Comcast Spectacor, the company that owns the Overwatch League’s Philadelphia Fusion, announced a $50 million esports complex for the squad in South Philadelphia.
The 3,500-seat Fusion Arena will stretch over 60,000 square feet. Comcast Spectator estimates a 2021 target for opening, and Chief Business Officer Joe Marsh calls the forthcoming arena “the first ground-up [esports] facility in the Western Hemisphere.”
The announcement is just one of several expected in the coming months from the OWL. The league hopes to have teams playing in their host cities for the start of the third OWL season next year. Where the Fusion will play in Philadelphia in 2020 remains to be seen.
Esports’ broader societal impact
The news of the development has been met positively by those involved in Philadelphia’s esports scene. They cite the Grand Finals of the Overwatch League in Brooklyn last year, which saw over 20,000 tickets sold, as evidence of how esports can benefit local economies.
One esports expert, Chief Marketing Officer for N3rd Street Gamers Robert Johnson pointed out:
“The exposure is to Philadelphia. [Fans and players] need to stay somewhere in hotels. They need to eat somewhere, so the economic impact is very, very high…”
This real-world impact is a crucial factor in esports’ development and movement into the mainstream. With a number of these facilities expected to be built over the next couple of years, cities around the US and the world could experience on-the-ground benefits.
Advantages of bespoke facilities
Developing an esports facility from scratch addresses some of the issues tournament organizers have when trying to find a pre-existing multi-use facility to host big events. In some venues, the infrastructure for lighting, sound, and technology is not in place to maximize the esports tournament experience for players and fans.
By contrast, dedicated facilities obviously fit the bill better. Furthermore, such venues can become hubs for esports in the local community and could well be used to teach the future generation about esports.
Of course, with that comes a certain up-front dollar figure to develop the perfect facility. But with the esports industry reckoned to be worth a billion dollar by the end of 2019, many enterprising companies and individuals will likely plop the money down.
It’s not just business alone that is part of esports’ phenomenal growth. There are 135 colleges across the United States listed as part of the National Association of Collegiate Esports and an ever-increasing number of tertiary education facilities in the US and in other countries around the world now offering esports scholarships.
Certainly, a key part of the setup in Philadelphia’s new esports facility will be to ensure broadcast capabilities for TV and streaming services.
Already this weekend, we have seen ABC show the Overwatch League Stage One Finals live, much to the chagrin of some viewers who bombarded Twitter with the usual mindless anti-gaming invective. In the UK, Sky Sports has already shown a number of FIFA-themed esports events, and the BBC is following suit with its own esports shows.
Key to breaking into the mainstream for esports is the ability to have a strong presence on television. And companies being able to head to these new venues, with the infrastructure in place to perhaps broadcast in UHD or even in 4K UHD, can only enhance the experience for the viewer.
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