In Texas, sports stadiums are king. From the Dallas Cowboys’ massive pro football mecca—complete with one of the world’s largest television screens—to the high school football fields that put the homes of many pro sports teams to shame, few places have such a history of pushing the limits of stadium design.
A new development in Arlington, the country’s largest purpose-built esports stadium, shows that Texas may be host to part of the next evolution of sporting arenas. The $10 million Esports Stadium Arlington, set to open this November in the city’s Entertainment District, will see the city’s convention center converted into a competition arena, esports gallery, and production studio.
And this is just the beginning. According to a report in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the global esports market will more than triple from $493 million in 2017 to $1.5 billion in 2020, and a recent ESPN story chronicled the growth of the industry in Dallas-Fort Worth, where more than $105 million has been invested in teams, leagues, and venues.
Big events for games such as League of Legends, one of a number of popular multiplayer online battle arena video games, have taken place at venues such as the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Staples Center in Los Angeles, and New York’s Madison Square Garden, where players square off at center court, with gameplay broadcast to the arena on massive screens and online across the globe. A Chinese firm, Allied Esports, just opened a venue in Vegas, and expects to open at least 10 more arenas worldwide over the next three to five years.
“We’re going to see a pretty rapid evolution in the marketplace,” says Brian Mirakian, principal and director at Populous Activate, the firm behind the design of the new Arlington complex. “Things are maturing quite quickly in esports in general, and there’s been such an influx of investment into the purchasing teams, with lots of leagues forming.”
How venues can get a second life with esports
Mirakian says the Arlington project—at roughly 100,000 square feet, it’ll be the largest competition venue of its kind in North America—is the perfect example of how adaptive reuse will play a big role in the rapid growth of esports.
While there will be new, custom-built stadiums and arenas, the industry’s expansion underscores the need for new venues, fast. The recently opened Blizzard Arena in Burbank, California, home to the Overwatch League, opened in a converted sound stage once used for The Tonight Show. As esports leagues grow, so does the need for custom-designed interior space.
“This is a perfect example of finding new adaptive reuse potential with a convention center,” says Mirakian.
Mirakian calls the convention center in Arlington a “big black box,” a kind of blank canvas that was easy to redivide into a convention center to fit the specific needs of competitive video games. There was a large 30,000-square-foot ballroom that was subdividable, as well as meeting rooms and office spaces that could be converted into space for tech support and video production, especially important for broadcasting gameplay and competition to online channels such as Twitch and YouTube.
The complex, a joint project between the city and Esports Venues LLC, also had all the requirements for hosting and broadcasting esports events. The converted venue can seat up to 2,000 fans, fit massive screens, and support retail and concessions.
“I really think this does open up more room for big box store repurposing,” says Mirakian. “You have large double-height volumes, clear spans without columns, and already have parking infrastructure.”
The Arlington venue, roughly three-quarters the size of a Best Buy, will likely be on the larger side of potential esports spaces. Positioned near iconic stadiums such as the Cowboys’ home at AT&T Stadium, it also appears to be planting a flag for the esports industry.
City officials believe it’ll host 30 events in the first year, and only grow from there. The investment in such a high-tech space will also pay dividends outside of game day; in addition to positioning Arlington as an esports hub, the new convention center can also host events such as TED Talks, according to Mayor Jeff Williams.
A league with plenty of room to grow
Numerous esports arenas have been, or will be, created across the U.S., as venue owners and promoters see the potential in this sport’s staggering growth and young, millennial audience. Many existing pro venues see esports as a way to bring in extra revenue. NBA and NHL arenas, increasingly in the process of being retrofitted to handle the high bandwidth needs of today’s social media-obsessed sports fans—Sacramento’s high tech Golden 1 stadium is a perfect example—are seeking out opportunities to host events. As sports stadiums become more high-tech to stay relevant in today’s media environment, they are, in effect, becoming more video game-like. The Houston Rockets NBA team even hired a video game exec to manage esports opportunities.
Mirakian believes that as the market for these types of spaces grows, adaptive reuse projects will offer smaller cities a better chance to attract teams and talent. Arlington saw the quick conversion of the convention center as a way to position itself as a leader in the nascent industry.
“It’s fast to market and you can accelerate the construction schedule,” Mirakian says. “You’re going to see this type of venue spread a lot quicker than you might imagine.”