Not familiar with esports? New $10 million Arlington facility could change that

An artistic rendering of what a proposed $10 million Esports Stadium would look like inside the Arlington Convention Center.
An artistic rendering of what a proposed $10 million Esports Stadium would look like inside the Arlington Convention Center. Handout

The city of Arlington and its voters have contributed more than $800 million in recent years to build cutting-edge stadiums for the Dallas Cowboys and Texas Rangers.

Now, the city is proposing to give the Arlington Convention Center a $10 million makeover to create the first esports venue in Texas.

The 100,000-square-foot esports stadium would open in the fall and host large and small events throughout the year. It could handle up to 2,000 spectators.

Ken Hersh, a minority owner in the Texas Rangers and a co-owner in Team Envy, an esports team, said the burgeoning esports industry offers much the same experience as professional sports leagues.

"I see it exactly the same," Hersh said. "It's entertainment. It's engagement. It's excitement. The players have skills. They have an affinity for their team and there's competition."

From a business standpoint, Hersh said esports is exploding.

In 2017, the global esports market was valued at $493 million. By 2020, it is expected to reach $1.5 billion.

"It's growing 15 percent a year," Hersh said. "It's global. It's not dissimilar to the Premier League soccer teams. People may be fans of Man U but they've never been to Manchester."

The city of Arlington is proposing a $10 million renovation of the Arlington Convention Center, to transform it into an esports venue. The 100,000 square-foot Esports Stadium would hold up to 2,000 spectators and be the first of its kind in Texas.

But as an emerging sport, there aren't enough places to hold tournaments.

"What is in high demand are facilities to hold these events, and there's currently lack of facilities," said Ron Price, president and CEO of the Arlington Convention and Visitors Bureau.

During the first year, the city could host 30 esports events and build up from there, Price said.

Arlington's proposed deal with esports Venues Llc., starts with a 10-year lease that includes a 10-year renewal option. The cost of renovating the convention center "would be repaid through annual lease payments, event revenue, stadium naming rights revenue and other opportunities associated with catering to the esports industry," the city said in a press release.

It does not mean the convention center will be off-limits to conventions. Mayor Jeff Williams said the technological upgrades will allow convention groups to use the facility for their own purposes and would be perfect for events like TED Talks.

"Our plan is conventions during the week and games on the weekend," Williams said.

Texas Live!, the new entertainment venue scheduled to open in August, will also add convention space for the city.

The plan to become an esports hub came together quickly, Williams said, as the city and Arlington Convention and Visitors Bureau looked for options to bring more visitors to the area.

The CVB hired New York University to put together a white paper, and it came back with the recommendation to invest in esports.

"Our partnership with NYU was eye-opening," Price said.

In the report's conclusion, the paper recommended Arlington become an esports attraction and suggested that large-scale events could even utilize the future Globe Life Field and AT&T Stadium. Previous events have been held at places like the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

"First, esports will maximize the use of Arlington’s existing venues and capitalize on their proximity; and second, esports will attract a national and global spotlight to the City," the white paper said. "Given there is no set home for esports domestically, the time is now for Arlington to capitalize and establish itself as a hub for esports."

The goal is to attract millennials ages 18-34 to Arlington for esports tournaments and smaller events who may not be as interested in attending a Cowboys or Rangers game. But city leaders hope some of them will stick around to attend a game or sample other attractions like Six Flags Over Texas.

Williams has constantly talked about ways to make Arlington more attractive to University of Texas at Arlington students so they stick around once they graduate.

He believes esports can be one component to make Arlington a little hipper. Both Williams and Price noted that there's an esports tournament stage at this year's South by Southwest festival in Austin.

And UTA has its own esports club that won last year's Heroes of the Dorm national championship.

"It's going to attract a lot of people, honestly," said UTA student Hui Nguyen, an esports player. "Before, all of the tournaments were out of town and you had to travel. Now they'll be here."

As for older Arlington residents who wonder why the city is investing in esports, Nguyen told them to pay attention.

"They'll realize soon," Nguyen said. "They'll realize soon."

Bill Hanna: 817-390-7698, @fwhanna

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