(Photo by Holly Quinn)
If you live in Northern Delaware — part of Greater Philadelphia — you, by default, live in one of the leading regions for esports in the United States. Philly sealed its place as a top esports town to watch in September, when the Wells Fargo Center hosted the Global Overwatch Finals, just days after ground was broken for the Fusion Arena in South Philly, the soon-to-be home of official Overwatch team Philadelphia Fusion.
— Technical.ly Philly (@TechnicallyPHL) September 29, 2019
The idea of video games as spectator sports played by teams of professional athletes may seem like a passing fad to some, but consider this: In 2018, Goldman Sachs published a report that concluded that esports would reach a similar-sized audience as the NFL by 2022.
“It’s real,” said Wayne Kimmel, Delaware-raised cofounder of SeventySix Capital in Philadelphia, in an interview with Technical.ly. “It’s really, really real. [Esports pro] Ninja, who is known as one of the top esports players in the world, stopped streaming on Twitch and moved over to Mixer.”
You may be thinking: Huh? Looking closer at who owns these two streaming services, we’re really talking about Amazon and Microsoft. And Ninja, with his Adidas contract and $10 million in earnings last year, is likely taking his 14 million followers with him.
“This is not just kids playing video games anymore,” said Kimmel. “This is Microsoft versus Amazon. This is a really big deal. That’s what just happened in this industry. The big boys have come. This is an adult game now.”
So, if esports have arrived, where is their presence in Delaware? We have several venues that could be possible contenders to host matches, and this reporter reached out to a few about whether they plan to, but most didn’t respond.
With many of the top gaming competitions located in Las Vegas, casinos are a possibility — Delaware has Delaware Park and Dover Downs Hotel and Casino, neither of which bring up esports in Google searches.
The 76ers Field House in Wilmington is an ideal spot for esports — and, in fact, the 76ers has its own gaming club, which will have a promotional night at a Blue Coats game in February. Not to mention that the Philadelphia-based Harris Blitzer Sports and Entertainment partnered with the Buccini Pollin Group to establish the 76ers Field House, which is connected to the Sixers Innovation Lab Crafted by Kimball and the esports franchise Team Dignitas.
But there is another venue for esports that will be a huge driver of esports: colleges and universities.
“Most moms and dads do not know that their child can get a[n esports] scholarship to 150 different schools across the United States,” said Kimmel. “There’s not really a fully-developed amateur circuit [for esports] yet, similar to starting out in Little League and continuing through to high school with dreams of playing in college and maybe even as a pro. That infrastructure is not fully built out yet in esports.”
The University of Delaware is one college that is currently building esports infrastructure on campus — an 1,800-square-foot facility with 30 PCs, a Shoutcast station and a strategy room.
“We were approached by the Electronic Gaming Federation,” said Tony Doody, director of university student centers at UD, where the new esports arena will be located. The EGF is aiming to be the NCAA of college esports, he said: “They’re really looking and bigger schools, so we’re really happy to be part of it.”
UD already has two esports club, one of which competes with other schools. The EGF team will have all of the school’s branding.
Along with the arena and competitions, which Doody says will be open to the public, there will be interdisciplinary academic coursework and curriculum developed around the culture of esports, including sports management, marketing, gaming theory, gamer development, social justice in gaming, inequities in gaming, and how gaming influence pop culture and vice versa.
The big question about collegiate esports, and something that is still being worked out, is which games are played in competition.
“The publisher owns the game, so it’s tricky,” said Doody. “No one owns baseball or football. The way it’s being organized is that the Federation will organize competitions if there are enough schools interested in a particular game. So Rocket League, Overwatch, League of Legends and Hearth Stone are likely to compete against other schools.”
UD’s EGF pilot program will start in the spring.
SeventySix Capital, meanwhile, is focused on building those infrastructures for esports, including those geared toward younger kids.
“States build parks,” he said. “In those parks, they have baseball fields and basketball courts. Are they building any infrastructure for kids to play esports? Where are the esports arenas?”
His firm is looking for entrepreneurs who are ready to innovate in esports.
“That’s one thing we do at SeventySix Capital — investing in companies that are actually building out.”
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