E-sports are on the rise, and Las Vegas is maneuvering to become its capital?and not only through innovations like regulating skill-based gambling but by hosting the state-of-the art in venues for gamers and their prized Millennial followers to congregate.
The most expansive new site to date is Millennial Esports, a 15,000-square-foot arena set to open at Freemont Street’s Neonopolis tourist complex in early March to coincide with the three-day Halo games tournament.
“As soon as I got into this (eSports) industry, I knew I wanted to be in Las Vegas and specifically in Downtown Las Vegas,” said Alex Igelman, chief executive officer of Toronto-based Millennial Esports. “The demographic and everything about Downtown fits perfectly with e-sports—you know, the Millennials.”
The video game industry is building momentum across Nevada, a new report from the Entertainment Software Association shows, and local experts say a lot of that has to do with the convergence of video gaming and casino gambling via e-sports.
Nevada regulators approved rules for skill-based gaming last year, and the move has led to an increase in e-sports competitions and wagering on game outcomes, not to mention the founding of an e-sports “lab” at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ International Gaming Institute, a first for the school.
The ESA says Nevada’s employment in the video game industry grew at an annual rate of 15.2 percent between 2013 and 2015, generating more than $113 million in revenue.
“As eSports are such a big part of video games in general, I know that some companies have moved to Las Vegas to be part of the activity happening around e-sports,” said Blaine Graboyes, co-founder and CEO of GameCo, a pioneer in the creation of skill-based gambling machines.
Vegas, meanwhile, is busily rebranding itself as the hub for this young market with dozens of new attractions that encompass not only video games, but welcome pop culture stalwarts like Pac-Man, foosball, Jenga and beer pong, to name a few.
They include Level Up at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino, which offers an indoor laser golf course along with video games, plenty of beer pong tables, even an arm-wrestling table.
A more niche-focused arcade experience can be found at Fremont Street’s Insert Coins, a video game-themed club with a wide selection of console and other competitions.
Igelman’s facility will feature a 200-seat arena with stadium-style seating and a main room for up to 500 people with a stage, a green room and a VIP room. The main room can accommodate a variety of activities, including live streaming for participants with an online following. The building is wired with more than three miles of CAT cable and dozens of ports offering one-gigabit internet speeds. Audio and visual components include an LED video wall with theater lighting and sound and cinema projectors. The facility also has a concession stand and a merchandise area where fans can purchase tough-to-find video game-related items. There’s also a permanent studio above the main arena for hosting ESPN-style broadcasts on various websites.
“Imagine ‘SportsCenter’ or ‘College Game Day’ on Saturday,” said Nick Fotheringham, senior consultant on the project. “The analyst desk is open to five people, just like ‘College Game Day’ with the stage, the big LED wall and the players hitting in that area. That’s just magic.”
Millennial Esports is also developing an app to work with the events.
And later in March, the venue will host an EA Sports-sanctioned Madden 17 NFL tournament.
“We’re building a complete content calendar, and we’re in talks with various publishers that have heard about us and what we’re doing that are looking to utilize our technologies,” Igelman said. “We should have multiple events throughout the year, including ones that we put on ourselves, and invitationals.”
Aside from the scheduled events, Igelman plans to have the facility available to anyone who wants to play games or use its high-speed internet.
“Whether it’s PS4 or Xbox or PC, you’re going to be in a really cool environment,” he said. “If you’re in town for an event and you’re a YouTuber and you want a good place to stream and don’t want to do it from a hotel room where the internet is iffy, you can go into one of those alcoves and broadcast to your fans.”