ARLINGTON, Texas: The city of Arlington and its voters have contributed more than US$800mil (RM3.13bil) in recent years to build cutting-edge stadiums for the Dallas Cowboys and Texas Rangers.
Now, the city is proposing to give the Arlington Convention Centre a US$10mil (RM39.16mil) makeover to create the first eSports venue in Texas.
The 100,000 square-foot Esports Stadium would open in the fall and host large and small events throughout the year. It could handle up to 2,000 spectators.
Ken Hersh, a minority owner in the Texas Rangers and a co-owner in Team Envy, an eSports team, said all of the same things are happening in burgeoning sport that are taking place in professional teams.
“I see it exactly the same,” Hersh said. “It's entertainment. It's engagement. Its excitement. The players have skills. They an affinity for their team and there's competition.”
From a business standpoint, Hersh said eSports is exploding.
In 2017, the global eSports market was valued at US$493mil (RM1.93bil). By 2020, it is expected to reach US$1.5bil (RM5.87bil).
“It's growing 15% a year,” Hersh said. “It's global. It's not dissimilar to the Premier League soccer teams. People may be fans of Man U but they've never been to Manchester.”
But as an emerging sport, there aren't enough places to hold tournaments.
“What is in high demand are facilities to hold these events and there's currently lack of facilities,” said Ron Price, president and CEO of the Arlington Convention and Visitors Bureau.
During the first year, the city could host 30 eSports events and build up from there, Price said.
Arlington's proposed deal with Esports Venues, LLC, starts with a 10-year lease includes a 10-year renewal option. The cost of renovating the convention centre “would be repaid through annual lease payments, event revenue, stadium naming rights revenue and other opportunities associated with catering to the eSports industry,” the city said in a press release.
It does not mean the convention centre will be off limits to conventions. Mayor Jeff Williams said the technological upgrades will allow convention groups to use the facility for their own purposes and would be perfect for events like TED Talks.
“Our plan is conventions during the week and games on the weekend,” Williams said.
Texas Live!, the new entertainment venue which is scheduled to open in August, will also add more convention space for the city.
The plan to become an eSports hub came together quickly, Williams said, as the city and Arlington Convention and Visitors Bureau were looking for options to bring more visitors to the area.
The CVB hired New York University to put together a white paper and it came back with the recommendation to invest in eSports.
“Our partnership with NYU was eye opening,” Price said.
In the report's conclusion, the paper recommended Arlington become an eSports attraction and even suggested that large scale events could even utilise Globe Life Field and AT&T Stadium. Previous events have been held at places like the Barclays Centre in Brooklyn.
“First, eSports will maximise the use of Arlington's existing venues and capitalise on their proximity; and second, eSports will attract a national and global spotlight to the City,” the white paper said. "Given there is no set home for eSports domestically, the time is now for Arlington to capitalise and establish itself as a hub for eSports.”
The goal is to attract 18-34 milliennials to Arlington for tournaments and smaller events who may not be as interested in attending a Cowboys or Rangers game. But they hope some will stick around to attend a game or sample other attractions like Six Flags over Texas.
Williams, the Arlington mayor, has constantly been talking about ways to make Arlington more attractive to University of Texas at Arlington students so they stick around once they graduate.
He believes eSports can be one component to make Arlington a little hipper. Both Williams and Price noted that there's an eSports tournament stage at this year's South by Southwest Festival in Austin.
And UTA has its own eSports club that won last year's Heroes of the Dorm national championship.
"It's going to attract a lot of people honestly,” said UTA student Hui Nguyen, an eSports player. "Before all of the tournaments were out of town and you had to travel. Now they'll be here.”
As for older Arlington resident who wonder why the city is investing in eSports, Nguyen told them to pay attention.
“They'll realise soon,” Nguyen said. “They'll realise soon.” — Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Tribune News Service
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