Friday, June 26, 2020 / by Ken Couture
Most sports are on COVID-19 related hiatuses, but esports are seeing a jump in interest as other entertainment options aren't available.
Tuscan Highlands, a new apartment complex designed to replicate the resort experience, might be able to take advantage of this newfound interest in esports when its 4,500 square foot esports lounge opens later this summer.
Developer Bob Schulman told Business Insider that over the course of developing this property, he went from not know what esports were to "there'll be no place equal to us," noting that Tuscan Highlands will have the first esports arena on this scale in a US apartment complex.
A game for everyone
Milo Ocampo, an esports expert who consulted on the lounge, told Business Insider that it's designed to appeal both to professional and casual gamers. The lounge has 12 computer stations with seven-foot by 11-foot HD LED displays, a virtual reality sports simulator with a 15-foot by 9-foot display for golf, soccer, and hockey, plus individual gaming stations equipped with Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One devices.
For more old-fashioned gamers, there is also a collection of traditional arcade games. A YouTube and podcasting studio is attached, too. There are even special gaming chairs with adjustable height and reclining levels and a built-in headrest. Shulman told Business Insider that when it comes to esports, every aspect matters because games can come down to "split-second timing."
The lounge is scheduled to open in July, with plans to hold esports tournaments with rewards and educational events. "The esports lounge will feature events held by pro players, run education panels, and let residents interact with influencers and future influencers," Ocampo said.
Shulman said he asked himself, "How can I create an amenity that will drive people to be together for extended periods of time?" This question eventually resulted in a 10,000 square foot multiform space, consisting of an esports lounge, bar and restaurant, and wine garden.
He brought in Ocampo, who has his own esports startup and gave him a list of things he needed to know to create the lounge, including demographics and analytics on esports. This first meeting was in July 2019, and the whole project has taken about a year to come to fruition.
Despite his predictions for the success of the lounge, Shulman doesn't think this will become a trend in other real estate developments.
"More likely, we'll see people want to do bars and restaurants and add esports," he said. "It's very difficult to do."
He sees esports as a growing industry, but creating a lounge of this scale in an apartment community is out of reach for most developments. "People won't know how to do it," he told Business Insider.
An esports lounge in the COVID era
COVID-19 and social distancing guidelines haven't derailed plans for the esports lounge, according to Shulman. "We're lucky because we created this very large space that's not open to the public," he told Business Insider.
He explained that tables and chairs in the lounge were built to accommodate social distancing, with only minor changes. Gaming stations are separated by acrylic partitions, that have UV self-cleaning abilities. "Even when COVID is gone, we won't need to add furniture," Shulman said.
Esports is poised for huge growth
Though not exactly mainstream yet, esports have made huge leaps in the past few years. Groups of professional gamers compete in live tournaments on games like "Fortnite" and "FIFA." Esports had 454 million global viewers in 2019, and the industry is on track to double viewership over six years, according to a December report by Business Insider Intelligence.
The industry has also attracted growing investments from venture capital, jumping from just under $500 million in 2017 to $4.5 billion in 2018, an increase of 837%. Experts credit much of this growth to the "pop-culturization of esports," including the social aspect of streaming platforms like Twitch, which allow fans to feel connected to gamers.
Some esports organizations have also moved into selling merchandise and expanded beyond a niche fanbase. "It's essential to think of the esports opportunity in this way — one inclusive of gaming, media, pop culture, and commerce — as it shines a light on opportunities beyond gaming events alone" Rick Yang, a partner at a venture capital firm that invests in esports, told Business Insider Intelligence.
For Ocampo, the coronavirus has pushed esports into the spotlight. As he sees it, the lounge will likely initially attract gamers and influencers between 18 and 32 years old, but the audience is growing.
"People who gave esports a chance during the pandemic aren't going to go away when it's over," he said.
However, even virtual sports have been impacted by the coronavirus. Cancellations and postponed tournaments will hurt the industry's earnings this year, which were once predicted to top $1 billion dollars in 2020.
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