Make Room For An Esports Arena In Philadelphia’s Stadium Park District

Written By Grant Lucas on March 25, 2019 - Last Updated on March 26, 2019
Philadelphia eSports Arena

The sports hub of Philadelphia is expanding.

On Monday Comcast Spectacor and The Cordish Companies announced their plans to construct$50 million esports and entertainment venue in the Philadelphia Sports Complex. That area already features home stadiums and arenas for the city’s four professional sports teams.

The “first-of-its-kind venue,” known as Fusion Arena, will have the Philadelphia Fusion esports franchise as the primary tenant. The facility certainly lends credence to the rise in popularity of professional esports.

For those unsure what esports entails, the events feature players competing in video games in front of crowds. Investments like this one could provide a steppingstone for esports to join the PA sports betting landscape.

Fusion Arena to become ‘gold standard’ for gaming

Located near Xfinity Live!, Fusion Arena expects to seat up to 3,500 spectators. That and its 60,000 square feet of new construction make the facility “the largest new-construction, purpose-built esports arena in the Western Hemisphere,” according to the press release about the new project.

Construction will reportedly begin this summer. However, Joe Marsh, the chief business officer of Spectacor Gaming and the Fusion, noted that the arena will not be ready until the 2021 Overwatch season. The Fusion will play at a temporary location in South Philadelphia in the interim. No word on that exact location yet though.

“Fusion Arena represents a watershed moment for the competitive gaming market,” said Brian Mirakian, senior principal of Populous, which designed the arena. “We’re taking our 35 years of designing iconic experiences for traditional sports — settings like Yankee Stadium — and applying those same principles of design to the virtual world of gaming.”

Specs on the new addition to Philadelphia’s Stadium Park

The venue will feature a 6,000-square-foot public entry. There will also be 2,000 square feet in “interactive media surface” 30 feet above. That is in addition to nearly 10,000 square feet dedicated to a training facility, broadcast studio and team offices.

Fusion Arena will also boast several other amenities:

  • Two balcony bars
  • Club seats with USB ports
  • Flexible loge boxes
  • Exclusive suites

From Blake Cordish, principal of the Cordish Companies:

“Fusion Arena will set the gold standard for competitive gaming and debut on one of the country’s most exciting platforms of sports and entertainment amid Philadelphia’s professional sports teams.”

While the release did not mention Cordish’s other project in the area, the Stadium Casino project, presumably the esports arena will be located in proximity to the new casino property. The casino has not applied for a sports betting license yet, but could in the future. The new esports arena will also be a stone’s throw away from the existing off-track betting parlor and sports betting facility South Philadelphia Turf Club.

Esports continues to grow worldwide

Dave Scott, chairman and CEO of Comcast Spectacor, which owns the Fusion, says that Fusion Arena will host “a wide array of events.” As the facility’s name suggests, however, the Philadelphia Fusion will take center stage.

The franchise is one of 20 international teams that compete in the Overwatch League. Recently, the league announced it would allow for its teams to have true home games rather than having all of the league’s action in Los Angeles. This new schedule expects to begin in 2020.

Nate Nanzer, commissioner of the Overwatch League, which is in its second season, told USA Today that viewership during the league’s opening weekend this year hit 13 million. That total is up 30 percent from the previous year.

Additionally, the league expanded from 12 teams to 20. All told, the Overwatch League features franchises in America, CanadaEuropeSouth Korea, and China.

“The same reason it’s more fun to go to a (Los Angeles) Dodger game than to watch a Dodger game on TV is the fact that you’re there with 40,000 other people that also love the Dodgers, and you have that shared experience and connection from cheering on the team,” Nanzer said. “And esports are no different.”

Could PA sports betting integrate esports?

Following the US Supreme Court’s decision to repeal PASPA, Pennsylvania and a slew of other states began crafting frameworks to roll out legalized sports betting. Obviously, the Keystone State launched its industry in November. This summer, PA online betting apps will hit the market. That will further bolster the industry, particularly in a crowded Philadelphia sports betting scene.

Last summer, Philadelphia Esports Coalition Chairman Bill Thomas shared his views on the future of esports, specifically in Pennsylvania. Previously, Thomas served as a leadership legislative staffer in the PA House of Representatives and was part of the lawmaking team that wrote the gaming expansion bill to legalize Pennsylvania online casinos and sports betting.

After launching the state’s esports coalition, Thomas noted that PA sports betting could easily absorb esports betting.

“I think that esports betting is something that will help to keep the casino industry intact moving forward for some of these younger generations,” Thomas said.

“I think it’s a complement to what we’re going to be doing on sports betting. But I think they need to be careful. There needs to be strong, unified standards for these competitions, regardless of whether they’re on the sportsbook or not, these integrity standards need to be there when you’re talking about thousands of dollars in prizes or thousands of dollars in college scholarships, like Harrsiburg University is doing.”

Currently, esports betting is not offered or regulated by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. Down the road, as the popularity of esports continues to expand, perhaps a new market will join PA sports betting though.

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Grant Lucas

Grant Lucas is a longtime sportswriter who has covered the high school, collegiate, and professional levels. A graduate of Linfield College in McMinnville, Grant has covered games and written features and columns surrounding prep sports, Linfield, and Oregon State athletics and the Portland Trail Blazers throughout his career.

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