Take Two®

News and culture through the lens of Southern California. Hosted by A Martínez

A new arena brings video games and other e-sports to a bigger stage

by A Martínez and Lori Galarreta | Take Two®

Crews prep the main stage for this weekend's Overwatch contender playoffs at the new Blizzard Arena in Burbank. Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Overwatch. The multiplayer video game has sparked an e-sports phenomenon of players competing live in front of an audience.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UXCNNDHboho

When it was first released in 2016, the game brought in more than $269 million in digital sales. As of April 2017, it had around 30 million players, according to its developer, Blizzard Entertainment.

Adam Rose is senior business operations manager for Blizzard. He explained how Overwatch works:

"Overwatch is a game where you have two teams of six players who each pick a hero with special abilities. They're playing against each other head to head. And it's all about strategy and communication and coordinating how to work together to outsmart and outplay the other team."

Overwatch is one of many video games that is so popular it has a professional league that globally broadcasts competitions.

That's what brought Take Two's A Martinez to the Blizzard Arena in downtown Burbank. It's the developer's first permanent e-sports stadium.

The main entryway and lobby at Blizzard Arena has a merchandise story for fans. The store has a rotating selection of gear and goods based on the event taking place at the time.
The main entryway and lobby at Blizzard Arena has a merchandise story for fans. The store has a rotating selection of gear and goods based on the event taking place at the time. Maya Sugarman/KPCC

 

While it may seem odd to have a stadium dedicated to watching other people play video games, Rosen argues it's not that different from actual sports stadiums:

"One of the most compelling parts of any kind of sporting experience is going in person, cheering alongside fans. All of the fervent passion that you see in sports, we have in e-sports."

The arena opens for business this weekend with the Overwatch Contenders Playoffs. Take Two checked it out. 

State of the art

The new Blizzard Arena is a 50,000-square-foot space that boasts three studios, two control rooms, three press rooms, two guest lounges and several other amenities. Altogether the tour took about an hour and a half. 

But the crown jewel of the arena is the live audience stage that can seat 450.

Blizzard Arena in Burbank, the first-ever permanent live e-sports arena, has 450 seats. This weekend, the arena will host its first competition – the 2017 Overwatch Wold Cup.
Blizzard Arena in Burbank, the first-ever permanent live e-sports arena, has 450 seats. This weekend, the arena will host its first competition – the 2017 Overwatch Wold Cup. Maya Sugarman/KPCC

"When you walk into this space, what you see is a large arena space where you have on one side stands with seating and on the other side, you have the stage which is an e-sports stage.

So, we don't have a field. What we have is a stage where you have players who are looking at each other playing games on the same stage ..."

When Take Two visited earlier in the week, the stage was set up for the Overwatch Contender Playoffs.

Two long tables with six computer stations are laid out on the main stage ahead of the Overwatch World Cup on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017 at Blizzard Arena in Burbank.
Two long tables with six computer stations are laid out on the main stage ahead of the Overwatch World Cup on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017 at Blizzard Arena in Burbank. Maya Sugarman/KPCC

"With the Overwatch stage, what you see is two sides. You have six players on each side of the stage and each of them during the game play will actually be inside the game playing on their on a computer against everybody else and that might not be interesting to look at you think. But there's more.

On the other side of the arena, we actually have an analysis desk. So, just like with sports how you have commentators talking about the action, keeping players up to date, giving insight that might not be very well known, we have the same thing.

The analyst and the commentators play a really big role in making the competition exciting and showing how the game play progresses."

Rosen described the set up of the stage as a mix between a sporting event and rock concert.

"There's lighting everywhere. There's rigging everywhere. The stage is automated," Rosen said. "It changes color based on what happens in the game...."

Some rich history

Before it became Blizzard's first permanent e-sports arena, it was home to The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Johnny Carson before him.

Blizzard Arena in Burbank is the first-ever permanent live e-sports arena. It opens to the public this weekend for the 2017 Overwatch World Cup.
Blizzard Arena in Burbank is the first-ever permanent live e-sports arena. It opens to the public this weekend for the 2017 Overwatch World Cup. Maya Sugarman/KPCC

"With that, there's a lot of entertainment breakthroughs that happened here in this very facility and we're excited to be at the forefront of the next generation of entertainment breakthroughs."

Once they acquired the building, Blizzard had to do a major overhaul to modernize it. The company turned the space around in just four months.

"We've gone to really great extents to build this facility in a way where it can accommodate even our most complex games and then, as we look towards the future, what we're thinking about is...what are the other things that we can do to update and create new awesome features in this facility."

E-sports stadiums for the future

"One of the things that we believe in as Blizzard is creating these really monumental experiences for our fans, all around the world. We believe that wherever fans exist they should be able to take part in really compelling and really exciting e-sports competitions.

So, for us, Blizzard Arena here in Los Angeles is a really great step in that direction and I think that as we look forward, we'll definitely continue to think about how do we bring the fan experience to our fans everywhere."

Crews prep for the first tournament at Blizzard Arena in Burbank on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017. Monitors above the stage will display live statistics.
Crews prep for the first tournament at Blizzard Arena in Burbank on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017. Monitors above the stage will display live statistics. Maya Sugarman/KPCC

The grand opening of the Blizzard Arena is Saturday, Oct. 7.  It will host the Overwatch Contenders Playoffs. For more information, click here.

To hear more from the sneak peek tour, click the blue play button above.

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