Coming of Age | Sports Destination Management

Coming of Age

As Esports Market Booms, Destinations Look to Level Up
Jan 03, 2023 | By: Judy Leand

The worldwide esports market is exploding. In fact, by the end of 2022, predictions had esports generating $1.8 billion in revenues globally, with North America set to hit $300 million.

And even more growth is coming, thanks to diversifying esports revenue streams, emerging markets and mobile esports. Research firm Insider Intelligence estimates that there will be 29.6 million monthly esports viewers in the U.S. this year (up 11.5 percent from 2021), fueled by mainstream celebrities, an increasing amount of coverage from traditional outlets such as ESPN, and the breakneck rise of Fortnite.

“Increasing live streaming of games, notable investments, growing viewership, engagement activity, and league tournament infrastructure are the factors influencing the market growth,” reports Fortune Business Insights. As a result, destinations have more opportunities than ever to serve this rapidly expanding market. Here’s a look at eight locales that are playing to win.

Akron, Ohio

Akron, OH
Akron, OH  |  Photo courtesy of Akron/Summit CVB

The Greater Akron area is a magnet for gamers, due in no small part to the University of Akron’s esports program, ranked No. 2 in the U.S. by international gaming magazine DailyGame. About 10 percent of the university’s students are part of the program or on the varsity, club or recreational level. UA teams have won more than 20 national championships over the past five years and have participated in numerous competitions including League of Legends, Rocket League, Counter Strike: Global Offensive, Overwatch, Hearthstone, Rainbow Six Siege, Fortnite and Valorant. The school boasts three gaming facilities — Zips Gaming Lounge-Williams Honor College, Zips Esports Center-Jean Hower Taber Student Union, and Akron Esports Arena-InfoCision Stadium — each with 24 personal computer stations and several console stations.

Beyond the collegiate scene, Akron hosted the 2022 State of Ohio-High School Championships in June 2022 at the University of Akron’s esports facilities. Two thousand attendees generated a total economic impact of $1 million.

The Akron-Summit CVB recently launched “As we continue to explore the esports market, the new website is our way of starting conversations and positioning our community for future events,” says Jim Mahon, VP of Marketing & Brand Management, Akron-Summit CVB. “We are working to identify esports promoters, matching their needs to our assets and an overall Greater Akron visit/experience.”

Albany, New York

Albany, NY
Albany, NY  |  Photo courtesy of Albany Capital Center

The Capital Region has a robust talent pipeline fed by numerous local high schools and colleges with esports programming, plus a strong gaming hub with numerous developers in the area, including Activision-owned Vicarious Visions. The main venue for competition is the Albany Capital Center that provides dedicated Internet infrastructure for tournament play. The facility is home to the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) Championships as well as Hudson Valley Gamer Con, the largest intercollegiate esports event in the Northeast. ACC can accommodate small and large esports events, and can customize staging, lighting and broadcast options.

“Esports is transforming from its exciting nascent beginnings and has entered into a period of cautious growth. Esports event planners who have continued success find locations with a homegrown draw combined with an intriguing reason to travel to participate and compete,” says Jay Cloutier, Albany County Sports Commissioner. “Discover Albany, in concert with its local colleges and universities as well as the growing gaming software studio cluster, has forged that second reason to host esports events in the region.” He adds, “Our key goals include [increasing] attendance at esports tradeshows, and the Center for Economic Growth has an initiative to support the egaming software industry locally.”

Arlington, Texas

ARLINGTON, TX  |  Photo courtesy of Arlington CVB

It’s always “game on” in Arlington, which boasts the Esports Stadium Arlington + EXPO, the largest dedicated esports venue in North America. The 100,000 square-foot facility, which opened in 2018, offers 50,000 square feet of exhibit space, a 35,000 square-foot arena, team areas, warm-up space and production studios. It can seat 2,500 spectators.

