South Bend to be Home to Dedicated Esports Facility
11 Nov, 2019
A dedicated esports arena at the Century Center could be hosting its first competitions as soon as next summer.
The St. Joseph County hotel-motel tax board approved $2 million from its bed tax collections over the next couple of years to convert the underused 700-seat Bendix Theatre into a 500-seat arena.
Officials hope the arena, which would be the first in Indiana and among the earliest in the country, will attract individuals and teams competing against each other in scenarios created by popular games like “Fortnite,” “Rocket League,” “Overwatch,” “League of Legends,” “Heartstone,” “Dota 2” and more.
Jeff Jarnecke, who oversees the Century Center and other sites as executive director of the city’s venues, said the Bendix was long overdue for an overhaul, and it would have likely cost about $1 million just to replace the seating, carpeting, lighting and sound system.
The theater is currently used for church services, lectures, rehearsals and performances, but its usage rate is only about 55%, Jarnecke said. The need for remodeling created the opportunity to reinvent the space.
Letters of support for the project came from a couple of current users of the Bendix, and Bethel University indicated it might be interested in using the space in the future for students who might be interested in participating in esports.
The hotel-motel tax board was able to try out one of the seats that might be used in the revamped theater, which might be renamed Bendix Arena, watch some gamers at play and try on a jersey like teams often wear while competing.
Jarnecke said he could begin meeting with designers this year, but work likely won’t get underway until early next year.
Because it’s an amphitheater, the Bendix is ideally suited for the conversion because fans will be able to have a good view of competitors down below. A great sound system, theatrical lighting and many video monitors are core components of such an arena, as well as seats that might have the ability to rumble or vibrate to match the game action.
There also will be a production center for announcers, as well as those who stream events on the internet.
Several cities around the country are spending considerable amounts of money developing complexes aimed at esports.
“It’s going to be an arms race, so it’s important that we’ll be one of the early adopters,” Jarnecke said.
The theater will improve the quality of life for local residents involved in esports but it also should serve to attract new visitors to the area for competitions from throughout the Great Lakes region, Jarnecke said.
The possibility of new visitors is what won the support of the tax board.
“We think the investment will serve as a catalyst for tourism,” said John Anthony, board president and an early proponent of bringing esports to the region. “It has the ability to attract fans of a new sport.”
And it fits in nicely with the region’s growing reputation for sports tourism — whether it’s visitors here for high level Notre Dame athletics or events hosted for amateur hockey, softball, soccer and many other sports, said Rob DeCleene, executive director of Visit South Bend Mishawaka.
“Getting in at a reasonably early stage is very important,” said DeCleene, adding that it also attracts a demographic that’s important to any community — often younger, tech-focused individuals.
“It’s a new take on our proud history of innovation, to take a theater like the Bendix and reinvent it in a way to enhance the community and make us even more of a destination,” DeCleene said. That will be noticeable by even those who aren’t here for esports competitions.