There is perhaps nothing better to illustrate the explosive recent growth of esports than the sudden crop of arenas sprouting up all over the world. Just a few short years ago, people were amazed that esports tournaments could pack out a venue like the Staples Center; now professional gaming is so big that dedicated arenas are needed to handle all the action.
The use of traditional sports arenas for major esports tournaments certainly still has its place, but the future lies in these specialized venues.
What Exactly Is an Esports Arena?
Esports arenas are primarily for hosting major tournaments, but they serve all sorts of other functions for the general esports community. When tournaments and competitions aren’t going on, esports arenas are often open to the general public for casual gaming, professional training, and other activities.
Esports arenas are also often either purpose-built or heavily modified for the unique needs of the sport. For example, one big difference between esports and traditional sports is in the arena seating. Esports spectators actually want to be back from the competitor stage for the most part, as they’re taking in the action on giant overhead screens.
Seat placement is hardly the only element unique to esports arenas, however. Venue designers know that they’re trying to entice an audience that is much more comfortable with their couches and computer chairs at home. So the seats are usually padded and able to recline for a better viewing angle.
The approach to the whole event design is somewhere between Comic-Con and a traditional sports arena. Some esports arenas also allow spectators to freely wander between different match areas. This not only allows them to keep up with simultaneous matches, but it also helps to encourage the type of social atmosphere that is one of the primary draws of watching an esports event live.
Esports arenas are also at the cutting edge of incorporating emerging technology into the experience. For example, some venues are planning to make use of holograms on the main viewing stage and augmented reality (AR) features such as optional overlays of statistics and audience commentary.
What Can You Do at Esports Arenas?
The main draw of esports arenas is the major events, of course, but the esports-specific venues need to sustain themselves during the sometimes months-long breaks between these. During these times, the average gamer or enthusiast can visit and enjoy a number of different services.
The fee structure is usually very similar to that of the average gym; you get the best deals by subscribing with a monthly fee or pre-paying an annual amount, but you can also pay for a day pass or go by the hour at many of them.
Play Esports Games
At the very least, most of these arenas allow people to enjoy some competitive matches for fun on their low-latency LANs and network of gaming hardware with a full range of popular esports games preinstalled. A model that has been common so far is to allow free admission to the venue but charge players an hourly rate to use the gaming equipment. Some arenas also allow players to livestream their matches while playing there.
Enter Smaller Local Competitions/Tournaments
In between the big professional events, many esports arenas are running smaller weekly competitions (with more of a local focus) for cash and other prizes. In addition to the tangible rewards, these are a great way for talented new players and teams to get noticed.
Play Classic Games
In addition to the hardcore esports hardware, many arenas also offer a selection of classic arcade machines and console setups. A popular format for this is to include these classic games at a bar or in a restaurant area.
A variety of opportunities are available for visitors to sharpen their skills. Some arenas host specific days for this purpose, and some have private coaches available to help mold today’s amateurs into tomorrow’s professional cyber-athletes.
Major Esports Arenas
As esports continues its rapid growth and continues to gain on traditional sports in viewership and revenue, esports arenas continue to pop up. The following are some of the biggest and best in the world.
Las Vegas Esports Arena (Luxor Dr., Las Vegas, NV)
The Las Vegas Esports Arena is located at the south end of the Strip, inside of the Egypt-themed Luxor hotel and casino. The venue opened in March of 2018 as the first of its kind in Sin City and as an extension of the Esports Arena brand already established in several California locations.
The Luxor’s arena is free to enter, with fees only charged for gaming time and other amenities. Highlights include a 50-foot LED video wall, a huge number of gaming stations, and a central stage used for all sorts of competitions.
The facility also has its own internal cocktail bar and restaurant, with a menu designed by celebrity chef Jose Andres (Spanish “small plates” pioneer and owner of over a dozen restaurants worldwide). While you’re grabbing a drink or bite, you can enjoy a collection of classic arcade games and video game consoles. Six private rooms and three lounges for VIPs are also available.
Orange County Esports Arena (120 W. 5th St., Santa Ana, CA)
This facility in Santa Ana, CA, opened in 2015 and was the first major venue of this type in the history of esports. The Las Vegas and Oakland arenas of the same name are affiliated with it.
At this location, you’ll find a wide assortment of consoles in addition to the expected PC LAN network, a bar, a concessions area, and even a collection of board games. Unlike the Vegas location, it costs only a relatively small monthly fee (rather than hourly) to get unlimited access to the gaming hardware here. The Orange County Esports Arena is modular and also periodically is reconfigured for concerts and MMA bouts.
