College-level gamers in the Chicago area could have a new spot for its esports competitions as a new $30 million esports venue, Surge, hopes to break ground in the summer.
The planned 106,000-square-foot arena would hold up to 800 spectators to watch up to 80 players compete at once. The space would be used for professional, high school and college-level gamers.
Scott Greenberg, president of ECD Company, plans to create the arena so it provides an IMAX type of experience for the spectators.
“It’s what I call a ‘spectator worth sport experience,’ with up to 800 people watching, eating and drinking at a live esports event where our screen size is 95 feet wide and 35 feet tall,” he said.
Unlike a lot of esports arenas, Surge plans to partner with virtual reality company MassVR to host events in its two-story arena. The facility will also have three large kitchens.
Courtney James, supervisor of the esports program at DePaul University, said Surge has the potential to elevate Chicago as a hub for competitive gaming in the future.
“The arena trickles down to good effects for students,” James said. “It gives them a place that they can potentially compete. It’ll give them the opportunity to be exposed to professional teams or other people who might be traveling to Chicago to participate in this, and it also gives them the chance to connect with professionals in this industry.”
James said the arena gives students more options to see what is available for them for a potential career after college.
Esports has been on the rise for many years, but collegiate esports in the varsity space has grown rapidly. More than 170 colleges and universities in the country have esports programs, and more than $16 million a year is awarded in esports scholarships, according to the National Association of Collegiate Esports.
Greenberg said the arena can serve as a platform for younger gamers to accelerate their careers.
“Young people could have a platform where they can start building their own careers and earning substantial money whether their influences are gamers or producers or technical people,” he said. “This is going to affect thousands of people’s lives.”
A.J. Taylor, president of Illini Esports at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said he’s not sure what the venue’s overall impact will have for college players.
“It’s wonderful to be able to open up the education to allow people to transcend into wherever they want to go for a career path, at the same time, the majority of people that are in esports right now have had no esports centered education,” he said.
Taylor said oftentimes there’s rumors of new esports arenas coming to the Chicago area but they always fall through, however, Surge seems to have a more substantial plan.
“I think this is a very big decision that’s being made; this is not something that you can kind of scoff at so I’m really interested to see where exactly they’re thinking of going with this,” he said.