Indoor Arenas / Facilities

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Will Esports' Migration to Movie Theaters Leave Convention Centers Behind?

12 Jun, 2019

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Note to indoor venues in cities everywhere: if you haven’t updated your network infrastructure to attract esports events, consider this your wake-up call. Why? Because movie theaters – yes, the ones in malls and strip shopping centers – are about to steal your thunder.

According to an article in The Esports Observer, Super League Gaming has partnered with NetLevel, a company that installs high-speed fiber networks at movie theaters for esports competitions and events. This deal more than triples the number of movie theaters that can host Super League Gaming’s amateur tournaments.

With the agreement, NetLevel will absorb Super League Gaming’s existing movie theater network connections, including its network infrastructure at Cinemark venues. NetLevel’s low-latency, private fiber networks allow theater owners to host esports tournaments and expand their entertainment offerings to take advantage of non-peak viewing times, creating a win/win situation, economic impact-wise.

And when you think about it, it’s an excellent opportunity for gamers as well. Private theaters generally have free parking, provide concessions, offer rest rooms and other conveniences and are ADA-compliant. And they're everywhere. Cinemark’s theater brands nationwide include Cinemark, Century Theaters, Tinseltown USA, CinéArts, Rave Cinemas and Cinemark XD (Extreme Digital Cinema).

“NetLevel is building an exciting business that brings great value to Super League and our movie theater partners,” said Super League Gaming chief commercial officer Matt Edelman, in a release. “Our goal is to make it possible for every amateur gamer to play in esports experiences in a venue near where they live. NetLevel has created a scalable, cost-effective network infrastructure that ensures movie theaters have the potential to transform into Super League-powered esports arenas.”

According to an article in the L.A. Times, it’s part of a larger trend: “Along with improved food offerings, bigger screens and 3-D projections, theaters nationwide are programming more so-called alternative content. Hoping to reverse long-term declines in theater attendance by luring customers away from an increasing array of entertainment options in the home, they're showing live rock concerts, plays, operas, boxing matches, college basketball games and even public radio shows, often to sold-out houses.”

One theater distributor that has been leading the charge on hosting sports events streaming and broadcasting is Fathom Events. Fathom has hosted a number of broadcasts of football, boxing, motor sports, soccer and competitive cheer.

Advantages of hosting broadcasts of events included the opportunity to invite local team and club organizations in those sports to host watch parties in the theater (thereby increasing attendance and economic impact) and freeing such groups from the responsibility of working out the logistics and expense of renting equipment and doing their own livestreaming (thereby decreasing the work on the part of the team or club). Theaters built excitement around events; for example, with the NFinity Champions Cheerleading Event, participants were encouraged to use the hashtag, #CheerNightOut.

"We want theaters to be community centers, where people can come hang out and enjoy themselves and not just watch a movie," said Robert Lenihan, president of programming at AMC Entertainment Inc. "If we can offer better and fresher experiences, we think they will visit the theater more often."

And as the Esports Observer also noted, why wouldn’t any young person select a high-end movie theater with reclining reserved seats (perfect for gathering a group of club members), rather than folding or stacking chairs? The article notes,

“Whether you want to talk about millennials, the on-demand economy or any other buzz-worthy topic, a clear common thread is the proliferation of entertainment options at everyone’s fingertips, which puts more pressure on any live-event business to create the best possible experience for attendees. And while we are seeing these seating and amenity improvements primarily in what we’d consider the “premium” locations of arenas and stadiums, maybe we need to think more about the rest of the building too. Even consumers with low-disposable income have greater expectations on their entertainment spending – note that in my movie example above, the cost difference between these showings was negligible. We need to constantly push ourselves to deliver a greater level of comfort and pleasure across every section, row and seat in the house; otherwise it may end up being a pretty empty house.”

Count on other venues to tie in as well. Super League Gaming further expanded its reach by partnering with Topgolf for amateur tournaments at its venues, as well as partnering with ggCircuit to provide tournament programs to affiliated LAN center operators.

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