Editorial: Esports is a tourism strategy worth exploring, pursuing

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We don’t claim to know a ton about esports here at IBJ, but we know a bit about numbers, and if the financial projections about competitive video gaming are accurate, we’re thrilled Indianapolis is jumping into the game.

As IBJ reporter Mickey Shuey explains in a page 3A story this week, competitive video gaming—called esports—has emerged as a billion-dollar worldwide industry. And some of the in-person events fill arenas, according to Ryan Vaughn, president of the Indiana Sports Corp., with thousands more people watching online.

Indianapolis has taken some limited steps into the esports tourism world.

The Indiana Sports Corp. and local firm Harena Data hosted their second esports combine in October, an effort to digitally connect hundreds of potential college gamers with universities looking for players.

And now the NBA 2K League—which has video gaming teams associated with NBA teams, including the Pacers—announced this month it will hold its 2022 season this spring at the Pan Am Pavilion downtown. That will be an in-person event.

Of course, the esports events that have landed in Indianapolis aren’t equal in scale to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four or a Super Bowl. But many of them can be equivalent to the hundreds of smaller events hosted in central Indiana throughout the year.

It’s not clear yet just what kind of strategy Visit Indy or the Sports Corp. has put together to try to attract more of these types of events—especially the larger ones Vaughn referred to (bigger events can draw 10,000 to 50,000 in-person attendees). But it seems worth fleshing out.

Shuey’s story explains that more than 26 million people tuned in to watch a professional video gaming competition last year, according to a report by Inside Intelligence. And the research firm predicts nearly 30 million people will watch this year.

Meanwhile, esports revenue from media rights, ticket sales, in-game purchases, merchandising, and advertising and sponsorships is expected to top $1 billion this year.

Some cities (and many colleges) are building special facilities—even small arenas—to host esports events. South Bend turned an auditorium in a convention center into one such facility and has been hosting events since last fall.

We’re not convinced that Indianapolis should spend big money for that type of esports space at this point. But having the ability to turn an existing facility into an esports arena (as the Sports Corp. is doing with The Pavilion at Pam Am for the NBA 2K season) seems like an appealing and flexible option.

And as city and community leaders plan other big projects—the Circle Centre Mall revamp, a soccer stadium complex or the Indiana Convention Center expansion—accommodating future esports events would be a great thing to keep in mind.•


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