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E-merging Events: Are E-Sports Leagues The Next Big Thing For Arenas?
(Sponsored by IAVM)

Moderator: Bredan Buckley | Columbus Arenas Sports & Ent.
Michael Blicharz | ESL Gaming
Sid Greenfeig | MGM Resorts
David Levine | WME
Peter Melican | Major League Gaming
Tobias Sherman | WME | IMG eSports

The panel had one simple, overdriving message to the audience: you may not know much about e-sports because you’re not 12 years old but you better frigging study up, and fast.

E-sports is not a fad; it’s not just here for the summer. Every major venue operator will be seeing an e-sport event within the next five years. “This panel is so important; the interest is there,” Tobias Sherman said. “It’s our job to ensure the fans are having a great experience and we’re providing the best entertainment product we can. I think that’s what we need to get our head around.”

A week after this panel wrapped and one day before this report was typed up, Delaware North – the parent company to six-time Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins – invested in e-sports franchise Splyce, which fields nine e-sports teams for games like Call of Duty, League of Legends and Overwatch, according to ESPN.

“Delaware North is always looking at emerging markets and new opportunities and certainly one in the entertainment and sports space,” TD Garden President Amy Latimer told ESPN. “One, because we feel like we already have some of the important elements that would make a sports franchise successful. We have a sales team for sponsorships and ticket sales. We have a marketing engine, social. We have an arena to host events. It was an ideal partnership because we already have some of the basic elements.”

In other words, this is a big deal. For the uninitiated, fans of e-sports gather at venues to watch professional game players compete, much like watching a UFC fight (and a lot less like going to a concert – there appears to be less opportunity for a touring competition in the future).

WME | IMG has its own sports academy and Sherman was on the panel to stress that the company believes this to be an actual sport.

“(Retired basketball player) Rick Fox sold me that this was a sport,” he said. “I’ve been a big proponent for the last seven years. We have evidence that this is a sport – fast-twitch muscle fiber and there is an athletic component to this. That’s how serious we’re taking this. We’re adding that to our pedigree.

“When I first saw this I thought, ‘People watching people playing video games is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.’ I watched my first Starcraft game though and it had its own sportscasters, it felt natural to me. That was my ‘aha! moment.’ If you haven’t had that yet, definitely go to an event. You’ll catch the buzz and instantly understand it. It’s not a fad. It is here, it is sports.”

One thing stressed over and over again: good luck with having an event without reentry privileges.

“We had a no-reentry policy. The online community made it very clear that was something they were not interested in,” Columbus Arenas Sports & Entertainment’s Bredan Buckley said. “It took us a long time to change and to understand why that was. We re-created a policy and I think maybe 20 people a day actually left.”

Others confirmed that even though patrons are very vocal about a reentry policy, as few as 1 percent would leave the premises, even though the event could last as long as 10 hours. Still, when it came to policy, vendors and merch, this
is one crowd that can complain about or praise a venue very quickly on social media.

To the skeptics who may not believe this is the new “wild, wild west” of live events, it was noted that a recent tournament drew 71 million viewers online. In comparison, the playoff game between the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys – the most-watched NFL playoff game in history – drew an average 41 million viewers.

– Joe Reinartz