Inside world’s first purpose-built e-sports stadium, in China – Hong Kong architect Barrie Ho explains his design

Arena in Chongqing, western China, that opened in December has curtain glass walls lined by transparent LED screens that turn the entire building into an enormous video display for those unable to get a seat inside

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 February, 2018, 6:16pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 February, 2018, 9:58am

A new stadium has risen on a bank of the Yangtze River in southwestern China’s Chongqing municipality, but inside you won’t find basketball players, footballers or swimmers. Instead? Video gamers.

This is the world’s first purpose-built e-sports stadium – and it was designed by Hong Kong architect Barrie Ho.

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“The number of people watching e-sports online is higher than the number watching the NBA,” says Ho, whose firm designed Chongqing’s Zhongxian E-Sports Stadium, phase one of which was completed at the end of last year. “Everybody thinks e-sports is about two people playing a game online. It’s not like that. It’s like a carnival.”

It’s even more than that: it’s a phenomenon. Market tracking company Newzoo projects that 427 million people will be watching competitive video gaming next year. Last year’s most-watched e-sports event, the Intel Extreme Masters in Katowice, Poland, drew 46 million viewers. E-sports are even being considered for inclusion in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Stadiums around the world are already being used for massive e-sport events. In 2014, more than 45,000 fans crowded into Seoul’s World Cup Stadium to watch the League of Legends World Championship. Last summer, each of the nearly 20,000 seats in Toronto’s Air Canada Centre were sold out for three days of competitions.

Video game company Blizzard Entertainment has already opened dedicated e-sports halls in Taipei and Los Angeles. But the 60,000-square-foot Zhongxian stadium, which is slated to be fully completed by the middle of this year, is the first fully fledged stadium dedicated entirely to professional video gaming.

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Two wing-shaped halls extend out from an arena with the capacity to seat 7,000 people. Ho says the wings are based on an inverse yin-yang symbol. “I wanted a design that reflects the energy of these events,” he says.

The design also serves a more utilitarian purpose. Because of the festival atmosphere of e-sports events, the stadium needed lots of flexible space for fans to gather. Along with an outdoor plaza, the wings can accommodate an additional 13,000 people on top of those seated in the arena.

The number of people watching e-sports online is higher than the number watching the NBA
Barrie Ho, architect

Even those standing outside won’t miss a thing. The stadium’s curtain glass walls are lined by transparent LED screens that turn the entire building into an enormous video display. “The whole facade is really a screen,” says Rex Cheuk, one of the project’s architects.

It’s those screens that separate an e-sports stadium from a traditional one. While the Jumbotron might be a fixture at many sports arena, it is essentially a vehicle for secondary information such as scores and times. In an e-sports stadium, there is nothing to watch but the screen; athletes are sat in their chairs, virtually motionless. Zhongxian’s arena is centred around huge screens hanging above the centre of the space.

Construction of the stadium was almost as fast as the gameplay it will host. Designed just over a year ago, construction started in May and the venue’s first event took place in December. Workers will now move on to the project’s second phase, which includes a 64,000 sq ft luxury hotel tower and an 80,000 sq ft incubation centre.

China’s 600 million gamers account for about a quarter of the world’s US$101 billion video game market. Ho says the incubation centre will serve as a breeding ground for new industry talent.

Expect the rest of the world to soon catch up, however. Last year, designer Brian Mirakian, an expert in immersive fan experiences, said that new stadiums will almost certainly be designed with e-sports in mind.

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“We see this as an incredible opportunity emerging,” he told real estate blog Curbed. “There’s an incredibly passionate online community, but there’s an amazing passion for fans to be together.”