Hardcore video gaming is no longer a pursuit confined to your mom’s basement where you and three of your nerd friends drink Capri Sun packets and avoid sunlight. In fact, the professional gaming business has blown up in recent years, with the best players joining teams and receiving endorsements, scholarships, and massive attention on social media. Organized esports teams have fans just like any other sports team, and millions of people watch the playoffs and championships for hot multiplayer online games like Overwatch. It’s estimated that, globally, the esports industry will be worth $20 billion by 2020.
Now, Philadelphia will be home to the first-ever purpose-built esports arena in the United States. Comcast Spectacor, which owns the Philadelphia Flyers, announced at the beginning of this week that they would be constructing a 3,500-seat arena adjacent to Xfinity Live! which Comcast Spectacor also owns. The arena will be located in the same district as Philly’s other major venues, blocks away from Citizen’s Bank Park, the Wells Fargo Center, and Lincoln Financial Field in South Philly. It’s estimated that the area will cost $50 million.
The esports arena will be home to Fusion Live, the championship-level esports team belonging to Comcast Spectacor. Life as a Fusion Live player is pretty sweet, with a league minimum salary of $50,000, plus housing, training, and health benefits. There are twelve players on the roster who compete for a spot in the annual championship, the prize for which is a cool million dollars.
Comcast Spectacor has hired design firm Populous to draw up plans for the arena. Populous comes with plenty of experience, as the firm that built the new Yankee Stadium as well as the main arena for the London Olympics. More saliently, the firm was behind the re-purposing of an aging convention center in Arlington, Texas into an esports arena.
Renderings of the new arena show a high-tech, visually appealing arena with stadium seating rising from the gaming stage, where enormous video screens show off the action for all viewers. It has been announced that there will be luxury boxes and sponsor loges as well. When not in use for gaming competitions, the arena will be repurposed as a stage for TED talks and K-pop concerts, both of which resonate with the younger audience that Comcast Spectacor is courting.
A bit more about Philadelphia Fusion, from the Daily Philadelphian:
Philadelphia Fusion is among 20 teams that participate in the Overwatch League, an international league that plays the popular team-based, first-person shooter video game. As of May 2018, Overwatch has an estimated 40 million players worldwide. In 2018, the Overwatch League Finals brought in almost 11 million live viewers on online streams and an ESPN broadcast.
And from Philly.com:
Overwatch League competitions — with six gamers battling six others in a survival game — are viewed over the Twitch streaming service and televised on ABC and ESPN. Activision Blizzard, which owns the Overwatch game, says that 40 million people play globally, including 400,000 in the Philadelphia television market ranging from Delaware and the Jersey Shore to Harrisburg.
Until now, most Overwatch teams practiced and competed at the re-purposed Blizzard Arena in Los Angeles. The 2019-2020 season, which just began in February, marks the first one in which teams compete in their home states. The Fusion are the only team to have announced the construction of a home arena.
Right now North America is seriously trailing Asia in the realm of esports development. Last year, the city of Hangzhou, China opened a $280 million “esports town.” It has also be announced that esports will be elevated to a medal event in the 2022 Asian Games, which trails only the Olympics as the largest multi-sport event in the world.
While we aren’t quite on that level in the United States, esports are definitely being taken a lot more seriously. Around two hundred American colleges and universities offer a combined $15 million in athletic scholarships to gamers that they want to recruit for their varsity esports programs. While Penn does not currently have an e-sports team, it will be interesting to see what the future holds for the world of esports in the United States, especially with the addition of the new arena.