Game On | Sports Destination Management

Game On

The Rise of Esports is Helping Destinations Score New Hosting Opportunities
Jan 20, 2021 | By: Judy Leand

ARLINGTON, TX Photo courtesy of Marlon Parungao
It is a great time  to get into competitive video gaming. Global esports revenues (not counting broadcasting platform revenues) surpassed $1 billion in 2020, with North America accounting for $252.8 million, according to market researcher Newzoo. 

“The market is maturing in entirely new ways, with innovative revenue streams starting to develop such as streaming and digital goods,” states Remer Rietkerk, head of esports at Newzoo. “These are new ways to monetize that are not available to traditional sports. These revenue streams have become pioneering ways for teams, organizers and publishers to grow the business.”

With increasing awareness about esports, ease of access to the internet, the rise of platforms offering live esports coverage, and of course visible growth in esports tournaments, the future looks bright for those seeking to invest in this dynamic market. Here are seven destinations that are climbing to the top of the leader boards.

Albany, New York

It’s Game On in the Capital Region. This destination continues to boost its esports cred thanks to a robust talent pipeline fed by numerous local high schools and colleges with esports programming, plus a strong gaming hub with more than 20 developers in the area, including Activision-owned Vicarious Visions. The main venue for competition is the Albany Capital Center that boasts multiple meeting rooms, a multi-purpose room, one gig of redundant bandwidth and robust AV options that are ideal for egaming competitions. 

The Albany Capital Center is currently home to the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) Championships that are held each spring, and plans call for expansion into a second event in the fall. In 2019, Hudson Valley Gamer Con became the largest collegiate sports event in the Northeast, hosting 19 colleges that competed for an ECAC Esports Championship in Overwatch, Fortnite and League of Legends. 

“Our inaugural HV GamerCon in 2019 had 2,500 attendees. Our second year (2020) went virtual during COVID and thousands of viewers tuned in to the competition,” says Doug McClaine, general manager of the Albany Capital Center. “In addition to showcasing a high-level esports competition, event goers in 2019 were able to learn about the future of esports in our panel discussions and connect with game development studios and colleges about future careers and programs.” 

HV Gamer Con 2021 plans to return to an in-person format in April. McClaine notes that the Center For Economic Growth assists with esports events to gain exposure for Game On New York.

Arlington, Texas

This locale is ahead of the curve when it comes to embracing esports, as evidenced by the Esports Stadium Arlington + EXPO, a 100,000-square-foot facility billed as the largest dedicated esports venue in North America. ESA can accommodate 2,500 spectators and its amenities include a permanent stage, state-of-the-art lighting and sound, locker rooms, team rooms, plus production and broadcast facilities. Also in the mix are a Gamers Gallery plus areas for shopping and socializing.

“The unique needs of avid gamers and game lovers have all been accounted for,” says Lisa Farrimond, project manager at Arlington Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Esports Stadium Arlington hosts multiple local events/tournaments each week, and 10 to 20 larger event organizers throughout the year. These are championship-caliber events that are already at, or near, the top of their respective categories.” 

While the events themselves vary drastically, the destination appeals to all levels, from hardcore fans to novices. “The younger demographic will always be the biggest target for this market, and in effect their parents, or young adults just out of college,” she says.

In the past, marquee competitions have included the Esports Awards, ECS Finals and Psyonix Rocket League Finals. “In February 2020, Arlington hosted the Overwatch League Opening Weekend, our largest attended event to date, which sold out the stadium at max capacity.” 

“Additionally, the Hearthstone Grandmasters included 500-plus players, and the Esports Awards in 2019 had more than 500 in attendance including some of the biggest names in the industry,” says Farrimond. Going forward, “We aim to grow our live-attended, high-caliber professional events, as we saw an upward trend of these in years one and two of the stadium’s opening.” 

Atlantic City, New Jersey

Already famous for its boardwalk and casinos, Atlantic City has also become an esports powerhouse, with a diverse range of venues. For example, the 486,000-square-foot Atlantic City Convention Center and the Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall with a 14,000-seat arena are both ideal for large tournaments, while nine casino resorts provide a plethora of hybrid meeting spaces suitable for smaller events. 

“We have whatever facilities event planners need for any size esports event,” says Daniel Gallagher, director of sports sales for the Atlantic City Sports Commission. “We hold about 10 esports events annually, and we’re always trying to diversify our portfolio. Esports is a primary initiative for Atlantic City.” He points out that the city has a strong drive-in market, pulling from Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Baltimore and D.C., making it a premier destination for regional esports players. 

In 2019, the Collegiate Starleague (CSL) Grand Finals drew 800 participants, including the 100 top players in the U.S. and Canada, and had an economic impact of $348,000. 

The Ultimate Gaming Championship Halo Classic attracted about 500 gamers (64 teams), resulting in $254,000 in economic impact. “Youth and amateur are the best economic drivers because they bring families to Atlantic City, but we’d also love to host a pro event, and some of our large casinos could help sponsor these,” says Gallagher. 

