For eSports fans, there’s nothing like watching your gaming heroes battling it out in a packed arena. As great as Twitch has been for eSports, watching alongside thousands of likeminded fans, cheering a skillful shot in Call of Duty has to beat sitting in front of a laptop. This weekend, CoD fans will arrive in London to watch the 2015 Call of Duty European Regional Championship at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.
The event is hosted by Gfinity, no stranger to holding events in grand venues. G2 was hosted in nearby London Film Museum, while G3 took place at The Olympic Park’s Copper Box, but the centrepiece of London’s famous piazza surely offers one of the grandest venues to date for an eSports tournament. Here are some of the biggest and best arenas that have hosted eSports events so far.
Copper Box Arena, London - Gfinity 3 (4,000 fans)
From the Velodrome to the Aquatic Centre and the Olympic Stadium itself, many amazing venues were built for London 2012, but those who went to see the handball would tell you that the atmosphere in the Copper Box couldn’t be beaten. Gfinity recognized that it was perfect for eSports, as fans could move around each stand to watch one of four eSports – Counter Strike, Starcraft 2, FIFA and Call of Duty. It was also the biggest venue to date for Gfinity, having previously hosted smaller and exclusive tournaments with limited ticket availability. And with many of the best eSports teams in the world competing, the crowd was treated to a variety of premier eSports players battling for $130,000 in cash prizes.
KeyArena, Seattle – Dota 2 The International 2014 (10,000 fans)
With almost $11 million at stake for the world’s finest Dota 2 teams, Valve needed a venue worthy of hosting an event with the biggest prize pool in eSports history. In fact, with the 10,000 tickets selling out within an hour, many thought that the KeyArena might have been too small before the event kicked off.
Sadly, despite selling out, fans watching at home will have witnessed many vacant seats in a tournament that failed to generate the big atmosphere of Riot’s League of Legends World Championship. Many suspected that the early exit of fan favourite team Na’Vi may have contributed to the muted mood. Still, having generated an eye-watering $33m following their successful Compendium campaign, Valve wouldn’t have been too disappointed.
Staples Centre, LA - League of Legends 2013 World Finals (12,000 fans)
It took less than an hour for all 12,000 tickets to sell-out for the League of Legends Season 3 World Championship finals. The previous year, the final was held at LA’s Galen Centre, and while The Staples Centre may have only offered an extra 2,000 seats, the prestige of competing at the home of the LA Lakers propelled League of Legends into the big league of spectator entertainment. Players competed for over $2m in an arena steeped in sporting history, and a peak of 8.5 million concurrent viewers (and 32 million overall) made the superstars of LoL worthy, if temporary, tenants.
Wembley Arena, London - European LCS Week 5 (12,500 fans)
Less than a year since the climax of Season 3, Riot hosted a mid-season event of the same scale in London’s second largest indoor arena. While the UK struggles to field an LCS-worthy side (although a handful of Brits made an impact in international teams), LCS Wembley Arena would at least satisfy a community desperate to see top-flight talent on home soil.
Commerzbank Arena, Frankfurt – ESL One Dota 2 (12,500 fans)
Preceding The International 2014, ESL hosted an 8-team $150,000 tournament at the 52,000 capacity Commerzbank Arena, a 2006 World Cup venue.
Now, eSports tournaments in the UK have been held at Coventry City’s Ricoh Arena and Leicester Tigers’ Welford Road stadium, but the battles often take place in conference rooms. Here, over 12,000 spectators swarmed the pitch to enjoy a part-dress rehearsal for the world finals taking place just a month later.
Invictus Gaming took the lion’s share of the prize at the expense of Evil Geniuses, but EG regrouped to a third-place finish at The International, while Invictus struggled to emulate their ESL One run at the most important tournament of all, slipping to a 7th to 8th placement.
San Jose SAP Centre - ESL Intel Extreme Masters (12,500 fans)
Affectionately known as the Shark Tank by local fans of NHL team San Jose Sharks, the SAP Centre brought League of Legends and Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm players together in a series of competitions under the banner of ESL Intel Extreme Masters. 12,500 fans flocked to the venue over two days and over four million tuned in from their homes, marking ESL’s biggest US eSports event to date.
Sang-am World Cup Stadium, Seoul - League of Legends 2014 World Finals (45,000 fans)
Seoul’s second largest arena once hosted the 2002 FIFA World Cup, and last year accommodated the world’s most popular eSport. Dustin Beck of Riot Games confidently predicted a sell out and, indeed, fans did not hesitate to snap up all 45,000 tickets for the most significant event of the year. One wonders just how large a live audience League of Legends could attract, and whether Riot will attempt to move to an even bigger venue in 2015.
Although the overall online viewership fell from 32 to 27 million, concurrent viewership rose from 8.5 to 11 million, representing another eSports record achieved by Riot and one that only League of Legends look set to break any time soon.