Virtual Stadiums: Esports with a physical audience

Virtual Stadiums: Esports with a physical audience

Gfinity Logo1

It’s no question that the majority of esports is watched via YouTube, Twitch, Azubu, or in-client functionality (looking at you here Dota). However, the biggest events are played in arenas: Dreamhack Winter 2014 has just ended under a week ago, last year’s event attracted around 25,000 visitors for the whole festivities, and this year was probably even bigger. The International 2014 took place in Key Arena, and while no exact figures are available for the turnout, the maximum capacity is around 15,000 for a concert, and it was set up similarly, with the entire place packed. The biggest physical turnout, however, is around 40,000, for the League of Legends World Championship Finals, held in Sangam Stadium in South Korea.

Clearly, there’s a market for esports in person. Gfinity recognise this, and are looking to expand their grasp through a new esports arena, to be built in London, announced a week ago. Details are sparse currently, however we know it will be ready for 500 spectators, and will deliver “exclusive content” (what this means exactly we don’t know – I’d hazard a guess at livestreaming with in-house casters?). Games confirmed to have events include Starcraft 2 and FIFA, and one major selling point Gfinity have is that they are paying for travel and accommodation for participants in their Gfinity Major Tournaments.

Gfinity’s announcement video for their 2015 ambitions

In America, specifically California, eSports Arena (yes, that’s the name, as confusing as it may be) is relatively popular, hosting regular events, although it’s a smaller affair than what Gfinity are planning. In Asia, where professional players are treated like celebrities, Garena (known outside of the West for publishing League of Legends) have built a stadium in Singapore, creatively named the Garena Stadium, which appears to be both a place for events to be shown for a large audience, but also with a café and store, for social meetups. In Kuala Lumpur the Orange Esports stadium pulls in fans, and in the heart of Seoul the I’Park Mall e-Sports Stadium is a popular location.

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The entire Garena Stadium reminds me of Mirror’s Edge (Credit: Garena Stadium)

I was lucky enough to volunteer at EGX in London this year, and Twitch had a booth there, where multiple major developers and online celebrities played games in front of passersby. While it was filmed, and broadcasted live on Twitch, there was a large audience (especially so for the members of the Yogscast that were there) despite a lack of interaction. These weren’t even professional gamers, in the sense of esports, just guys having fun.

The younger sibling watching their older sibling play video games has always been a joke, how the older brother is better and takes the game for themselves. Clearly, however, there’s a market for exactly that. Internet cafés were always popular as a social environment, as were arcades, and, in hindsight, it was clear since the rise of esports with Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty that an esports stadium is the replacement. HMV tried it in the UK, with Gamerbase, however bad circumstances, poor reception and a host of other issues forced it to shut down, as far as I can find. Perhaps there’s still a lost one in the corner of the Devon.

I love esports, I still watch Starcraft despite not playing it anymore, and even smaller games like Smite have some high-quality streams. I can’t wait to see how this field of dedicated locations for esports grows in the future: maybe one day we’ll have the Wembley esports arena.