Esports Stadiums: Why a New Sport Needs a New Field

September 5, 2018

Esports events were once held in small, windowless conference rooms. Today, the biggest of these events are filling massive stadiums. The 2016 League of Legends World Championship was held in The Beijing National Stadium, which is the same arena that held the opening, closing, and track and field events of the 2008 Olympic games. A giant Elder Dragon flew around the arena during the opening ceremony thanks to augmented reality. The Staples Center (home to the LA Lakers), Frankfurt’s Commerzbank-Arena, and other ginormous venues have all played host to esports spectacles.

But even this is a trend that is likely to change soon.

Photo Credit: Curbed

Venues dedicated to esports are already springing up around the country and are going to be more and more common.

In 2015, the country’s first location explicitly devoted to esports opened in downtown Orange County, CA. Known as the Esports Arena, the three-story, 95-year-old historic brick building, which struggled for years to attract renters, became a 15,000-square-foot space that can seat 900 fans for competitions or can be adjusted for events of different sizes thanks to modular construction. The venue also offers a $10 a month membership that enables people to use the site’s machines for unlimited gaming.

Two other Esports Arenas have since opened: a 16,000-square-foot facility in Oakland, CA, and a massive 30,000-square-foot, multi-level arena housed inside the Luxor Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, NV. The facility celebrated its grand opening by hosting a celebrity Fortnite event put on by popular Twitch streamer Tyler “Ninja” Blevins.

The company also runs a mobile facility, called Esports Arena Drive. It’s an 18-wheeler where what is typically the cargo space opens into a competition stage, a full production facility, and even a VIP lounge.

In addition, Activation Blizzard opened its dedicated esports facility in Burbank, CA that served as the home base for the Overwatch League throughout its first season (and will continue for the second season, as well).

But just when you start to think that all of these facilities are exclusive to the western U.S. comes the news that the city of Arlington, TX is converting an old convention center into a new 10,000-square-foot dedicated esports facility. That location may seem surprising until you realize that the Dallas/Fort Worth area (which Arlington sits in the middle of) is the second biggest area for esports in the United States behind Los Angeles.

Photo Credit: Curbed

In fact, there’s already a dedicated esports facility in the area: the Mavs Gaming home base designed by The Trade Group.

“The Trade Group’s Peter Pham happened to meet representatives from the Mavs at DreamHack, an esports event we manage,” said Neeshu Hajra, VP of Business Development at The Trade Group, “and Laurent Genin-Satoh, an esports broadcast partner, also referred us to them. By coincidence, Maverick’s owner Mark Cuban has also been on stage at two events we handled – IEM Intel Extreme Masters and the launch of ELEAGUE at CES. Since the Mavericks had heard and seen what we can do, they knew they were in good hands with us.”

So, what differentiates a dedicated esports facility from a typical arena? Well, several things, actually. To start, while most sports arenas have massive video screens, they are secondary to the action occurring in the area of play. For an esports tournament, however, these screens are absolutely critical to someone’s enjoyment of an esports tournament. So, the size and positioning of the video boards are critical. In addition, the seating preferences of the crowd are much different than compared to a traditional sporting event.

“Normally when you think of the valuable seats, you think of Jack Nicholson in the Staples Center,” Brian Mirakian, Director of Populous Activate and Design Project Lead for Esports Stadium Arlington, said to SportTechie. “[In esports] what you see is that people would rather gravitate to positions in the back of the bowl because they have better sight lines to the screen. It’s similar to how seating works in a movie theatre.”

Also, the equipment the players use is much different than traditional sports. Instead of uniforms and balls, an esports player’s gear is seating and computer equipment.

Photo Credit: La Guilde du Geek

“The Mavs appreciated the fact that we could bring all of our experience in the esports arena to bear. For example, we know what type of gaming station works best for esports players, including what sizing is appropriate and tournament ready, which was of utmost importance when the Mavs chose us,” said Hajra.

Additionally, and probably most importantly, is a robust and steady Wi-Fi network. For most venues, Wi-Fi is a luxury. For esports, however, an internet connection is literally the playing field of a tournament.

“[Playing with a bad network] would be like playing basketball underwater,” Jonathon Oudthone, the Founder of NGAGE Esports and Esports Project Lead for the Esports Stadium Arlington, said to SportTechie. “That’s a term in esports, playing underwater. With high ping or low bandwidth connectivity, your response time is dramatically decreased.”

There is another key area where esports tournaments differ from traditional sporting events, and that’s fan engagement. Unlike most sports, which have a reasonably well-defined time frame (i.e., football is four, 15-minute quarters, hockey is three, 20-minute periods, etc.), an esports event can run for several days. Even the matches are unpredictable; one infamous StarCraft 2 game lasted over three hours (it ended with a disqualification because one player became so bored he left the game to check his Twitter feed).

So, fans are going to need things to do and places to congregate in between matches. In this respect, an esports tournament is more like a music festival than a sporting event.

“There is a real opportunity for more social spaces, where fans can freely migrate to different zones throughout the venue, gather with like-fans and friends, and just watch from a standing position,” said Brian Mirakian, Senior Principal with Populous. “It’s a very different approach to how we have designed traditional seating bowls.”

The Mavs Gaming arena, for example, is a multipurpose space designed so the Mavericks can host esports tournaments, parties, receptions, meet-and-greets, and other events.

Photo Credit: Mavs Gaming Twitter

“It’s been great working with the Mavs on a permanent home base. We know the level of construction has to last and look good for years – instead of just a couple days at an event. So, it was fun to incorporate beefier, higher-grade materials into the environment that will serve the Mavericks and Mavs Gaming for years to come,” said Hajra.

Another element that cannot be overlooked is the unrelenting pace of technological advancement. Due to the massive investment in creating these facilities, they absolutely have to avoid becoming antiquated in five years or less. That’s why it is crucial to build them with an infrastructure that can adapt and evolve as new technologies are introduced.

“If you have a big enough technology pipeline where you can plug things in from a framework standpoint, that’s the important thing,” said Mirakian.

It’s funny to say that a billion-dollar industry is still developing, but the growth of esports has been so sudden that several infrastructures have had to develop in tandem with the growth. This includes internal structures, like players associations, and external, like esports arenas.

As these arrangements solidify, there’s still plenty of potential for organizations to enter the esports industry as sponsors or otherwise. If you would like to learn more about your esports opportunities, give one of the experts at eGency Global a call at 972-323-6354.