The epports industry is a $900 million market, according Newzoo’s “2018 Global eSports Market Report.” With some 350-plus million viewers, esports events are taking off — and with them, the need for arenas and hosting spaces.
Could esports and gaming tournaments be an opportunity for church facilities to engage with the community and even generate revenue?
Todd Carlson, president of Palatine, Ill.-based Carlson Architecture has been designing youth ministry spaces for many years. While video game integration in youth spaces was a hot trend ten years ago, it’s a small aspect of what Carlson sees youth programs offering from a ministry perspective today.” Instead, his firm is seeing more interest in “analog” youth spaces — sans technology. “We’re seeing more foosball, ping-pong, more ‘hangout’ type spaces,” notes Carlson.
David Ellis, however, sees a different landscape and opportunity with the advent of esports. Ellis, founder of Tacoma-based Ellis Pro Media and, more recently, Continuant eSports, sees larger church campuses as ripe for the world of event hosting for esports.
“I’ve been saying for a year now, maybe two years, that the technology we use to make esports arenas is the same technology we install in many of our larger church venues. With just a little bit extra, a church with a suitable space could position themselves to be a community esports arena just by adding gaming pods, adding graphics capabilities, more camera shots, and use of their existing visual and audio systems,” Ellis says and adds, “any church that has some sort of broadcast capabilities or image magnification would be a candidate.”
Rev. Dr. Chris Benek is a self-ascribed “techno-theologian.” As pastor and CEO of CoCreators, a nonprofit supporting technological advancement within the church, Benek has long espoused entrepreneurial opportunities that the tech sector can provide the church.”
He sees esports as a plausible new market for church revenue and community engagement. “There are many churches that sit unused six days a week around the country,” he says, “and those would be great spaces to set up esports arenas,” adding, “The place I work now seats 700.”
Whether or not churches embrace esports will depend greatly on perspectives regarding the games’ content.
Some, such as NCU and Satellite Gaming, may see the games as a chance for relationship building and spreading the word about God.
Others may find some games at odds with their values.
What’s in an eSports Buildout?
When Eugene, Ore.-based Northwest Christian University (NCU) decided to add an eSports program to its athletics department to foster enrollment, it knew there would be an investment. Originally, Sarah Freeman, the school’s associate athletic director, reached out to David Ellis of Tacoma-based Continuant eSports.
Ellis’ initial project summary reached a grand total of $477,618, with audio and video equipment, lighting, intercom, and more.
“They were a few stages beyond what we were financially and practically able to do at the time,” Harris says. “David Ellis is amazingly knowledgeable and worked with Harrisburg University and several national and international esports arenas. When we’re ready to fully produce our events I’m sure we’ll go back to him.”
Instead, NCU took a budget-minded approach to outfitting its new eSports team.
“The hardest thing in any campus is space,” Freeman says. “The room we’re in wasn’t my first choice.” Nevertheless, contractors and a team of staff volunteers came together to complete the space, building walls, painting, and adding carpet. Air conditioning was added as well.
“We put in our gaming tables and computers and gaming chairs, IT cables. We bought some other consoles,” Freeman says. “We created a viewing room with theater-style seating and an 80-inch screen on the wall.”
Campus IT professionals led volunteers in a “computer-building party,” assembling 20 gaming stations with new equipment.
“We probably spent close to $80,000 setting up our room and getting equipment to where we wanted,” Freeman says. “We have a facility we’re very proud of that allowed us to launch our program.”