What does the unprecedented growth of Esports mean for our cities and physical spaces?
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.
A post covid world
There has a been a steady shift over the last few years to ever-present digital environments and nowhere has this been felt more than in gaming. Entire worlds and communities exist as purely digital and year on year more people are engaging across all demographics. The challenge for designers is how can we create a space to bring this digital world into the physical.
This is an interesting parallel with those of us working from home, where our work is now conducted almost all remotely so we find ourselves in a very similar situation, where we all exist in a digital community and are all looking at how we can adapt our physical environments to create a place people want to return to.
During the lockdown there has been a fascinating merging of sectors looking to gaming & Esports as a way to bridge the digital and physical, particularly the retail and entertainment sectors. People are using this time as an opportunity to test out new ideas and digital experiences. From a gaming perspective, as the industry has scrambled to take advantage of the lockdown, there have been some amazing new experiences that have emerged. The F1 has set up F1 Esports Virtual Grand Prix series, where real F1 drivers will race online against each other for each track that is missed during the lock-down, which will bring an enormous amount of exposure to that gaming platform. Another example was the new Christopher Nolan block buster film; Tenet, that ran its latest trailer in Fortnight ahead of its general release as the normal distribution platform of Cinemas are not available.
The interesting part of both examples is that the marketing departments of big businesses are fully embracing the scale and importance of digital environments and the ever-expanding communities that are growing inside them. They are also aimed at engaging with a younger audience who are growing ever more disconnected with the traditional methods of watching sports and films, due to escalating ticket costs and so many different platforms to watch with phones, tablets anywhere and anytime.
One of the side effects of having predominantly digital experiences is the next generation of media savvy users will become used to the rapid speed within which digital change happens. This presents a challenge for designers of the physical spaces that we want to design to encourage the communities to adopt.
As an example a traditional stadium design needs to last anywhere between 25-50 years once completed, and on top of this takes years to get planning, finance and eventually build. Alongside this the stadiums also already need to be flexible enough to adapt to new events and requirements every 3-5 years. It therefore becomes an impossible challenge to predict what esports will become over the next 5-10 years, so embracing flexible spaces is the key.
Flexible space and fostering community
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.
Currently over 50% of esport players believe that video games help them connect with friends, while over 40% 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.
The lessons we learnt on Project Midieo, were focused on flexible spaces and creating a community around esport. Esports as professional competitive gaming, is growing at a tremendous rate and is a leisure activity to be taken seriously and particularly in South Korea is changing the sports landscape. We looked at how the space could adopt 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 to all be part of the mix.
By 2021 analysts predict the total global audience world wide will be over half a billion people, accounting for 10% of all global sports viewing. If it continues to grow at this rate of about 10-15% 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. The success therefore of future building projects will be about creating a destination that is more than an arena but about the community created around it.
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.
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