Populous reveal what the future of eSports arenas looks like

The popularity of eSports competitions – in which opposing players compete at video games played online, often with thousands of digital spectators following the action – has grown at a huge rate in the last decade. Now sports architects Populous have revealed they are developing physical, purpose-built arenas in which the digital battles of the future can be hosted. 

Brian Mirakian, the director of the Populous’ Activate design agency in the Americas, told Sports Management the arrival of eSports arenas ”is not a matter of if, but a matter of when.” 

“We’ve seen fan behaviour in our venues dramatically change over the last 10 to 20 years,” he said. “As technology and social media take off, so do the way fans interact with live sport. With eSports, online viewership is exceeding rapidly with tens of thousands of people following. You can see we’re building to a point where physical venues will be needed to house these competitions. 

“We firmly believe every great sport has a cathedral, and eSports arenas are no different. Congregating together to share experiences and memories is in our DNA, and eSports fans are every bit as passionate as fans of traditional sports.” 

He said the practice has been having conversations with clients across its global offices and “while as an industry we’re a little way off, the construction of the first large purpose-built venues, and adaptation of existing ones, will happen sooner than we think – possibly in the next three to five years.” 

He added that surrounding districts could be dedicated to retail zones and food and beverage amenities for eSports fans and unlock commercial opportunities the “365 days a year.” 

Inside the stadiums, Populous imagines that high density wifi networks will allow fans to utilise augmented reality to follow the action and communicate with one another visually. Meanwhile. holographic projections can project parts of the digital action onto the pitch – with the footage simultaneously broadcast in real-time to other stadiums all over the world, creating truly international events. 

Mechanical roofs and moving walls and seats in the grounds will allow for multiple configurations, meaning a venue can host championship events of many tens of thousands of people, or feeder events attended by just 500-2,000. Layouts may allow them to walk from one section around the bowl to another, so they can stretch their legs and socialise during events that often last for several hours. 

“The technology can allow us to do incredible things,” said Mirakian. “For example, we can track the biometric data of the players, and transmit that to the fans. You could choose a player to follow and feel their heart beat pulstaimg in your seat at pivotal moments. It’s the desire of every sports fan to be as close to the athlete as possible – in the future fans looking for a premium experience might not want suite or a loge box, but something more immersive.” 

Asked if purpose-built stadiums could one day host international eSports tournaments, Mirakian said: “There are no restrictions in where things are going to go.” 

“One point five or 10 years ago, if you told me esports arena might be an Olympic competition for eSports I’d say you're crazy, but now we know it may very well be a competition for Tokyo 2020, and Populous are heavily involved for those Games. 

“This stuff will be arriving very imminently.”

First published www.sportsmanagement.co.uk, written by Kim Megson, 27 March 2017