Coastal Mississippi

Nestled between New Orleans and Mobile, Coastal Mississippi may be a newcomer to the esports scene, but it is wasting no time in establishing itself. “Our strategy is to observe current trends to identify key esports events that fit in our destination,” says Marquez Singleton, sports and events development manager at Coastal Mississippi. “We hope to raise the profile of this phenomenal destination by engaging in networking opportunities and attending trade shows and showcasing the plethora of unique and affordable opportunities for esports event planners and organizers.” The main objective is to start with small regional events within a 500-mile radius, focusing on the drive market.

At the heart of this initiative is the Mississippi Coast Coliseum and Convention Center, a beachfront facility offering 400,000 square feet of meeting space including an arena with seating capacity for 11,500. Other venues across the tri-county region can accommodate smaller competitions, notably the Biloxi Civic Center (15,214 square feet) and D’Iberville Community Center (12,000 square feet). The area also has 12 casino properties plus an array of non-casino venues that cater to esports gamers of all ages and skill levels.

Singleton also suggests that because Coastal Mississippi is already a well-established gaming destination, it has the potential to expand the sports betting side of esports by attracting a more mature gamer in the 21-35 age range. 

Hershey Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

This central Pennsylvania locale continues to build its esports prowess, thanks 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 region’s premier esports event is the annual HUE Invitational hosted by Harrisburg University at Whitaker Center. The Hershey Harrisburg Sports & Events Authority estimates that the 2019 HUE Invitational in Harrisburg had a local economic impact of more than $1.2 million and attendance upwards of 2,500.

“The event is the largest collegiate esports invitational in the U.S., drawing 60-plus teams from across the country and streamed on Twitch,” remarks Gregg Cook, executive director, Hershey Harrisburg Sports & Events Authority. “The Invitational features a live audience and a packed house for semi-final and final round play for games like Overwatch and League of Legends. HU also hosts the PA Cup, which crowns the best collegiate esports squad in Pennsylvania.” 

The Sunoco Theatre at Whitaker Center offers seating for 700 spectators and has a wide-screen format that is 38 feet high and 70 feet wide, with a 300-watt, five-channel digital surround sound system.

“We are always open to hosting additional events of any size. We have the infrastructure and flexibility to host professional, collegiate and amateur events throughout the year,” says Cook. “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.”

Raleigh, North Carolina

This esports Mecca is home to numerous video game and esports companies including leading developer Epic Games, PC maker Lenovo, and open source software company Red Hat. There are also a universities and colleges with varsity and club esports teams, plus a wide variety of venues, including the 700,000-square-foot PNC Arena, to address all sizes of events. Raleigh is currently working on a proposed facility and hotel accreditation system through esports advisory firm Subnation. This powerful combination of assets is helping to position Greater Raleigh as a global leader in the esports community. 

“There are lots of game companies based in Raleigh and we have a strong tech infrastructure, which means there are many potential sponsors for events,” says Loren Gold, executive vice president of Greater Raleigh CVB. “We’ve held national, international, regional and local events, and we’re even starting to see the parks and rec department get into esports on a recreational level, which is important for communities interested in gaming.” 

Raleigh hosted a successful Rainbow Six tournament in 2019; the event generated $1.45 million in economic impact and logged 16 million live-streamed views. “It was destination marketing gold. There were six million hours of watched content broadcast in 15 languages. It’s a great economic development opportunity,” reports Gold. 

Next, Raleigh is hosting the first-ever Collegiate Esports National Championship in April/May this year. A Counterstrike event is also in the works for 2021 or 2022 and GalaxyCon is scheduled for late-July 2021.

“We went all in on esports as part of a 10-year destination strategic plan,” says Gold. “We’re excited about the future and we see lots of unique opportunities for events, gaming leagues, B2B conferences and live streaming. We’re looking at esports through a broad lens.” 

South Bend, Indiana

South Bend has multiple world-class sports venues, and another is now nearing completion. Inside the Century Center Convention Center, an existing theatre is being transformed into the 630-seat Bendix Arena, slated to open in early 2021. Amenities will include team rooms and production facilities. Adjacent to the arena, the LAN Center will offer 36 gaming PCs, and an additional 12 consoles will be available for daily gaming for the community.

“There is no limit for the types of esports events we can hold at the new Bendix Arena — we’re looking for everything,” says Nick Kleva, sports market development manager, Visit South Bend Mishawaka. “They can be one-day, two-day or five-day tournaments, regional weekend events or national conventions or tournaments. The possibilities are endless.” He adds, “Esports tournaments and events are becoming more popular and more frequent. Since we are breaking into this market, we are going to shoot for three to five events for the first year, but if it ends up being more, that’s great.”

The strategy is to attract gamers of all ages and ability levels, with the sweet spot being the 18-35 set. Kleva believes the new facility will draw a mix of local and out-of-state participants. “Esports venues are expensive to build, so this arena will give many gamers, high schools, colleges/universities and community groups the opportunity to play in a great facility. We are positioned at the core of the Great Lakes region between Chicago, Detroit, Columbus, Indianapolis and all points in between. We are perfectly positioned between major populated cities which makes us a great centralized meeting point,” he says. SDM

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