Esports Tourism...It's only a matter of time
Over the last decade, communities large and small throughout the U.S. have spent millions of public dollars (lodging taxes and general funds alike) constructing youth sports meccas - Regional destinations for soccer, baseball, hockey, and basketball tournaments. Who can blame them? It is a solid plan. Parents (myself included) have proven that they will not only spend their weekends at a youth sports tournament, they will travel long distances to get there and spend a lot of money once they are there. I have studied hundreds of sports complexes and consulted on the feasibility and economic impact of over a dozen. Sports tourism offers the opportunity to fill hotel rooms on weekends throughout the year, when corporate demand is at its lowest. In seasonal markets, sports tourism can bring visitors during the shoulder seasons (usually early spring and late fall), when leisure tourism lags. All of this means that hoteliers and restaurateurs are willing to support funding sports complex development with lodging tax and food & beverage tax revenues. And, municipal governments are willing to support complex operations through general funds or by establishing an enterprise fund.
Enter Esports, not just the obsession of preteens, but successfully maintaining popularity with college students and young adults. College and university administrators throughout the country are starting to renovate student unions to incorporate esports arenas where students pay for the opportunity to congregate and play on high quality gaming equipment, much like they used to go bowling. Moreover, colleges field esports teams that enter intercollegiate leagues and tournaments. While many collegiate teams are club sports, an ever increasing number are recruiting esports athletes and offering scholarships. The proliferation of other competitive opportunities in the form of esport leagues and tournaments is the natural evolution currently coming to fruition.
Given its nature, it is not surprising that many assumed gaming would remain a virtual phenomenon. The reality is that the communities that have been formed by players and streamers have the same desire to gather and share as any other group and maybe more. Whether participating as a competitor or a spectator, esports is the same as any other sport. Being a part of a live event is something special. Any college basketball fan could paint their face and yell at their TV, but being one of the many irreverent screaming fans crushing the will of the opposing team is well worth weeks of camping out for tickets. The same is true for the esports leagues and tournaments that cater to regular players who want to compete.
There is also something special about playing in a state-of-art-venue that is also used by elite players. The National Hockey League has recognized the potential of developing ice centers that serve as team practice facilities and also support local youth and adult hockey programs. NHL franchises in St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Nashville (just to name a few) have used practice facilities to encourage ice hockey participation and develop the next generation of elite players and the fans that love them.
While many colleges and universities are already on board, cities are just beginning to recognize the potential of esports as a revenue generator. Leading the way, Arlington, TX recently contributed $10 million to the development of an esports arena that will host year-round events and be the home of UT-Arlington's esports teams. It's just a matter of time before others recognize the potential of esports tourism.
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