ATLANTIC CITY — For an esports tournament to be run successfully, it takes large screens, gaming consoles, computers and a strong internet connection, which can add up to large costs for the location hosting the event.
This can make potential venues reluctant to take on the risk of holding an esports event.
“Most organizers are not event planners,” Kim Meltzer, CEO of KidKesty Productions and Destination Esports, said during last week’s Esports-Travel Summit at Caesars Atlantic City.
But esports executives insist the investments necessary to make events run smoothly are worth the risk for prospective venues, and can lead to successful partnerships for years to come.
Atlantic City will host another esports tournament later this year.
“No one can match what video gaming has done for a destination,” Meltzer said.
Esports tournaments are unlike many other events because of how much equipment is required.
“The problem is, this is the one industry that doesn’t speak in rational terms,” Meltzer said. “We have work to do to explain to the venue what it can do.”
Anthony Gaud, president of INGAME Esports, agreed a conflict exists between organizer and venue and is a “major problem in the industry,” and said part of the issue is that the return on investment of an esports event is different from what most businesses are used to.
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“There’s a discrepancy between what event organizers need and what event hosts can provide,” Gaud said. “Esports doesn’t fit any of the traditional models, because it needs infrastructure in place to exist.”
Becoming part of the esports landscape is more of a long-term investment than something that instantly brings in massive amounts of profit, Gaud said. Casinos hoping to continuously host esports tournaments in the future need to fully commit to the industry.
Gaud cited the arcade-restaurant hybrid Dave & Buster’s as a model for how gaming can make money and bring in the much-sought-after millennial demographic. A trip to Dave & Buster’s is mostly seen as a group activity, which also translates to esports, as many of its fans enjoy the sense of community it generates.
“It’s an incredibly tight-knit community,” said Todd Lehrke, director of sports development at Bloomington CVB.
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Peter Perez, marketing director for Evos Esports Arena, described competitive gaming as a unifying experience.
“It’s far more than just entertainment,” Perez said at the summit. “When you have a video game, a mission and a collective goal, there are no personal differences that will stand in the way of gamers accomplishing that goal.”
Gaud also mentioned Katowice, a city in Poland, as the best example of where an esports-focused investment paid dividends. In Katowice, an outdated convention center was retrofitted into an esports arena. Its first event in 2012 attracted about 1,000 people, but by 2017 attendance had ballooned to more than 173,000 participants, plus tens of millions of viewers through streams on platforms like Twitch.
A huge reason for Katowice’s success was that it had a space solely dedicated to esports, meaning it could acquire equipment and make all necessary refurbishments at the outset, and hold as many events as it wanted to in a single location. Venues are slowly learning that to make it big in this market, they will need to dedicate time, money and energy to it.
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“We want to create a system that works as a unified destination rather than individual arenas and hotels,” said Meltzer. “Right now it’s fragmented, and we need to fix it.”
Atlantic City sees the potential esports has for growth as an industry that sees nearly $13 billion made in bets annually. The city is taking steps to cash in, like working with Gaud’s INGAME to foster relationships in the esports world, and investing in a data center operated by Continent 8 Technologies in the Atlantic City Convention Center.
“Atlantic City has done more than most cities in pioneering partnerships between venues and event organizers,” Gaud said. “The city is leading when many don’t know what to do.”
If the city keeps putting in the work, Gaud thinks it will pay off.
“It’s not a question of if it will make money, the question is who will make that money,” Gaud said.