It’s not often that a group of building developers, city officials and gamers gather in the same spot, but on Wednesday afternoon, they did just that to celebrate the official groundbreaking of the Fusion Arena, the esports complex coming to the South Philadelphia Sports Complex in early 2021.
It will be the first ground-up, purpose-built esports arena in the country, and the home of Philly’s official Overwatch team, the Philadelphia Fusion.
Just outside of Xfinity Live!, where the arena will soon sit, developers talked about Philadelphia becoming a destination for esports. And they’re not exaggerating — the finals for the global Overwatch Tournament will be held this weekend at the Wells Fargo Center.
The Fusion arena logo and mockups of the building were scattered throughout the groundbreaking, but perhaps the best way to visualize the 65,000-square-foot, 3,500-seat arena was through virtual reality.
It was this reporter’s first VR experience, and besides almost losing my balance, it truly felt like I was standing outside the new, boxy arena on a clear, vibrant night between streams of fans heading inside. The mockup shows that the arena will stand adjacent to Citizens Bank Park and Xfinity Live!
This video, from earlier this year, was a first look for fans:
That positioning in the Sports Complex was important, said Joe Marsh, chief business officer of Spectacor Gaming, which owns the Fusion.
The team started the process of looking for a venue space in March 2018 and also considered Fishtown and University City, hosting gaming events in those neighborhoods, he said.
“Eventually we had one down at Xfinity that drew over 1,000 people, and after that it was a no-brainer, and kind of legitimizes esports by having it down here,” he said.
Dave Scott, chairman and CEO of Comcast Spectacor, agreed, calling the Overwatch finals happening in Philly a “Super Bowl moment” for 400,000 fans in the city.
“We like this space — it’s young, digital, diverse and global,” Scott said. “It’s a space we really want to be in.”
The arena is being developed by Comcast Spectacor and The Cordish Companies, and designed and built by architect firm Populous.
The project overall will cost $50 million. In addition to being an esports venue, it will also be available for entertainment offerings like concerts, developers said.
Brian Mirakian, the senior principal at Populous, said that the stadium will serve as an anchor to Xfinity Live! The design team is looking to Philly’s modern industrial revolution era for inspiration, he said.
“We wanted to create something authentic to Philly,” Mirakian said. “I think you’ll see that, when you see some of the experiences in the building.”
But if all goes according to plan, fans will have to wait more than a year to experience the arena. Since the project has been announced, developers have been touting an “early 2021” opening date.
Pete Vlastelica, the commissioner of the Overwatch League, told attendees Wednesday that he wasn’t allowed to pull for one team over another.
“But I’m a fan of Philly Fusion fans,” he said. “I’m excited for you guys. And I know you’ll show the appreciation back to the org for giving you a home.”
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