Arlington hosted the 2022 Dota 2 Arlington Major in August, along with other premier tournaments for the Call of Duty League and Overwatch League throughout this past year. In January, ESA is looking forward to welcoming the 2023 SMITE World Championships. While the events can vary drastically, the destination appeals to all levels, from hardcore fans and professional players to novices.

“Arlington, Texas continues to be on the cutting edge of industry trends, and we are excited to continue to offer a variety of experiences for visitors and residents alike,” says Matt Wilson, Executive Director of the Arlington Sports Commission. “We look for the biggest and most prestigious events, and this stadium reflects our dedication to that.”

DuPage County, Illinois

DuPage, IL
DuPage, IL  |  Photo courtesy of DuPage Sports Commission and Frosty Faustings

Esports thrive in DuPage County, thanks to the Scrims Esports Gaming Center and the annual Frosty Faustings event now entering its 15th year. The Scrims venue, located 30 minutes from O’Hare International Airport and downtown Chicago, offers 60 full PC stations with HyperX peripherals, 240hz monitors and 3070 GPUs, wired fiber internet, a broadcast/casting room, and plenty of space for spectators, vendors and sponsors. Scrims has hosted a number of mid-size tournaments across various game titles such as Call of Duty, Counter Strike Offensive (CS:GO), HALO, Super Mario Smash, Valorant, Rocket League and Dota 2. Other facilities on offer include the 25,000-square-foot Compass Arena, as well as the Clarion Inn Elmhurst Oak Brook (which previously hosted Frosty Faustings IX, X and XI) and the Westin Chicago Lombard.

Frosty Faustings XV will be hosted at the Westin Chicago Lombard the first week in February, and again in 2024. The four-day tournament is one of the largest esports events in the Midwest and will be part of the Arc World Tour.

“We host at least one regional esports tournament within DuPage County per month, multiples if we are hosting a number of rights holders and each of their events during the particular month,” says Igor Bakovic, Director of Sports, DuPage Sports Commission. “The sports commission’s focus over the next two or three years is to host some of the larger events that take place throughout the United States. We also know we can play a role in growth and look forward to exciting opportunities on the horizon.”

Hershey Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

Hershey Harrisburg, PA
Hershey Harrisburg, PA  |  Photo courtesy of Hershey Harrisburg Sports & Events Authority

In Central Pennsylvania, esports continues to flourish, due in large part to Harrisburg University and its Storm varsity esports program that fields highly successful teams in Overwatch, League of Legends and Hearthstone. The premier venue is the Whitaker Center for Science and the Arts, which includes a turnkey esports tournament facility. Harrisburg University also offers a variety of smaller gaming spaces.

The region’s marquee esports event is the annual HUE Invitational hosted by Harrisburg University at Whitaker Center. The Hershey Harrisburg Sports & Events Authority estimates that the 2019 iteration of the tournament had a local economic impact of more than $1.2 million and attendance upwards of 2,500. HU also hosts the PA Cup, which crowns the best collegiate esports squad in the state.

“While our connection to a proven leader in the collegiate esports industry (Harrisburg University) and a state-of-the-art event facility like Whitaker Center allow us to successfully host advanced skill levels, we also look to be a leader and facilitator when it comes to encouraging younger players into esports activities,” says Allison Rohrbaugh, marketing & communications director for Hershey Harrisburg Sports & Events Authority. “Organizations such as the PA ESports Coalition and the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Esports Association are continually driving the conversation for how to promote and advance esports in our region.”

Raleigh, North Carolina

Raleigh, NC
Raleigh, NC  |  Photo courtesy of Electronic Arts

This destination continues to level up in the esports market, as evidenced by the work of the Greater Raleigh Esports Local Organizing Committee (GRELOC), and the passage of North Carolina’s Esports Incentive Grant in 2021 that will provide up to $5 million in funds annually through FY2024 to encourage esports productions and events to be hosted in the state. Moreover, Raleigh is home to eight game publishers including Epic and Ubisoft; endemic companies like Lenovo, Cisco and Red Hat that are major players in the gaming space; and passionate, non-endemic companies that support esports through sponsorship or employee team building strategies.

