 200 kilometres southeast of Regina.

On this late November day, the dinging and jingles coming from slot machines were interrupted by the sound of virtual firefights coming from flatscreen TVs. A crowd gathered to watch as people competed in a Fortnite Battle Royale tournament.

Fortnite is a free-to-play video game that pits players against 99 others on a simulated island with the objective of being the last person standing. Created in 2017, the game boasts a community of more than 125 million players worldwide.

Last Saturday’s tournament at White Bear was a collaboration between Treaty 4 Esports and the Bear Claw Casino. Players competed for cash prizes. The winner walked away with $2,000.

Because of the solo player format Keshane and Severight-Lerat used in their tournament, they had to devise a scoring method that was appropriate for their event. Players earned points based on how many players they eliminated and where they finished in the overall leader board once they were eliminated from the competition. (Bryan Eneas/CBC News)

‘A positive outlet’

Tristan Keshane and Shenika Severight-Lerat started Treaty 4 Esports earlier this year in an effort to build an Indigenous gaming community in Saskatchewan.

“I see a need for esports in this general area,” Keshane said. “There’s kids who literally spend all of their free time playing video games when they’re not in school, and that’s what they look forward to.”

Keshane (right) and Severight-Lerat (not pictured) started Treaty 4 Esports in the summer of 2018.

Keshane said the couple wanted to show youth the possible career paths that could stem from the esports industry in a respectful and competitive way.

“A lot of kids don’t play sports nowadays and a lot of people try to paint a bad picture of playing video games,” Severight-Lerat said. “I see it as an outlet for kids, a positive outlet. They can sit at home and play games and not get into trouble.”

The pair have hosted tournaments for Fortnite and other games online and at three venues in Saskatchewan.

Ashton Lonethunder started playing Fortnite 11 months ago. The tournament was his first time competing in such an event.

“It’s heartwarming to know that people are coming here not just for the game or to compete in tournaments,” Lonethunder said. “[They’re here] to have fun; it’s not only for the game — it’s just having fun in Fortnite.”

‘They finally just accepted it’

Keshane estimates he’s spent a quarter of his 23 years playing video games.

“When it first began, my parents didn’t really support it — they didn’t see it as legitimate.”

He first picked up a controller competitively 10 years ago. He would go on to place third in a national Call of Duty tournament in 2016, earning $3,500.

He said his parents now support his esports dreams, as long as they take him in a positive direction.

Severight-Lerat said her parents were also originally sceptical of esports.

“They don’t really know too much about the esports industry and the whole community in itself,” she said. “They finally just accepted it when they started seeing the progress it was making.”

‘I wanted to give back’

Keshane first started talking about building a gaming community when he and Severight-Lerat moved away from their parents’ homes to Yorkton, Sask.

After a few years of talk, they dove headfirst into creating Treaty 4 Esports. Keshane said it’s a way to give back for the support he’s received in his own ventures.

“There’s a lot of people who supported me in my area — there’s fundraisers that were done for me to go to events — and I wanted to give back to the people who have supported me to chase my dreams and hopefully inspire kids to chase theirs, whatever it is.”

Players from across Saskatchewan gathered at the Bear Claw Casino in White Bear to participate in a Fortnite tournament hosted there on Nov. 24. (Bryan Eneas/CBC News)

Keshane is attending courses through the First Nations University of Canada to get a better grasp of the business side of things to take Treaty 4 Esports to the next level. 

But he said he’ll be taking a break from his studies next semester in an effort to grow the community in schools around southern Saskatchewan.

While the casino event was a success, Keshane and Severight-Lerat say it’s the younger generation they ultimately want to connect with.

Keshane said he also hoped to see Treaty 4 Esports organizing events in schools, which would reward students for academic achievements.

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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