The New York Times

Developers Are Creating New Homes for Surging Esports

The rise of esports is no surprise to anyone who has followed the video game industry. They are expected to bring in more than $1 billion in global revenue this year, as millions of fans watch hundreds of events from all over. But those fans typically view the matches from home on streaming platforms like Twitch and YouTube. Only $104 million, less than 10% of the total revenue in 2019, is expected to come from merchandise and ticket sales, according to Newzoo, an esports analytics firm. For fans to spend more money, they need an environment that provides a richer experience. To accommodate that need, developers had focused on adapting smaller spaces, including nightclubs and even a 1950s office complex. Now, enormous arenas are being built with esports in mind. The $10 million Esports Stadium Arlington in Texas, which One of the more popular destinations is Blizzard Arena, a small esports facility tucked inside a midcentury office building in Burbank, California. A former TV studio for shows like “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” and “Access Hollywood,” the 15,000-square-foot space is operated by Blizzard Entertainment for its Overwatch League. Jeff Worthe, president of Worthe Real Estate Group, which owns the building with Stockbridge Real Estate, said soundstages were ideal locations for esports events because of their infrastructure. “Esports are definitely a growing segment of the entertainment industry,” said Worthe, who expects more arenas to spring up in the area. And last year, Allied Esports opened the HyperX Esports Arena, a 30,000-square-foot former nightclub inside the Luxor Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. The arena, named for a maker of headsets and other gaming accessories, hosted a League of Legends all-star event last winter, as well as an NBA 2K League tournament in May. The next event will be an Allied Esports Rainbow Six Minor tournament in June. In between tournaments, the arena has a rotating lineup of local events for games like Fortnite, Mario Kart and Rocket League. Casual gamers can buy hourly passes for PC, Xbox and PlayStation gaming stations or play retro gaming consoles for free. Other places are outfitting themselves for esports on an occasional basis, like Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey, a 1929 building that typically puts on comedy shows, concerts and arena football. In April, a chandelier-adorned theater in the building presented an esports competition, a college tournament that included games like Dota 2, Apex Legends and NBA 2K. It came after a makeover by HOK, a sports-focused architecture firm with a growing esports practice, which helped reconfigure the stage, change the lighting and set up a broadcast studio for livestreaming, said Rashed Singaby, a firm senior associate whose previous work includes the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, home of the Atlanta Falcons. HOK, based in Kansas City, is funneling more resources into the growing field. Two years ago, it had no designers working on esports; today, it has 15, said Singaby, who added he has had commissions for five esports projects in the past year. Developers are now knocking on HOK’s door, including owners of empty big-box stores hoping to repurpose them, Singaby said. “The numbers don’t lie,” he added. “The commitment to this ecosystem has been gigantic in the last 10 years. We don’t think this is going away.” But conversions and remodeling pale in comparison with the planned Fusion Arena in Philadelphia, which will be the first space built specifically for esports in the United States. The 3,500-seat, $50 million project will be the home for the Philadelphia Fusion, a two-year-old team that competes in the Overwatch League, a franchise in which players from all over the world battle in a futuristic first-person shooter. Groundbreaking for the arena, which is being developed by the Cordish Cos., is expected this summer for a planned opening in 2021. Equipped with a production studio, a training center and three private suites lined with bars and fridges, the 60,000-square-foot development will sit in the middle of the South Philadelphia Sports Complex, which includes the Wells Fargo Center, where the Flyers and the 76ers play. Not only will the arena project help esports cement its status in the mainstream, experts say, it’s also expected to unleash a wave of similar projects. “Linking the arena to an existing sports complex will make people realize this is not just about video games being played by kids,” said Barry Seymour, executive director of the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, a regional advocacy group. “This is a real sport.”

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