A sporting chance
The rise of eSports has led to opportunities for AV systems integrators. Soren Norgaard outlines the game plan.
Gaming has come a long way since the days of 8-bit plumbers and the gorillas that threw barrels at those unassuming tradesmen.
And it’s not just the graphics that have changed. Internet connectivity and in-game networking have improved to the point at which engaging your favourite multiplayer against interstate or overseas friends is the norm.
These advances in technology have also led to other changes. For example, the average ‘gamer’ is no longer a basement-dwelling teen. According to the Entertainment Software Association, 60% of all Americans play video games daily. The average gamer is 34 years old and 72% are 18 or older.
Perhaps most surprising, women 18 and older make up 33% of the game-playing population compared with 17% for boys under 18.
This change in demographic has prompted a steep increase in eSports, or large-scale competitive video gaming.
The growth has been spurred by dramatic improvements in internet infrastructure, and people’s increased desire to watch others play games online, particularly via websites such as Twitch. (According to the market analyst Newzoo, 42% of esports viewers do not play the game they watch.)
By 2017, global eSports claimed 191 million enthusiasts and 194 million occasional viewers. The number of enthusiasts is expected to be 286 million by 2020.
Today, eSports viewer numbers are comparable to those for traditional sports. In 2015 more than 27 million people watched the League of Legends finals. This is nine million more than for the 2014 National Basketball Association (NBA) finals.
It is estimated that 14% of North Americans aged 21 to 35 watch eSports at least once a month, while 18% of this group watch ice hockey in the same period.
Of course, the increase in viewers has meant an influx of money to the market,mainly in the form of sponsorship and advertising.
According to the 2017 Global eSports Market Report by Newzoo, the eSports economy in 2018 was expected to grow to $US696 million ($A1.004bn), a year-on-year growth of 41.3%.
By 2020, the amount will reach$US1.5bn ($A2.16bn).
This has led to two interesting opportunities for our industry. The first is ensuring that multi-purpose venues – arenas, stadiums, convention centres – are equipped to play host to these bandwidth-heavy events.
The second is that integration companies are increasingly being called on to design and specify dedicated eSports venues.
In the first instance, the goal of facility owners is to attract events that will bring in consumers, therefore revenue.
And given that the eSports market is still comparatively young, conversion of existing facilities makes the most sense.
In 2015, the 112 major eSports events generated $US20.6 million ($A29.7 million) in ticket revenue. Fortunately, most of the requisite infrastructure for eSports is already installed in these venues, so very little needs changing to capitalise on the market.
Essentially, eSports events take place centre stage in front of desktop computer stations or gaming consoles. The action is portrayed on a big LED screen, ideally
with a pitch size of at least 2.5mm, for the crowd to watch.
(To find out more about designing video systems for larger venues, including seating layout and screen placement, be sure to check out the AVIXA standard Display Image Size for 2D Content in Audiovisual Systems.)
At a very basic level, venue design for eSports should take into account AV practices from conventional sports venues and broadcasting, live-event production, hospitality and retail.
However, the single most important technology is high-speed internet and a bullet-proof local area network (LAN). As far as gamers are concerned, ‘lag’ is death.
It may sound strange, but the rest of the setup is akin to a basketball stadium. Seating, lighting and AV are essentially the same as for an NBA game.
Interestingly, Hoyts recently launched Australia’s first dedicated eSports arena at the Entertainment Quarter in Sydney.
The arena will be the first in a six-year deal with the eSports company Gfinity in which Hoyts will create a chain of arenas across the country at its cinema locations.
The arenas will have modern gaming equipment alongside a full broadcast and production suite, all designed to attract the growing number of professional events that will be coming to Australia.
The second opportunity for integrators comes in the form of dedicated eSports venues. Such venues, which are typically smaller than multi-purpose facilities,
bring their own share of challenges.
HARMAN Professional Solutions recently provided a custom audio, lighting and control setup to the newly opened 2,800m² multi-level HyperX Esports Arena in Las Vegas.
The installation involved JBL Professional speakers, Crown amplifiers, BSS audio processors, AMX control system and Martin lighting fixtures.
The arena at the Luxor Hotel and Casino is designed to host every form of competitive gaming, from daily play to high-stakes eSports tournaments. It features a competition stage, a 15m LED video wall, telescopic seating, PC and console gaming stations, and a production studio of network TV quality. Further, two Virtuix Omni boards put players head-to-head in an immersive gaming environment. The compact virtual reality platform’s treadmill pad allows competitors to live out the action by running and moving through each game.It’s like having an entire explorable world in 1m².
The venue’s production facility uses 24 cameras and HARMAN Professional Solutions to deliver broadcast-quality content to the arena’s two-story LED video wall and to live streams across the world.
The HyperX Esports Arena is not the first dedicated eSports venue in the world, and it certainly won’t be the last. Further, in light of Hoyts’ efforts to bring eSports into the Australian market with great force, integrators would be wise to get some skin in the game.