eSports Arena

Comcast Spectacor has announced that it will construct a new $50 million purpose-built eSports arena in Philadelphia which is set to open in 2021.

You may not be overly familiar with the world of competitive video gaming but it is a surging industry. eSports is expected to surpass the billion-dollar revenue mark in 2019 with economists estimating that number to surge to $1.7 billion by 2021. A lot of that money is spent in America and with it comes further investment.

One of the leading figures in that North American growth is the Overwatch League, a competitive gaming league owned by Activision Blizzard. The league is still in just its second season but has gone from strength to strength in the last few years. There are currently 20 teams competing in the league, each of them representing a city from countries around the world. It is an expensive business with teams typically consist of 10-12 players with each one earning a starting salary of at least $50,000.

Blizzard has already agreed on sponsorship deals with Coca-Cola, Toyota, and Omen by HP as well as some major broadcast contracts. Matches are streamed on Twitch and are even broadcast on television thanks to a deal with Disney. Last year, the Grand Finals had a global audience of almost 11 million when combining streaming platforms with television figures on ESPN and partners in China and Korea.

One of the teams involved in those finals was the Philadelphia Fusion, a franchise which is owned by Comcast Spectacor which is where this announcement comes from. The firm has announced plans to build a $50 million 3,500-seater eSports arena in the heart of the Philadelphia Sports Complex. It is the largest new-construction purpose-built arena in the Western Hemisphere with similar setups in China and Korea.

“We’re thrilled to introduce a venue like no other as we move forward with the next phase of development within the Philadelphia Sports Complex,” said Dave Scott, Chairman and CEO of Comcast Spectacor.

“Fusion Arena gives esports fans a best-in-class venue to call home and be proud of. Beyond competitive gaming, it’s a stunning facility that will host a wide array of events.”

There have been suggestions that the arena could be used for events like TED Talks and stand-up comedy but make no mistake, its primary purpose is eSports.

“Today’s announcement marks an exciting moment for the Comcast Spectacor-Cordish partnership,” said Blake Cordish of The Cordish Companies.

“Fusion Arena will set the gold standard for competitive gaming and debut on one of the country’s most exciting platforms of sports and entertainment amid Philadelphia’s professional sports teams.”

The arena will act as the new home of Comcast’s Philadelphia Fusion as the Overwatch League plans to move its matches to the team’s home arenas across the world. To date, every regular season match has been played at the Blizzard Arena in Los Angeles, California. The first home games will be played later this year at destinations in Dallas, Atlanta, and a new arena in Los Angeles but the league has plans for every team to play games in their home cities within a couple of years.

That is something which makes the Overwatch League unique amongst other eSports leagues and there are plenty of them. The city-based structure is far closer to more traditional sports leagues in America, something which eSports as a whole is moving towards. Fans of Counter Strike’s ESL can purchase replica jerseys, viewers can bet on eSports matches on sites like Betway, and pretty soon, supporters from Philadelphia can cheer on their favorite Overwatch League team in person.

“The exposure is to Philadelphia,” claims Rob Johnson, the chief marketing officer for a Philly-based company, N3rd Street Gamers.

“They need to stay somewhere in hotels. They need to eat somewhere. So the economic impact is very, very high, I would believe.

“With esports, it seems that it just went pro and then the infrastructure wasn’t built to get people there.”

That looks like something which is changing fast. This new purpose-built arena will inject a major boost into the local economy of Philadelphia but it is also a significant step in the development of eSports. Competitive gaming has come a long way from kid’s bedrooms and this $50 million investment is proof of that. With global revenue increasing at the rate it currently is, perhaps it won’t be long before more cities are building arenas like this to keep up with growing demands.