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New Philadelphia arena could have impact on esports in Atlantic City

The promise of a permanent home for a major esports team in Philadelphia reflects the growing popularity of professional esports on the East Coast, including Atlantic City.

The owners of the Philadelphia Fusion esports franchise, Comcast Spectacor, announced Monday plans to construct a $50 million esports and entertainment venue in the Philadelphia Sports Complex.

Adjacent to Xfinity Live!, the venue will seat as many as 3,500 guests and stand as the largest new-construction, purpose-built esports arena in the Western Hemisphere.

Esports are competitive video games, that include anything from fighting and war games to sports games, and the Fusion franchise is one of 20 international teams competing in the Overwatch League.

Only two other cities in the country have large-scale arenas like this dedicated to esports and entertainment, Blizzard Arena in California and Esports Arena Arlington in Texas.

“I think a lot of cities are rethinking how they can adapt to the changing landscape of entertainment and basically the convergence of sports, video games, music and technology,” said Angela Bernhard Thomas, CEO and co-founder of Ingame Esports.

The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority partnered with INGAME last month, promising to invest up to $700,000 for promoting esports events in the next 18 months in Atlantic City.

Ingame co-founders Thomas and Anthony Gaud are working with another Philadelphia-based company, Nerdstreet Gamers, to bring esports teams, such as those from the Overwatch League, to events in Atlantic City in 2019-2020.

Thomas and Gaud agreed the esports market is growing at a rapid pace.

“People are starting to understand now, when they see the advent of the Overwatch League and say, ‘Oh, here’s a league that looks a lot like the NBA,’” said Wim Stock, CEO and general manager of Collegiate Starleague and WorldGaming Network.

The Overwatch League has sold city-based franchises that play in competitive seasons, have a training camp, a preseason and a regular season. Overwatch also has a playoff and a championship that Stock said look an awful lot like a traditional sports league.

“They may not understand what the game Overwatch is, but you’re getting there, you’re starting to understand the structure because the template for it is looking a lot like traditional sports,” he said.

Stock’s company is one of the biggest grass-roots esports tournament companies working more on the amateur and developmental side.

“We feed the pro players,” he said. “Our programming, our events, our content helps aspiring players, players who are desiring to get better, see the pros as their aspirations.”

INGAME has plans to bring all levels of esports to Atlantic City, from professional to amateur to industry events.

“The minor leagues and the major leagues both exist together, and they support each other, so if Philly builds this arena, then we can help support esports by picking different sorts of esports events that still work in tandem and still work together with events like they have in Philadelphia and other venues,” Gaud said.

It’s part of a new type of entertainment offering in Atlantic City. “What we’re trying to do is create a balance and more or less curate the esports programming for Boardwalk Hall,” Thomas added.

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