Who’s competing right now? Well, outside of scientists going head to head to create a vaccine, the real growth market in competition right now is – no surprise –esports. And the best barometer of this growth is the arms race to build designated esports facilities.
In other words, while the action right now is primarily online, cities are banking on a day when at-home competitors will want the game-day experience. And they intend to be ready.
The New York Times recently examined the growth of arenas in the $1 billion per year industry, noting that whereas in the past, smaller spaces had been the norm (developers had focused on adapting smaller spaces, including nightclubs and even a 1950s office complex), everything is bigger now. Case in point: The $10 million Esports Stadium Arlington in Texas – but it’s by no means the only one.
In Philadelphia, ground was broken on the new Fusion Arena, which will open in 2021 at the South Philadelphia Sports Complex. According to ESPN, the new venue will be built on ground that is currently a parking lot adjacent to Xfinity Live, the dining and entertainment space in the same complex as Wells Fargo Center, Lincoln Financial Field and Citizens Bank Park, the respective homes of the Philadelphia 76ers, Philadelphia Flyers, Philadelphia Eagles and Philadelphia Phillies.
"Fusion Arena changes the dynamic of sports as we know it," Mayor Kenney said during the ceremony. "As esports continues to grow around the world, Philadelphia will be a hub in North America. Philadelphia is a city that's always looking to bring people together and Fusion Arena will do just that."
The Philadelphia Fusion took the lead in the Overwatch League when it announced the construction of a venue for esports. The 60,000-square-foot, 3,500-seat arena will cost over $50 million to develop and will feature the live event space, luxury boxes, team offices, a broadcast facility and a player practice area.
A local TV news station in San Diego reports that the city’s sports center known as Pechanga Arena has needed an expansive renovation for decades. The city requested proposals to update the iconic building, along with 48 acres of land in the Midway/Sports Arena district – and developers delivered.
One of those suggestions comes from San Diego Loyal SC, the expansion USL Championship franchise. The Loyal has partnered with a group called Midway Sports & Entertainment District (MSED) on a plan to update those 48 acres of prime real estate. The ambitious plan presented by the franchise includes not just a $125 million modernization of the sports arena but adding a new 15,000-seat soccer venue for the Loyal. MSED’s entire bid includes renovation and modernization of Pechanga Arena San Diego, home turf for the Gulls, Seals and Sockers currently. It will seat up to 15,000 and include configurations for hockey, lacrosse, indoor soccer, music, trade shows – and esports tournaments.
“There hasn’t been a venue that’s been able to stage the kinds of esports events that are happening in other locations of the country,” said developer David Malmuth. “What we want to do is create one of the most technologically sophisticated arenas in the country for eSports. I think that’s going to be a big economic driver for the new Sports Arena.”
The New York Times also notes that in Las Vegas, Allied Esports opened the HyperX Esports Arena in 2018. The 30,000-square-foot facility is a former nightclub inside the Luxor Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City is an example of a multi-purpose venue that has been reset to host esports as well. This was performed by HOK, a sports-focused architecture firm with a growing esports practice, said Rashed Singaby, one of the firm’s senior associates. He also noted that HOK is upping its game in esports – and that the investment is paying off. Whereas three years ago, no designers worked on such projects, by 2019, HOK had 15 professionals with specific expertise on them.
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.”