Photo courtesy The Gaming Stadium
Canada’s first dedicated esports arena—where up to 110 spectators can watch Richmond’s top video game players showcase their skills—will open at Lipont Place art exhibition centre on No. 3 Road at the end of May.
The Gaming Stadium will include bleacher seating, a stage that spotlights 10 featured players, massive display screens, a live-streaming broadcast with a play-by-play announcer (known as a shoutcaster), and an additional 48 stations outfitted with top-of-the-line PCs and high-end gaming chairs for gamers to play what’s most popular in the gaming world: Fortnite, Apex Legends, League of Legends and Overwatch, to name a few.
The temporary facility—which will have a dedicated 10 gigabit internet connection along with speedy free wifi for visitors—will occupy the space that once served as the automotive repair bay for an Acura car dealership.
But it will be replaced by a brand new, multi-million-dollar 18,000-square-foot esports arena with space for more than 300 spectators.
Plans are to break ground for the new facility—to be built in the parking lot behind Lipont Place, which is immediately south of the Tim Horton’s at No. 3 Road and Cambie, and easily-accessible thanks to its proximity to Aberdeen Station of the Canada Line—by the end of 2019. It’s scheduled to open in the late spring of 2021.
Max Sussman, radio host of The Game Show, which airs Fridays at 11 p.m. on Sportsnet 650, said that when he first heard about The Gaming Stadium’s plans to come to the Vancouver area, he figured it would be somewhere in Richmond near the Canada Line.
“I think it’s a natural place to put it,” Sussman said, adding that Richmond has a “rich history of arcade competition.” He noted there are a handful of internet cafes and esport hub spaces near the arena.
Asked why a facility like this would draw gaming fans, Sussman said it’s akin to recreational basketball players watching the two-time NBA champion Golden State Warriors.
“If you want to get better, you’ve got to watch someone who is the best,” he said, noting that top-player Shroud draws some 50,000 people each time he plays Apex Legends, an online, multi-player, first-person shooting video game that launched on the Monday after this year’s NFL Super Bowl. It now boasts some 50 million players.
Like Junior A
Coaching, training, tournaments, fans and arenas—words you wouldn’t normally associate with video games.
But when Spiro Khouri, vice president of marketing at The Gaming Stadium, provided The Richmond Sentinel a preview of what’s coming to Richmond this May, he likened it to the launch and operation of a brand new Junior A-level hockey franchise.
The Gaming Stadium’s esports franchise will do much of what a junior hockey team does: recruit and sponsor players, provide coaching and training sessions, and send a team of players in Gaming Stadium gear to play in tournaments locally and abroad.
The new facility promises to provide a warm, safe and comfortable place for gamers, in a well-lit location that features security and plenty of staff, and is easily accessible by transit to anyone in the Lower Mainland, he said.
“We want people to come and be able to experience first hand what it’s like, especially the parents because there aren’t any places right now where people can compete on any level,” Khouri said.
In this case, the competition isn’t on a basketball court or soccer pitch, but online, and the equipment of choice is a keyboard and mouse.
The Gaming Stadium will give gamers a chance to compete against the best both locally and regionally, and the barrier to entry is very low, Khouri said, with the average tournament entrance fee about $20.
“It’s a great opportunity to test your skill level against people in the local community,” Khouri said.
Asked about the concerns of parents who see their children playing these video games for countless hours, and seemingly being anti-social, Khouri said the new arena should allay those fears.
“When you’re playing in a local setting, you get to meet people,” he said. “There’s a social aspect to it that you don’t get when you’re playing online. Even though you’re playing online and you’re meeting people from around the world…you’re not actually meeting that person. You’re just talking over an in-game chat…
“Here it takes that to the next level; you actually get to meet people in person and then if you guys are of an equal skill level, you can potentially team up…”
The Gaming Stadium is looking to create that social environment, where people meet and form friendships, he said.
Anyone of any age is welcome to come in and watch, since there’s no admission fee, he said. But players competing at The Gaming Stadium must be at least 14 years old, and for some events, players will need to be at least 19.
As well, like with a Junior A hockey team, The Gaming Stadium wants to become like a feeder league, and develop players who can move up to higher levels of play.
“We want to become a place where people can come and hone their skills and then potentially either get scouted, or find opportunities with professional teams to take their skills to the next level.”
Khouri pointed to the Vancouver Titans, a professional esports team that plays Overwatch—a team-based multi-player first-person shooting game. The Titans are owned by the Aquilini Group, owners of the Vancouver Canucks. The Titans made their debut in February and play in the Overwatch League alongside teams from Toronto, Atlanta, Washington, Paris, and two teams from China.
Up to this point, Khouris said people get discovered by playing online and reaching a certain level, and then getting scouted by professional teams.
The Gaming Stadium will provide much more exposure to players, and will be live-streaming and broadcasting every day that the facility is open, Khouri said.
Come May, the Vancouver area will sport both entry-level, second-division, and professional esports teams, becoming the first city in North America to do so, he said.
“We are creating a talent pool,” he said, and second-division scouts will be looking.
A Melting Pot
Both Vancouver and Burnaby tried to lure The Gaming Stadium, but Richmond won out for a few reasons, Khouri said, including the short drive to the Vancouver International Airport and the fact the property they selected is right next to the Canada Line.
“Richmond is a melting pot of gamers,” he said. “There’s a lot of internet cafes here. There’s a wide variety of people from different ethnic backgrounds. And it really provides a cool central location with food and beverage offerings and so much to do in the area.”
One of major investors in The Gaming Stadium is the owner of Lipont Place.
Myesport Ventures Ltd., which is the parent company of The Gaming Stadium, was founded about a year ago, but the project has been in the works for about 18 months, Khouri said. Millions of dollars have already been invested in the project, and millions more will be, including the $5-million-plus stadium.
While players will be spotlighted during tournaments, those interested in other aspects of the business will also receive exposure, Khouri said.
“We have some people who are fantastic commentators and casters. They’re now going to get the opportunity to cast and commentate on these tournaments and get that production shown live on line…in a top-notch level broadcast.”
It will be like a scaled-down Vancouver Canucks broadcast, he said, with live interviews, replays and analysis of game play.
The permanent facility will also incorporate three food-and-beverage kiosks, a full bar that will overlook the theatre, and a couple of VIP sections, similar to NHL game suites, for corporate outings.
While the temporary facility will only cater to
PCs, the new two-storey arena will have a 5,000-square-foot area for console (PlayStations and Xboxes) game tournaments.
Staff at The Gaming Stadium will be trained to spot tell-tale signs that participants may be veering toward addiction.
From over frustration, to lack of sleep, to body odour, Khouri said there are things The Gaming Stadium can do to control how much players play.
“Because we’re running different tournaments every day, and because we’re not open for a crazy amount of hours, we know we can control it here,” he said. “The issue then becomes, if they take it outside of here, and say I want to go home and practice every single day because I want to win the tournament…that’s a bit harder obviously for us to control.”
Khouri said that a few months after opening, The Gaming Stadium plans to offer free seminars for parents, so they can understand a bit more about the games their kids are playing, interact better with their children, and be able to identify potential trouble signs at home.
For players, plans are to provide day camps and coaching and development, for those who want to get better at the game.
But they also plan to address mental health, physical health, and nutrition, Khouri said, and will bring in partners with both experience and expertise to build those programs.