ESI London 2023: Esports venues and their role in UK society

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As esports continues its global expansion, companies operating in the sector have realised that there is a growing need for venues to accommodate players’ need to socialise, train and compete. 

Some recent real-life examples include the opening of the Esports Stadium Arlington, the HyperX Arena in Vegas, as well as Team Liquid’s new 13-story HQ in Brazil. There are also the educational esports venues part of a number of universities across the UK, as well as various recreational gaming bars and cafes. 

But what does it take for these venues to be commercially viable in the long run, and moreover, how can they best serve the communities that they’re a part of?

These questions were some of the highlights from a panel discussion that took place during ESI London 2023, which examined whether the perfect esports venue exists and how one should look to best accommodate both casual and professional gamers.  

The panel was moderated by Meg Kay, Communications Coordinator for gaming and esports at The Story Mob

First to answer Kay’s question on how does someone approach building an esports venue was Adam Rydings, Director of Liverpool-based esports activity bar Level Tap

Rydings commented: “There’s a lot to it, an incredibly complex concept. The cost is pretty substantial. You’ve got to find a unique selling point. We wanted to build a live esports bar experience. 

“We’re trying to make esports a bit more mainstream. You’ve got to look at the demographic, the logistics. Esports and gaming bars are pretty unique concepts in this country. We want to be there as the esports market grows. It’s like a typical sports bar but for esports.”

Next in line was David Yarnton, Chief of Business Development at esports marketplace Kinguin Digital Limited, who responded to Kay’s question of when does an esports venue become commercially viable. 

“There’s no such thing as a perfect esports venue. We’ve got to diversify our audience. You can’t afford for it to be empty,” Yarnton said.

“Our journey came as a need for us. We had team houses in the past which obviously used to be a very popular model. But we built a purpose-built venue in Sheffield for professional esports organisations. 

“We were feeding that need for bootcamp facilities at professional levels. One of the things is that there’s a desire for teams that don’t necessarily compete in the European region, we’ve got teams from the US, Australia, Asia. From our point of view we are a professional esports organisation. We  know what you need and we know what we need.”

And finally, looking at the UK as a whole, where does its esports industry stand in comparison to other regions, as well as if such esports venues would bolster its position on the global stage, Adam Jessop, CEO of esports organisation Endpoint, commented: 

“It has always been a challenge to be an organisation in the UK. Why hasn’t there been a competitive scene that compares to other regions?”

Yarnton then pointed out what he believes is the root of the UK falling behind competitors: “Two years ago we did a survey on the value of esports on the economy. The UK hasnt done as well as other countries. The UK is a console-based scene rather than PC-based as in the other advanced markets.”

However, Jessop hurried to end on a positive note, saying: “Attitudes are changing however. Spectatorship, competitors, that paints a positive future for gaming acceptance in the UK and it’s only going to get better.”

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