Esports, or professional video game-playing, is set to gain a foothold in Philadelphia with the construction of a $50 million video gaming arena.
Comcast Spectacor, which owns the Philadelphia Flyers, announced Monday its plan to construct the 3,500 seat venue, which will be the first purpose-built esports stadium in the United States. The stadium will house Philadelphia Fusion, an esports team owned by Comcast Spectacor, and will be constructed next to Xfinity Live! in South Philadelphia and within the general vicinity of the Wells Fargo Center and Citizens Bank Park.
The new stadium will be designed by Populous, a firm that counts the new Yankee stadium and the London Olympics main stadium among its many projects. Populous has also repurposed a convention center in Arlington, Texas for esports.
Along with the announcement, Comcast Spectacor released renderings of the new venue. Company CEO David Scott told the Philadelphia Inquirer that around 15 percent of Fusion Arena will have premium-priced luxury seating and suites. Comcast Spectacor executives also said they hope the arena will become a hub for esports on the East Coast, adding that they plan to use it for events such as K-pop concerts and TED talks.
Philadelphia Fusion is among 20 teams that participate in the Overwatch League, an international league that plays the popular team-based, first-person shooter video game. As of May 2018, Overwatch has an estimated 40 million players worldwide. In 2018, the Overwatch League Finals brought in almost 11 million live viewers on online streams and an ESPN broadcast.
Although most Overwatch League matches currently occur at a repurposed Blizzard Arena in Los Angeles, California, all teams are set to play in their home cities by the 2020 season. The Philadelphia Fusion are currently the only team in the Overwatch League to have announced the construction of a home arena.
Multiple venues dedicated to esports have already opened in Asia, including a $280 million "esports town" in Hangzhou, China that opened in 2018. Esports will also become a medal sport in the 2022 Asian Games, the second-largest multi-sport event in the world after the Olympics.
Alongside the professional leagues, esports is also taking off at a collegiate level in the United States, with 200 colleges offering a combined $15 million dollars in scholarships each year to recruit for their varsity teams. However, Penn does not currently have a varsity esports team.