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Esports: The Space Between Digital and Physical

22nd April 2020
Esports: The Space Between Digital and Physical

What does the unprecedented growth of Esports mean for our cities and the physical space around this new gaming phenomenon? 

Esports – professional competitive gaming - is growing at a tremendous rate and is a leisure activity to be taken seriously. In 2019 the worldwide audience for Esports was 454 million and the annual global revenue was $1.1 bn, a year-on-year growth of 26.7%. By 2021 analysts predict the total global audience to be 557 million, accounting for 10% of all global sports viewing. If it continues to grow at this rate of about 14% annually, Esports will overtake its traditional sports rivals by 2050. This growth is changing the landscape for physical space around the spectator engagement with sports.

The Esports expansion doesn’t just mean more players and viewers but it will also inform awareness, business, and branding for a large target audience which can be reached online.

One key factor behind the explosive popularity of Esports is its inclusive nature and the accessibility from anywhere in the age of the technological revolution. “Out of the 7.7bn worldwide population, an estimated 2.2bn people are playing some form of games in digital media”, according to a report by Newzoo gaming intelligence. And now the digital experience has left the screen and entered the physical space that we inhabit.


A new immersive building typology

Arenas still serve as key social, cultural, entertainment gathering and event spaces within and on the periphery of our cities. They are a place where people gather, participate and engage, still very much experience led and informed by the physical space and the experiences of the spectators engaging within. Many stadia have also become much-loved features of the cities that host them. They have a straightforward building typology that is functionally driven - from the large open concourses that accommodate and encourage the movement of large numbers of people to commercial entertainment and branded hospitality around the periphery, sales & ticketing, food & beverage and retail merchandise spaces along with the large seated arenas that host the main event.

The notion of Esports, however, shifts this thinking, throwing the ingredients up in the air and questioning the entire notion of physical and virtual space and the boundaries between the two. and how technology and humans inform the experience and engage with the space. 

As architects and designers we have the opportunity to rethink the experience of sports spectating and how to bring together viewers and participants, spaces and technologies in a very different setting. Designed for adaptability, including retrofitting existing arenas for new and varying configurations to scale and grow over time, these new spaces welcome in a new era of spectator sports. 

The result will be to define concepts for the new community arenas of the future which enable supporters, players and I.T/ Tech collaborators to join as a community in new experiential venues. New additional functions such as coaching and training; secondary battle arenas, immersive technology (VR, AR) gaming pods and the new gaming community social gathering spaces will all be part of the mix.


Flexible Space and fostering community

Currently 53% of esport players believe that video games help them connect with friends, while 42% feel that gaming helps them spend valuable time with family. This marks a significant change from what has been regarded as a previously solitary pursuit to a community group experience which fosters connections among gamers and connects the community together. Engaging traditional online spectators to a physical space requires flexibility and an immersive mixture of digital and physical. By embracing future immersive technological innovations, we have the opportunity to create a new environment for the evolving gaming experience as Heta is doing with the Esports Arena at the Project Midieo Mixed Use Media Development in South Korea.

This transition is not only affecting the spectator arenas but the challenge between virtual and physical is in everything we do and all building typologies, shaping the daily lives of the people and inhabitants of our buildings, cities and infrastructure.


In figures (various sources)

$135bn - The global market value of gaming in 2018

454m - Worldwide audience in 2019 

434bn - Minutes of content watched on Twitch (esports live stream service)

$1.1bn - Annual global revenue in 2019, a year-on-year growth of +26.7%

1.9m - Number of subscribers on esports organisation youtube channel

55/45 - Percentage split male to female recreational gamers worldwide

31 - Years, median age of users 


‘The State of Esports’ published: 29 Jan 2019 by: Julia Errens

‘The Future of Gaming: Esports’ published: 16 Mar 2019 by: Emilia Morano-Williams, Stylus

‘Esports Is Outgrowing Traditional Sports...’, published 12 Aug 2019 by Matthew Proffitt @FinTechproffitt

‘Global Esports Economy .... in 2019’, published 12 Feb 2019 by Jurre Pannekeet, Newzoon

Heta Contact

Daniel Birdsall

Heta Contact

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