A $10 million stadium is being built in Arlington, Texas. But it’s not for basketball or baseball. It’s for video games. When it’s finished later this year it will be the biggest esports stadium in the U.S., at 100,000 square feet, with capacity for 1,000 spectators.
Sound crazy? It shouldn’t. Esports–which technically are just video games that are designed to promote team versus team competition–are expected to become a $2.3 billion industry by 2022. Professional teams are assembling across the globe to compete in games like DOTA2 and Overwatch; the developer Blizzard recently recruited talent from Fox Sports, the NFL, and the NBA to promote its new league.
While most esports are consumed via streaming platforms, like Twitch, live arenas are becoming an increasingly popular venue to experience professional games. Last year, Beijing’s Bird’s Nest sports stadium brought 40,000 people in to watch the championships for League of Legends–that’s right, a stadium built for the Olympics was taken over by gaming fans.
The stadium planned for Arlington is admittedly less grand than the Bird’s Nest, but it’s unique in that it’s being developed from the ground up as a venue specifically for video game competitions, rather than repurposed. Planned by the City of Arlington and an entity called Esports Venues–along with the architecture studio Populous serving as project collaborator–the stadium takes a slightly different approach to spectating than your average sports arena.
“There’s a lot of similarities that esports share with traditional sports. Fans want to go and be together to share an experience. That’s the universal aspect that’s the same,” explains Brian Mirakian, who led the project at Populous. “But where there’s a lot of difference is, a lot of times, [esports] events are very much longer. They don’t have a finite beginning and end.”
While an NFL game may last 4 hours, the tournament play of an esports competition can easily last 8 to 10. It can take up your day or your weekend, and so creature comforts that sporting arenas often leave out have to be built into the design. Instead of featuring concrete ramps and dull fast-food stands, the new venue’s concourse looks something more akin to a high-end sports bar, with plenty of areas to lounge with a light bite next to a TV, or even jump into a competitive match yourself.
“It’s important to create these common social spaces that have something for everyone. Public gaming areas. Access to food and beverage. Sponsor activations. Meet and greets with the team. Smaller-scale competition,” says Mirakian. “We think that’s just as important as a large-scale venue itself.”
Since the arena’s social spaces will be publicly accessible seven days a week, the concourse needs to be designed for long-term public use–not just for the standard grab-a-beer-and-bathroom-break of fans visiting the average professional sporting event. Organizers expect that nearby University of Texas students will visit the stadium with regularity just to hang out.
As for the main arena stage, it’s modeled to support these stationary games, where players compete on their own PC monitors. There’s a stage for the players who are perched above the fray, seats for fans, and screens everywhere. But perhaps its most important detail is that it will be scalable. Panels throughout the area allow the main theater to grow or shrink, depending on the size of the competition. For the burgeoning esports market, it means that smaller matches with fewer attendees won’t feel “empty.” Instead, the stadium can adapt to demand.
“From our perspective, one of the most important parts of designing a space for esports today is that you have multiple games being played, and multiple spectator sizes,” says Mirakian. “So being able to have a large-scale space that’s flexible for different sizes is critical.”
If esports continue to grow as they have, it’s possible this stadium will pale in comparison to projects built in 10 to 20 years. But Mirakian believes its philosophies will age well either way. “The direction of all entertainment venues going forward is, the path of any stadium type is part of a broader-scale development strategy, where the stadium has 365-day life and usage,” he says. “We want to plant a flag in the ground about the future of these venues.”