The UK is getting its own dedicated eSports venue (well, for a while) from March thanks to a partnership between Gfinity and Vue - you know, the cinema people.
The venue, named the Gfinity Arena, will actually be a dedicated section of Vue's Fulham Broadway multiplex capable of holding 600 people. It's expected to host 25 events over the course of its lifespan. Some of those will be part of the Gfinity Championships (their own eSports tournament featuring StarCraft 2, Call of Duty, CS:GO, Hearthstone and FIFA 15) but there's also the potential for other events. As a spokesperson told me via email:
"The Gfinity Championships will focus on this elite level, however, we will also be staging open events, so that UK amateur teams can experience playing in the arena."
Reading through the information it looks like both sides are testing the water, trying to work out how viable a more long-term eSports space is, or perhaps multiple spaces across the country.
I asked about whether the cinema functionality was intended to be used beyond hosting events - there are eSports movies and documentaries which might benefit from being shown in an auditorium. The response was:
"Absolutely, we are in discussions with Vue as to how we can best use the space to really establish as the home of eSports outside of event times. There aren't any such broadcasts I can definitively confirm yet however."
The other thing I wanted to know was about the capacity. Gfinity have been keen to point out that the G3 event they hosted in London last year (Call of Duty, StarCraft 2, FIFA and GS:GO) got 4,000 attendees. The weekly events will each focus on a different game but with a 600-capacity venue and an extra game in the mix what would that mean for the Finals?
According to the company, "We will still look to do a series ending event at the end of September, where all the games take place across a single weekend. The venue for this is still to be confirmed."
It sounds like they're looking at a bigger venue for the finals so the dedicated eSports space is more to see whether the interest is there for the parts of eSports that are less spectacular than a mega final but still part of a progression and a competition. I wonder what effect having the arena be part of a larger space which is dedicated to more mainstream entertainment will have. It would be cool for people to just see eSports as another option for a thing to watch and be intrigued by, although you'd need a way of making what's onscreen intelligible once you'd sparked any curiosity.
ESL also recently announced the details of their eSports event at London MCM Comic Con - a CS:GO and League of Legends event held over two days and with a total prize pool of £12,000. That event falls under the spectacular final heading but is interesting for a different reason for this country's pro scene. That's because the tournament is only open to UK teams so it'll be a chance to see the top national level of competition rather than the usual suspects from across the globe.
It feels like both events, plus Riot bringing League of Legends' LCS to the UK for a weekend last year are part of a growing interest in eSports and a sense that it's commercially viable to hold those things on a bigger scale in the UK. The arena in particular will be an interesting one to keep an eye on, both for how well attended the events are and for how it integrates into the broader entertainment setting.