Vegas Esports Arena gives hard-core gaming a glitzy stage

The first Las Vegas venue dedicated to esports opened in Luxor Casino and Resort Thursday, giving the competitive gaming scene one of its most prominent stages yet. Esports Arena Las Vegas is 30,000 square feet dedicated both to gamers who can win multiple chicken dinners in PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) and to casual fans of video game culture. It will host esports events, which are tournaments in games like Street Fighter, Overwatch and Fortnite — often with a cash prize for the winners.

Tyler Endres, CEO and co-founder of Esports Arena, said the site’s double the size of the original Santa Ana, California, venue.

The 30,000 square-feet Esports Arena Las Vegas is the city’s first venue dedicated to competitive gaming.

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“Whether it’s a Super Smash Bros. tournament, a Street Fighter tournament, a Counter-Strike tournament, we’re able to host that on a nightly basis,” Endres said. The venue features a modular stage that can be adjusted depending on how many competitors will be facing off (in the case of the opening, I saw a five vs. five Smite battle); audience stands that can be easily removed for non-competitive events; a full production studio along with a commentary booth; and a glowy “hype tunnel” that gamers walk through just as they take the stage. And, this being Vegas, there are VIP rooms that come complete with televisions, couches and, in the case of the “Boss Level” room overlooking the arena, beer taps.

Vegas Esports Arena gives hard-core gaming a glitzy stage

Nicholas Coward (left) and Alfred Garcia battle in Tekken on the Xbox One station inside of Esports Arena.

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Esports Arena is part of the international Allied Esports venue network, and this Vegas venue is expected to be where big competitions have their final rounds.

A “chandelier” of video game controllers adorns the entranceway to the Esports Arena.

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“We wanted a championship destination,” Jud Hannigan, CEO of Allied Esports said, noting that players in tournaments will be fighting to make the big stage.

A third Oakland, California, venue set to open later this year will also make way for competitions between all three Esports Arenas. Hannigan and Endres said players who win community events at each venue may be brought together for epic showdowns, creating friendly rivalries between the Southern California, Northern California and Las Vegas locations. Gamers can also use Esports Arena to broadcast their gaming sessions to websites like Twitch, using streaming stations set up at the front of the venue that feature the casino floor in the background.

Vegas Esports Arena gives hard-core gaming a glitzy stage

The arena includes a full production studio, capable of broadcasting events both to the internet and television.

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“When you look at the production capability we want to create here, balancing traditional experts with the esports experts … that was probably the biggest challenge,” Hannigan said.

Visitors checking out the place and casual gaming fans have a lot to do here, too. There are public gaming stations all over, including a retro-themed video game museum in the entranceway featuring Atari, Super Nintendo, PlayStation, Wii and Xbox games that are free to use.

Vegas Esports Arena gives hard-core gaming a glitzy stage

The Esports Arena stage can be set up for a variety of different matches, and the audience area can be removed for planned “EMX” music nights or other events.

Mike Sorrentino/CNET

On the main floor are PC and console gaming stations that can include games like PUBG, Fortnite and Tekken, which will be playable for a £25 all-day gaming pass during operating hours. Arcade games are also placed next to the bar, for anyone looking for a quicker gaming snack.

“This is going to be a destination for hard-core gamers, but we’ve provided some ancillary experiences that really cater to the curious,” Hannigan said The arena includes a restaurant by chef and gamer Jose Andres that will feature non-greasy fare specifically aimed at gamers likely to have their hands on controllers and keyboards. Options include flatbreads, rice bowls and Maki rolls.

Vegas Esports Arena gives hard-core gaming a glitzy stage

Up to 1,500 people can pack into the Esports Arena.

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Nik Rytterstrom, president & COO of Luxor Hotel and Casino, said the resort had been watching the esports space for some time, and partnering with Esports Arena offered an opportunity.

The venue was previously the LAX Nightclub, a location that’s very easy to find after walking into the Luxor’s main entrance and comes with a prominent spot alongside the casino floor. “This is going to end up being a must-see, must go-to location if your an esports fan,” Rytterstrom said. While the nightclub the arena replaces was a more traditional feature of Vegas nightlife, he said that Luxor has so far found the demographic interested in esports is “broader than we expected” and hopes that non-gamers may appreciate it as well.

Thursday’s grand opening was invite-only, but hundreds of gamers were invited through Facebook to be among the first to try out the venue. When the arena opened in a ceremony that included a giant power cable getting connected, they all quickly walked in to get spots at gaming stations and in the stands.

Vegas Esports Arena gives hard-core gaming a glitzy stage

The Boss Level VIP area overlooks the arena and has its own beer tap.

Mike Sorrentino/CNET

Alfred Garcia, 25, quickly made a new friend in Nicholas Coward, 20, and they played Tekken at a console station soon after the arena opened. While he’s not a professional gamer, Garcia said he’d love to be able to compete on a stage like the one in Vegas.

“This is a legit professional sport now,” Garcia said when inside the venue, noting that he’s a big PUBG fan at the moment. Coward, who scored an invite through his mom, who worked on hiring for the arena, is a Fortnite fan who described the venue as “unreal.”

Vegas Esports Arena gives hard-core gaming a glitzy stage

Arcade games are next to the bar in the arena, for anyone that just wants a gaming snack.

Mike Sorrentino

“Esports is getting really big, I think it’s a good community to be a part of,” Coward said. Sylvia, 37, and her daughter Evelyn, 17, also found out about the event through Facebook.

As a family, they play World of Warcraft, Heroes of the Storm and Hearthstone over a LAN setup at home. “It’s really impressive,” Sylvia said as she and her daughter played PUBG. “We had heard about it and had been a long time coming.”

Vegas Esports Arena gives hard-core gaming a glitzy stage

The entranceway is dedicated to the history of video games, letting anyone play classic games from as far back as Atari and as modern as Xbox.

Mike Sorrentino/CNET

And members of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas esports team also checked out the venue, fresh off wins at the Mountain West Esports Showdown in both Overwatch and League of Legends. “We’re open if they want us to come and play on stage,” Alexander Skinner, 26, said.

Esports Arena’s Vegas expansion comes at a time where even more venues are popping up across the world, and prize pools are worth millions of dollars. The city of Arlington, Texas announced a plan this month to create what would be the largest esports venue in North America at 100,000 square feet, reports sports technology site SportTechie. That effort involves a 10-year lease and will reportedly cost the city along with Esports Venues, LLC £10 million toward renovating the stadium for esports.

The serious investment made into esports would hopefully pay off with an increase of tourism from visitors coming for the competitions.

Esports Arena Las Vegas in Luxor is now open to the public, and will be holding a Super Smash Bros. tournament during its first weekend.

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