Behind the scenes: Gfinity’s eSports arena and ESL’s new studio

eSports event organiser ESL opened a brand new UK studio in Leicester back in March to support homegrown talent and give partners something fresh and exciting to sink their teeth into.

This isn’t a regular stage with a few seats. It’s clear ESL has invested heavily in the new Studio 1 facility – some £700,000 to £800,000 we’re told.

The 10m x 3m modular LED video wall behind the stage, which displays the action for spectators watching live, is worth around £141,000 by itself.

Blue lighting adorns the walls and the dimly-lit area conjures an atmosphere fit for any eSports spectacle.

While there’s room for around 100 paying spectators, ESL has clearly taken great care to ensure that online viewers watching the action live via Twitch are also getting a top-class experience.

The studio boasts analyst and caster (aka commentator) desks, as well as a seating area at the front of the stage and a bar and production room upstairs. The latter has room for up to 30 camera feeds, all running in 4K.

ESL UK MD Spike Laurie told partners he wants them to think of the studio as a ‘blank canvass’, with PC vendors and retailers able to get behind tournaments at the venue, through sponsorship and other partnerships.

The studio has already hosted its first events in the Formula E Forza 6 racing game tournament – aired on BT Sport – plus Guild Wars and League of Legends tournaments.

ESL UK’s James Dean said that the studio is ‘all about fostering growing homegrown talent’.

But ESL isn’t the only one trying to grow eSports in the UK. Last year, rival firm Gfinity transformed part of the Vue Fulham Broadway cinema into the Gfinity Arena – the UK’s first eSports arena.

This can hold 600 spectators, and has run several sold-out events over the past year, including Halo tournaments and the Vainglory European Winter Championships – a pro competition for a game played on tablets and smartphones.

What’s great about this space is it feels like a night out – it is literally a cinema that only plays video game matches.

Gfinity’s head of partner relations Martin Wyatt told PCR: “It’s been a brilliant first year – we’re celebrating our first birthday in terms of being in this physical space.

“So a year ago we partnered with Vue to offer the eSports community somewhere regular to go to access high quality eSports competitions, as well as meet the players and have a live event experience.

“We’ve run 34 events out of the Arena and they’ve been broadcast to just over 60 million people over the past year.

“We’ve been selling the place out depending on the games and we’re investing in other games. As far as year one goes, it’s been phenomenally successful.”

On whether PC companies should be taking note of the growing eSports scene, Wyatt said: “eSports should definitely be on people’s radar from an industry perspective.

“What eSports brings is a unique communication channel, a unique engagement channel, and people can get involved with us by attaching to the suite of events we run. We can build bespoke events for partners if they want a particular marketing drive.

“UK eSports is a sleeping giant. We have an untapped pool of talent that, given the right infrastructure and platform, can go on to compete with the very best in the world.

“I’m not convinced we’re as far behind other countries than everyone thinks. You’ll see more UK-based investment from Gfinity for the communities here going forwards.”

With other UK eSports events like Multiplay Insomnia, DreamHack London and MCM Expo, as well as Intel Extreme Masters thinking of hosting a UK-based event in the coming years, the future is bright for eSports.

The UK Government has recently outlined support for an Olympic Games-style eGames tournament set to take place at the Rio Olympics this year.

If successful, this could also offer PC companies some valuable opportunities indeed.

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