Baseball might be out of season but the facilities are getting a great deal of use. On Nov. 10, Smokies Stadium in Kodak, Tenn. — home of the Tennessee Smokies, the Class AA affiliate of the Chicago Cubs — hosted the Smokies eSports Challenge. The day-long video game tournament featured six different video games and live streaming. Game titles included “League of Legends,” “Fortnite,” “Rocket League,” “Call of Duty: Black Ops 4,” “FIFA 19” and “Super Smash Brothers.”
“The need and the want for eSports is not just [in] East Tennessee,” Jason Moody, special events manager for the Smokies, told the Knoxville News Sentinel. “All over the country, we’ve seen it grow and grow together with traditional sports.”
“I would call eSports a movement,” Jason Smethers, advisor for the University of Tennessee’s eSports club (which has about 200 registered members), told the News Sentinel. “We spend most of our time focusing our league against other universities, but we’re very excited to have events like [the Smokies tournament] nearby. We’re excited that the scene in the local area is growing.”
Even as stadiums and arenas do double-duty as venues, the eSports scene is growing so much that some cities are betting stadiums dedicated to solely to videogaming will take off.
“Arlington, Texas, is gambling $10 million of taxpayer money on what it calls the country’s biggest electronic-sports venue,” Bloomberg reports. “The city of 396,000, which has sunk about $1 billion into football and baseball stadiums, is wagering that gamers will leave their homes, where they can follow ‘Overwatch’ or ‘Fortnite’ matches on live-streaming apps, to witness contestants in tricked-out easy chairs compete on big screens.”
The venue will accommodate 20,000 fans and is expected to open later this year.
“The revenue is growing so quickly, and the sport is growing so quickly, that we want to be there at the table and starting that revenue generation as soon as possible,” Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams told Bloomberg.
Indeed, the global eSports economy is expected to hit more than $905 million in 2018, estimates Newzoo, a leader in eSports, games and mobile intelligence. That’s an increase of 38 percent over 2017. “The majority of this, 77 percent, will be generated directly (sponsorships and advertising) and indirectly (media rights and content licenses) through investments made by endemic and non-endemic brands that will spend $694 million, an impressive 48 percent increase since last year,” Newzoo reports.
Chris Hopper, Riot Games’ head of eSports in North America for Riot Games, which launched “League of Legends” in 2012, says most eSports players are between the ages of 18 and 30.
Meanwhile, Washington. D.C.’s convention and sports authority, Events DC, is hoping to bring eSports events to the city’s new $69 million Entertainment and Sports Arena (which also will be the future home of the WNBA’s Washington Mystics, the NBA G-league affiliate Capital City Go-Go, practices for the NBA’s Washington Wizards and concerts).
“I do think it’s possible,” T. Battina Cornwell, a professor at the University of Oregon who specializes in sports marketing, told The Washington Post when asked if D.C.’s dream of becoming a national hub for eSports is realistic. “You have to have certain things that allow for that community to develop and be an integrated experience and not something you plunk down.”
According to the paper, those “certain things” are the same factors traditional sports need: a combination of a formalized system of play, media and sponsorships, a network of fans, and a physical infrastructure.