by Lee Igel
The city where the Dallas Cowboys and Texas Rangers play their NFL and MLB home games is about to stake a Texas-sized claim on the esports landscape.
Arlington, Texas, has announced plans for a 100,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art esports stadium that is scheduled to open later this year. The space will be the largest of its kind in the United States. Its design and location are oriented toward attracting competitive players, fans, and tourists from around the world.
The project is a collaboration between the city, architecture firm Populous, Esports Venues, and NGAGE Esports. On the surface, aspects of it will include the touch points that most people have come to expect of traditional major league sports facilities—space for competitive events, team training rooms and broadcast studios, retail and social outlets, and VIP hospitality areas. But the approach to developing this space in Arlington is focused on more than simply taking knowledge of what works in existing venues and wrapping it in the flags of Dota 2, League of Legends, Counter-Strike, NBA 2K, and all things esports.
A rendering of the proposed esports stadium in Arlington, Texas, scheduled to open in Fall 2018. It would be the largest venue of its type in the United States and the latest attraction in the city’s entertainment district.
On its face, the project will be transforming space at the Arlington Convention Center into something new and different, adaptive and reusable. Renovation and equipment investments are set to be repaid through lease payments, event receipts, stadium naming rights deals and other revenue-generating opportunities that emerge as esports grow in the coming years. Underneath and beyond that, though, is attention to objectives that have been showing real success in Arlington and nearby towns such as Frisco and Plano: improving quality of life is a means to improving economic opportunities and organizing partnerships for economic performance that feeds social pursuits.
It is not for nothing that the esports venue will exist in the heart of Arlington’s Entertainment District, which itself sits in the middle of the Dallas-Forth Worth metroplex and 10 miles from the world’s third busiest airport. The district counts the Dallas Cowboys’ home at AT&T Stadium, Texas Rangers’ home at Globe Life Park, Texas Live! mixed-use venues, and Six Flags Over Texas theme park among the retail, hotel, restaurant, entertainment, and business operations within walking distance. More options are a short drive away—and so is the University of Texas at Arlington, which is home to the WNBA Dallas Wings and has an esports team that went 29-0 along the way to winning the 2017 Blizzard Entertainment Heroes of the Dorm National Championship.
Just how much esports fit with where the city is now and going forward became clearer to Mayor Jeff Williams and his team as a result of a study that came out of a relationship between the United States Conference of Mayors Professional Sports Alliance and the New York University Tisch Institute for Global Sport. During the past five years, the connection has completed more than 75 projects that research, analyze, and inform on issues related to sports in major league cities. Mayor Williams called on it to help determine what might be the most advantageous sports event to bring to the city.
To get there, the Mayor provided the following criteria:
- The event must engage the local community;
- The event must add value to Arlington’s business development;
- The event must maximize existing facilities;
- The event must attract a national and/or global audience.
He also provided access to city staff who would work with a project team of graduate student-consultants—Jared Aronowitz, Grace Edelson, Christian Martino, Kushal Patel—overseen by faculty. Together, they arrived at the recommendation that esports would hit the marks put forth by the Mayor.
Multi-million dollar investments into esports might seem simple given its popularity among Millennials, the number of views it attracts for the likes of ESPN and YouTube, or that Amazon paid nearly $1 billion a few years ago to buy the game-streaming service Twitch. But esports is still considered by many to be a Wild West business. Staking a claim in the space, as Arlington is doing, shouldn’t be taken for granted.