“Greater Raleigh has become a national and international model for having a diverse and sustainable esports ecosystem strategy. We have earned the praise and trust of the global esports industry and community while keeping our sights on delivering value and economic impact locally,” says Ed Tomasi, Co-Chair, Greater Raleigh Esports Local Organizing Committee.

Raleigh’s esports events are primarily held in public venues such as the Raleigh Convention Center, PNC Arena, Reynolds Coliseum and the Herb Young Center. There is also a private esports game center at Contender Esports that works with local and regional competitions. Raleigh’s goal is to host and support one to two national/international esports events, two to four regional events, and four to six local events/programs annually.

“The future of esports in Greater Raleigh is extremely exciting as we look to add more esports-capable hosting facilities to our offering,” says Tomasi. “Epic Games is building its new world headquarters campus in Cary and the Town of Cary has engaged Populous to design its new multi-sport indoor facility where esports will be a foundational consideration. NC State University has announced it will build a new esports performance and education facility that is to serve the entire state’s UNC System.”

South Bend, Indiana

South Bend, IN | Photo courtesy of South Bend, Century Center Convention Center
South Bend, IN  |  Photo courtesy of South Bend, Century Center Convention Center

South Bend is firmly on the esports map, and boasts the 100,000-square-foot Century Center Convention Center, home to the Bendix Arena powered by Xfinity and the Xfinity Gaming Center. The 600-seat Bendix arena is the region’s only dedicated esports facility and it offers state-of-the-art lighting and sound; space for expos, vendors and panels; team rooms; and a production booth. The Xfinity Gaming Center houses 36 gaming PCs, two Xbox Series X, and two PlayStation 5 set-ups.

“We have mainly hosted regional collegiate tournaments so far. We have one local university that uses the facility as its home venue and welcomes teams from all over the region to compete,” says Nick Kleva, Director of Sports Development, Visit South Bend Mishawaka. “We are open to hosting all types of events. They can be one-day, two-day, five-day tournaments, regional weekend events or national conventions or tournaments.” He adds that the goal is for the destination to host two to four esports events annually.

“We are looking for gamers, esports enthusiasts and anyone that wants to become an esports fan — I think that covers pretty much everyone,” notes Kleva. “I think the sweet spot is ages 18-35, but that is not a requirement. Everyone has the ability to play video games, no matter the skill level. We will have a welcoming environment that is fun for all ages and skill levels.”

Valley Forge, Pennsylvania

Valley Forge, PA
Valley Forge, PA  |  Photo courtesy of Valley Forge Tourism & Convention Board

Although esports is a newer target market for this locale, event planners are sure to appreciate the excellent facilities, easy accessibility (located just 40 minutes from Philadelphia International Airport), more than 80 hotels, and a plethora of activities to pursue when away from the gaming keyboards. The primary esports venue is the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center at Oaks that features 240,000 square feet of flexible event space, as well as upgraded internet capabilities. Other venue options include the Valley Forge Casino Resort, and the newly opened Belong Arena in the King of Prussia Mall that features 48 stations and 24 private rooms.

This past October, the GXL Colossal tournament was hosted at the Expo. “This was our largest event to date, but we do expect some smaller tournaments in the coming months, including an RGB LAN event,” says Jon Scheuren, Director of Sports, Valley Forge Convention & Tourism Board. “Also, our premier annual event, TooManyGames — the longest-running video and board game convention in Pennsylvania — will return at the end of June.” TooManyGames draws about 15,000 attendees and generates nearly 1,000 overnight hotel rooms and more than $1 million in economic impact for the area each year.

“Valley Forge and Montgomery County has a great base infrastructure in place for hosting esports, and we’re an attractive destination for both youth and adult events,” says Scheuren. “We are looking forward to welcoming more esports events in the near future.”  SDM

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