AUSTIN, Texas — Global design firm Populous could potentially lead the charge on how eSports fans experience live events in the future.
Brian Mirakian, who is Principal at Populous and Dir. of Populous Activate (Americas), recently spoke at the annual South by Southwest Conference. Following his panel — “Back to the Future: Why eSports Needs a Colosseum” — he discussed with SportTechie the future of eSports venues.
When asked if Populous — which Mirakian said has the largest sports architectural practice in the world — was currently involved in designing any eSports arenas, he said, “There are a lot of things that I actually can’t talk about, but I can just tell you that it’s happening.”
According to Mirakian, Populous has previously worked on 28 of the last 31 Major League Baseball ballparks and three Olympic main stadiums — among other projects — but never in eSports. Still, because of the way audiences have changed at events, their appetite for a “technologically-connected” and social experience and with the popularity of eSports not slowing down, Populous and Mirakian saw gaming as the next area of practice for their design portfolio.
“We believe that for eSports to ultimately take its next step as a sport, purpose-built venues is really part of that equation. We’re very bullish on it,” he said.
Mirakian described a futuristic-venue, one that could transfer the players’ experiences to spectators and make fans feel like they’re much more part of the entire event versus just another person in the building. For example, as fans enter an arena, that could include their personal gaming profiles and tags populating based on RFID and iBeacon technology.
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“It’s all about making the fan a rockstar,” Mirakian said.
“If you give them access to every element of that experience which is happening behind the console of that gamer and you can feel his heartbeat in your seat or feel a rumble in your seat when a moment happens in the game, that sensory experience and that customization I see as a huge driver not only in the popularity around eSports but I can see these types of things happening in NFL stadiums and other sorts of places as well. That’s one of the ways in which we can advance these buildings moving forward, and again it goes back to the driving point of how do you get people out of the living room and into the venue.”
Despite eSports fans and players themselves being digital-natives, where content is viewed on over-the-top platforms like Twitch, YouTube and now recently Twitter, Mirakian said the same attendance challenges for traditional sports present themselves with eSports, too.
“There’s always a challenge today in terms of getting this generation to come to any sort of physical venue, whether it’s a store or stadium,” he said.
“The broadcast experience is so powerful. You have the comforts of home and the second screen right at your disposal. You have the 70-inch plasma right there. I think, for us, and the way that we design any of our buildings, is it’s creating an even more powerful in-venue experience. That really means the adoption of new technologies, AR experiences…That also means a really amazing social experience.
“Inherently being together is within human DNA. People like to go to a venue. They like being with 60,000 people when those moments occur. When you look at the eSports live events and the Majors, it’s incredible. It’s like the Super Bowl. People want to be together for those moments. I personally see it as a real driver actually moving forward that supports and augments the online presence.”
Mirakian explained that Major League Soccer and its clubs, in particular, realized that it didn’t need 40,000 or 50,000-seat venues. Instead, a more intimate, compact crowd of 18,000 – 25,000 could be more effective. Like with the MLS, he said that it will be important in “finding that sweet spot” in terms of size, which could range from 3,000 to 5,000 in the short-term and have the ability to expand in the future, according to Mirakian.
Potentially working with gaming publishers, like Valve, Riot Games or Activision Blizzard — who ultimately control the intellectual property rights for games such as League of Legends and Dota 2 — could be a possibility in creating specific-eSports arenas. Or even as Mirakian suggested, publishers might be able to have their own dedicated venues.
“Access to the content will be a key driver and those relationships with those publishers will be big,” Mirakian said when asked about possibly of working with gaming publishers.
“That’s really something that needs to be figured out, and it’s something that is in the formative stage now. The other thing that I think may ultimately occur, though, is publishers that will invest in their own buildings, their own arenas, where they can completely dictate the content and build it around the platform of their brands. That’s a path as well. Right now, it’s something that needs to be determined.”