Oakland Esports Arena (255 2nd St., Oakland, CA)
Oakland’s Esports Arena is owned and operated by the company that also owns the Santa Ana and Las Vegas arenas mentioned above, and it’s very similar in design. This site draws huge traffic from all over the Bay Area since it’s just steps from the Jack London Square public transit station downtown.
Esports Arena Drive
The team behind the previously-mentioned Esports Arena chain also has an impressive mobile arena used to extend their reach beyond their fixed California and Nevada locations. It’s a 35-ton semi-trailer that unfolds like a Transformer once it reaches its destination. The gaming action takes place inside the trailer on a stage, and there’s space for 10 gaming stations (enough for the 5-on-5 format of most team esports). There is even an open-air VIP lounge area (complete with bar and umbrella-shaded tables) at the top of the trailer!
Blizzard Arena (3000 W. Alameda Ave, Burbank, CA)
Game publisher Blizzard is behind some of the biggest names in esports, from StarCraft to Hearthstone to Overwatch. Their esports arena in Burbank, CA, is where much of the professional-level competition in these games takes place. The 450-seat arena (which was formerly Johnny Carson’s set for The Tonight Show) features a giant LED wall for spectators, an overhead LED halo display, and a small television studio for Blizzard’s original content and match broadcasts. Each of the teams in the Overwatch League also has their own practice room here.
UCI Esports Arena (G205 C Student Center, University of Irvine, Irvine, CA)
The University of Irvine in California was the first school to build an esports arena on its grounds. The UCI esports arena has 80 gaming stations and a broadcasting booth for streaming. You don’t have to be a student to visit; the general public is welcome and is charged the same low hourly rate that students pay to use the hardware here.
Nexon Arena (Seoul, South Korea)
Nexon is a prolific South Korean game publisher whose catalog includes development of the FIFA Online games. Their arena doubles as the headquarters for SPOTV, a major Korean sports broadcast network that acquired the rights to air League of Legends matches in the country in 2015. The 400-person esports arena (linked page is in Korean) is known for hosting major LoL matches along with StarCraft II, Hearthstone, and FIFA Online.
OGN E-sports Stadium (Seoul, South Korea)
Seoul is something of an esports mecca – in addition to Nexon Arena, it is also home to OGN’s Esports Stadium. This purpose-built facility is owned by one of South Korea’s biggest cable TV channels and is the site of a wide range of major esports tournaments. The facility boasts 80 gaming stations, light shows, and a concessions area among other amenities.
Gfinity Esports Arena (18 Fulham Broadway Retail Centre, London)
London’s Gfinity Esports Arena is the central hub for professional esports action in the United Kingdom. It’s home to the annual Gfinity Elite Series and FIFA Futhead games along with many other high-level professional matches. It’s a big center of Counter-Strike action, though you’ll see a little of everything pass through here at some point.
Zhongxian Stadium (Chongqing, China)
With 7,000 seats and expandable wings that can hold 13,000 more spectators, Zhongxian Stadium is one of the largest dedicated esports arenas in the world. Located near the Yangtze River, this is one of China’s biggest hubs for all sorts of professional esports competitions. If you can’t snag one of the 20,000 seats for your favorite match, don’t worry; the exterior walls of the building have giant LED screens showing all the action. This monster esports arena is the first to have a hotel attached to it and also has an on-site cafeteria.
Allied Esports SEG Arena (Shenzhen, China)
Shenzhen is a leading global technology region roughly on par with Silicon Valley, so it’s no real surprise that you’ll find a major esports arena there. The Allied Esports SEG Arena has 168 gaming stations, virtual reality stations, and can accommodate up to 4,000 spectators for its regular esports tournaments that feature the country’s top professional players.
YOTA Arena (Moskva, Russia)
YOTA Arena is Russia’s premier esports venue and one of the largest in the world. In addition to hosting the biggest esports tournaments in the country, the facility is a multipurpose entertainment complex. Anyone can drop by for casual gaming, karaoke, billiards, and a variety of traditional sports events.
Esports Arenas Are Here to Stay
Given the explosive growth of esports, it seems inevitable that we’ll see more arenas like this appear throughout the world. These venues are often the best place to wager on major tournaments since you’re seeing the action in real time with no potential delays caused by a poor internet connection. If you’re betting live, be sure to check out our guide to the best esports betting sites for in-play action, and if you’re new to betting sites, definitely take a look at our overview of the different types of sports bets.