The fervor of the crowds who come to Esports Stadium Arlington is no different than the intensity of the Dallas Cowboys fans at nearby AT&T Stadium or the Texas Rangers followers who will pack Globe Life Field when it opens this spring.
They’re eager for the competition and ready to win with posters and chants for their favorite players. Once inside and surrounded by the stadium’s high-tech gadgetry, including an 85-foot built-in LED wall, theatrical lighting and immersive sound system, they have an almost full-body experience, says Matt Wilson, vice president of sports and events of the Arlington CVB and executive director of the Arlington Sports Commission.
“The sound is going to get you, the sights are going to get you, the feel of the crowd,” Wilson says. “People are going crazy.”
Since opening in November 2018, the 100,000-sq.-ft. esports arena, dubbed the largest in the United States, has drawn thousands to watch top professional gamers compete live—and a global audience of millions who viewed the streamed events online.
“We faced a lot of folks that just said this will never work,” Wilson said. “But we feel very confident that it’s done well and will continue to.”
Point of entry
The momentum for esports in Arlington started building about the time the University of Texas at Arlington Esports Club won the top prize in a 2017 national esports championship. “Everybody started talking about, ‘What is this esports?’” Wilson said.
Other details clicked into place, including a connection with New York University esports experts, who wrote a white paper for Arlington that covered why the booming sport could benefit cities and how to cultivate the business. According to analytics company Newzoo’s 2019 Global Esports Market Report, the esports market could total nearly $1.8 billion in 2022, up from $865 million in 2018.
It left Arlington with one question, said Wilson: “Where do we jump in?”
The answer was the $10 million project to convert a ballroom in the city’s convention center into a space for esports. It includes a 2,500-seat stadium, retail store, area for teams, a production studio and a gaming center, which is open for public play.
“They have weekly tournaments with cash prizes,” said Wilson of the gaming center. “We only see that thing growing.”
The stadium’s first event, the Esports Championship Series, a Counter Strike: Global Offensive tournament, sold out and was the highest viewed event of its kind in YouTube history.
After hosting events such as the Collegiate Rocket League National Championship and the EA Sports, Madden NFL ’20 Classic, the stadium finished its first year with the Esports Awards 2019, the industry’s Oscars which had previously been held in London. The event drew 7 million live views and reached 195 countries, netting big visibility for Arlington.
“We were very specific in our sponsorship that it was the Esports Awards in Arlington, Texas,” Wilson said. “We had several spots about our city. The people going to and from the stadium are great … but it’s also very much a marketing piece for us into people who have never been exposed to Arlington, Texas, and don’t know the difference between us and Austin.”
While professional gaming competitions may be the stadium’s focus, the state-of-the-art stage has lured top brands to produce commercials and hype videos there. Conventions and trade shows also can use the space for events. “It’s like a TED Talk kind of stage,” Wilson said.
Since opening, the biggest challenge has been finding a balance between making room for esports and those traditional events. And, in some ways, that work is no different than playing a video game. Said Wilson: “We look at it as high-level Tetris.”