Arlington, Texas, Is Out in Front in the Esports Race

In November, Arlington will welcome the first event to Esports Stadium Arlington, the culmination of a $10 million redo of its convention center,

Arlington, Texas, Is Out in Front in the Esports Race

Arlington (Texas) Sports Commission Executive Director Matt Wilson was a casual player of Tecmo Bowl and Mike Tyson Punch Out. So his place at the center of the establishment of the country’s biggest esports tournament stadium is a study in opportunism and legwork.

At the end of November, the city of Arlington, Texas, will welcome the first event to Esports Stadium Arlington, the culmination of the city's $10 million renovation of its convention center to attract competitions of one of the fastest-growing sports in the world.

According to Statista.com, global revenues generated in the eSports market in 2016 equaled $492.7 million dollars, a number expected to rise to more than $1.48 billion dollars by 2020. Data research firm Crunchbase estimates that approximately $160 million has been invested in esports in the past five years.

Wilson, who doubles as the Arlington CVB vice president of sports and events, did much of the foundational research to help convince municipal executives that dedicating an arena to esports events was wise. Located in the heart of the city’s entertainment district, the 100,000 sq.-ft. venue will seat more than 2,500 spectators and feature a state-of-the-art production studio, custom LED video walls, training rooms, player lounges and hair and makeup studios.

"Are we taking some arrows?" Wilson says. "Pioneers get the arrows, so absolutely, but I think it's kind of in the spirit of Arlington. This city has kind of always been on the leading edge of what's that next great thing."

In announcing her organization's choice of Arlington for its four-day Esports Championship Series event, Michele Attisani, CBO and co-founder of FACEIT, a leading competitive platform for online multiplayer games, said: "Bringing ECS to Esports Stadium Arlington was an absolute no-brainer. Not only is it the largest esports venue in the United States, but also the most innovative. No other arena can offer the dynamic combination of fan-facing, team-facing, and production-facing resources as Esports Stadium Arlington, and we can’t wait to be the first event putting them into action.”

Wilson says he started researching esports a couple of years ago. Soon after, the CVB commissioned students from New York University to deep dive into the sport's potential and how CVBs should approach attracting its fans and players and their wallets. When a local businessman who had recently invested in esports related companies sought a place to hold events, the circle was complete, Wilson says.

"With all of our research and all the things we'd been talking about within the industry, we knew this was going to be a viable business going forward. We knew it would be something we could be on the front end of," Wilson said. "A little scary? Absolutely, but as Wayne Gretzky said, 'You don't skate to where the puck is, you skate to where the puck is going.'"

The stadium will be managed by NGAGE Esports, an esports broadcasting and events management company with nearby headquarters. The city’s agreement with Esports Venues includes a 10-year lease with a 10-year renewal option, and the city's capital stadium renovation investments will be repaid with annual lease payments, and revenue from events, stadium naming rights, and other opportunities related to the esports industry.

Wilson says the venue will still be used for other events, and the renovations will be a major draw to prospects who could use a new stage, sound and lighting system, LED screen behind the stage and enormous data capacity. The city wants global esports events eventually, said Wilson.

"We think we will grow into that as our reputation grows an elite stadium that will drive bigger and bigger events," he said. Wilson says he is asked often how CVBs can follow Arlington's lead. His answer is that it's best to cut no corners. "You have to dedicate," he says. "One of the major things the esports world demands is for you to be genuine and for it to be a genuine experience. To set up some pipe and drape at a convention hall and set up some eight-foot tables and let people bring in their computers that is not in the spirit of esports reality. You have to provide a genuine experience that is legitimate."

More specifically, Wilson said CVBs need to understand who to talk to in a decentralized industry; venues have to have enough bandwidth to handle the connectivity needed for games and broadcasting and concrete floors are a must because static electricity is the enemy of esports events.

Wilson says the stadium project has busted his misconceptions about esports and made him look at sports in a whole new way. From a business standpoint, the view remains the same.

"We know there are going to be more and more of these pop up, where people say, 'What's the best way to utilize our space?'" he says. "At the end of the day that's what CVB is all about: What's the best space utilization to drive economic impact and tourism dollars to our city? Taking our convention center, that probably wasn't as big as what we need now, and turning it into something for the future was a risk we were willing to take."