If you turned on the television to any sports channel in the summer of 2020, chances are you saw a virtual NBA 2K tournament, a Madden NFL tournament and a day full of athletes playing video games with each other.
This type of entertainment known as E-Sports is taking the world by storm with almost 500 million annual viewers and players. E-Sports is said to be the fastest growing sport in the U.S., and one that is acclimating the younger Generation Z and older Generation Alpha to the world of competitive sports and gaming.
Currently, gamers in high school and college are starting to form their own ‘E-Teams’ that travel and compete in region and area tournaments all around the country.
Arlington Sports Commission vice president of sports and events Matt Wilson said, “E-Sports are unique in a sense there is no demographic that is more into it than the other.”
Wilson adds, “E-Sports has a high viewership and a lot of people interested in the subject. There is really no issue in finding people to compete in the tournaments we put on. It’s no different than any other sporting event in that aspect.”
In 2019, the League of Legends World Championship had a viewership of 100 million, just 700,000 less than the Super Bowl.
With a viewership so high, E-Sports is said to revenue around $1 billion each year according to Newzoo analysts. Since it is fast growing with solid revenue numbers, it is no surprise that many destinations are quickly adding E-Sports to their list of hostable events.
South Bend, Ind., for example, started plans to build a dedicated E-Sports facility in the Midwest in 2019 called Bendix Arena located inside the South Bend Convention Center. “Due to COVID-19, we only got halfway done before the pandemic caused us to stop the build,” said Nick Kleva, sports market development manager for Visit South Bend.
Bendix Arena, set to host its first event in the next few months, is getting ready to open its doors to the E-Sports community.
“South Bend takes a really personal approach to planning events. We work as a two-prong approach with the Convention Century Center, so you can expect to have a team of two or three members with you helping to plan the event. Since it is a smaller group rather than a large one, there is more room for planner personalization,” Kleva adds.
Kleva says another perk of South Bend is “we are centrally located between Columbus, Chicago, Indianapolis, and Detroit so we always pull in the collegiate and competitive/travel crowd. Even though we are brand new and will not officially open for a few months, we knew we had to have an E-Sports facility for the growing number of fans and players in the Midwest.”
Further south, Arlington, Texas had the same idea of filling an E-Sports void. Wilson notes, “Arlington wanted a facility that would grow rapidly. After a study was done at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, we decided that E-Sports was predicted to grow at the pace we wanted it to, so it was a no brainer to make the facility dedicated to E-Sports.”
In addition to the arena hosting tournaments, E-Sports fanatics can come to the facility anytime from 12 p.m. to 2 a.m., seven days a week for a small fee and game in the “front room,” a room filled with gaming consoles and like-minded gamers hoping to play on the big arena stage one day.
E-Sports has also grown rapidly due to the amount of money professional athletes and owners have donated to the sport itself.
Some donors include Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Stephen Curry, and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. With a growing number of donors comes the increased need for tournaments.
Magnus Leppaniemi, former senior member of Dreamhack, says planning an E-Sports tournament differs from planning a regular tournament because “E-Sports has more moving parts like internet speed and servers that you need to make sure work in tandem. Otherwise, you can’t run the tournament.”
Furthermore, even though the outline of planning a regular tournament and an E-Sports tournament will be similar, they are also very different when it comes to the pre-planning checklist.
Since video games are an external source of entertainment, copyright issues are present. Most games are protected under an extensive audiovisual sector, so it is important before the tournament is in the planning stages the creator or publisher has given permission for the game to be used to the event planner themselves.
According to Wilson, “Arlington’s E-Sports Arena requires the planner to have proof of permission from the creator or publisher of the game before planning takes place. We do not deal with securing copyright, so that will fall on the planner.” Leppaniemi adds, “copyright privileges come in tiers, so make sure you get the correct one from the publisher.” Permission is more than likely to be granted, however, since the E-Sports industry is growing and provides an opportunity for the game to gain publicity.
Since E-Sports operates online, internet connection should be at top speeds. Latency is another top priority that should be considered before the tournament is even advertised as both Wilson and Kleva mention how these issues are one of the most common topics gamers will ask about before playing at your venue.
As a planner, it is crucial to ask potential venues about internet speeds, and if it is required to bring in an external team to help., “Arlington’s E-Sports Arena has its own state-of-the-art technology room that can be changed to accommodate any game speeds necessary during a tournament,” Wilson said. “Bendix Arena has 36 brand new monitors and controllers for your event. If you would like to bring some externally, feel free to do so,” Kleva mentions.
For gamers, it is important internet be at the same speed for everyone during the game to keep it fair and to prevent lagging during those crucial moments near the end. Another thing to think about when planning an E-Sports tournament is playing technology. When it comes to having everything needed to execute the tournament, both Bendix and Arlington have state of the art equipment on site including controllers, monitors, headsets, and keyboards. However, both Wilson and Kleva say planners are free to bring in their own technology and equipment to run tournaments if they choose to do so.
A fun fact shared by Wilson and Kleva is that during breaks during the tournament, participants will go to another room in the facility and train by playing the same game. “It is no different than a championship football team going out to train before a playoff game. These gamers are talented and work hard at perfecting their skills to win tournaments,” says Kleva.
“Our participants love to relax by playing video games, ping-pong and travelling around to see the sights,” Wilson said. “We’ve taken people to Globe Life Park where they got to hit with members of the Texas Rangers Major League Baseball team, experience Six Flags as a VIP member, downtown to see the Dallas Cowboys cheerleader’s lockers, and take a tour through AT&T Stadium.
Kleva mentions Bendix Arena is close to The University of Notre Dame’s campus.
“The campus is a hotspot around here. People come from all over to see the iconic buildings that stand there. Our arena is also close to downtown so most of our patrons walk to restaurants and bars when the day is over to experience some of the cool nightlife we have to offer,” Kleva said. We have taken people white water rafting, to see the Chicago Cubs’ minor league affiliate, the South Bend Cubs, toured the South Bend Chocolate Company, and experienced some of the best food South Bend has in store. We also have more than 600 hotel rooms right beside the arena which makes it easy to go back and forth if you need something or want to rest up in between tournaments.”
E-Sports is growing rapidly, and it is important to consider adding it in to the sports mix. With a sport set to revenue over $1 billion each year, it will be exciting to watch the growth and see champions be built at your next E-Sports tournament.