The future of e-sports as a stadium sport

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History tells us it takes nearly 50 years for a game to be recognized as a professional sport. As Atari’s Pong, the groundbreaking arcade game of the 1970s, approaches its 50th anniversary and e-sports captivates sports fans worldwide, this adage is also proving true for non-traditional competitive sports.

In 2017, revenue from e-sports exceeded US$655m, and this number is expected to touch nearly US$900m in 2018. As e-sports expand, venues are starting to explore what their purpose-built venues will look like and how they can attract this next-generation of fans, while satisfying the distinct needs of competitors.

Strategies for innovative venue design have tended to focus on the needs of fans and sponsors, but e-sports require a completely different mindset. Traditional bowl design methodologies simply don’t support an e-sports event. With so many different types of competitions, a layout that works for one game might require radical transformation for another. Team games like Counter Strike, for example, require players to watch individual screens, while player-versus-player matches like Street Fighter require competitors to share a setup.

Given the unique, ever-changing requirements of e-sports events, we believe there will be a move toward more circular, scalable venues that can be sectioned off and configured to accommodate the specific needs of each individual game. To ensure the venue can cater to any e-sports event, we envisage a player infrastructure that can be easily added, removed or shifted around the arena as needed. To generate excitement and foster team loyalty, these player components could even be positioned among spectator seats.

E-sports venue design requires considerably more digital inventory than traditional sports. This inventory in an e-sport-specific venue could include personal screens, feeds that display player statistics across signage throughout the arena, lighting and in-venue effects that enhance the fan experience and infrastructure required to live-stream events for global spectators.

As one potential solution to the vast technology needs of an e-sports event, HOK has designed large, movable, petal-shaped screens that can be used for lighting and effects as well as content displays. These enormous surfaces hang above the seating bowl, doubling as ‘team screens’ and giving spectators a feeling of being in the center of the action.

E-sports communities are built and fostered online, with events offering opportunities for members to meet and engage in person. Concourses and plazas should be flexible to host community activities in addition to facilitating a memorable event experience. To cater to the fan base, HOK has explored altering the layout of the main event space to incorporate a mix of seating and safe-standing lounge areas. This enables spectators to enjoy a variety of activities around the venue without missing the headline event.

As industry requirements and technology advance with the rapid growth of e-sports, venue renovations and purpose-built facilities need to keep pace. Existing stadia attempting to cater to e-sports will need to experiment and innovate to compete with the purpose-built venues that are already emerging around the world.

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