By Zane Bhansali
Comcast Spectacor and The Cordish Companies announced plans on Monday for a $50 million esports and entertainment venue to be built from the ground up in the Philadelphia Sports Complex. The new venue, to be called "Fusion Arena," will seat up to 3,500 guests, making it the largest new-construction purpose-built esports arena in the Western Hemisphere.
The arena's name is derived from the Philadelphia Fusion esports franchise owned by Spectacor, which currently competes as one of the 20 international teams in Activision-Blizzard's Overwatch League. Overwatch League launched its city-based franchise in 2017 with the promise that by 2020, teams would travel between home cities for matches. League commissioner Nate Nanzer recently confirmed during an ESPN Esports panel at South by Southwest that this plan would come to fruition next year. The announcement of Fusion Arena is one of the first tangible steps toward that reality, and toward a potential esports landscape that mobilizes regional allegiances for fan engagement.
In an interview with Cheddar Sports' Jimmy Mondal, Spectacor Gaming and Philadelphia Fusion President Tucker Roberts emphasized the strength of connecting to a regional identity. "This is going to be, I hope, one of those venues that in fifty years when they blow it up, people want the seats because they had such great memories there watching the Fusion and other esports teams play," he said. "That's the power of having a home when you're a team. It's somewhere where the fans can really latch on and feel like they're at home too.
"It's a really big occasion for us and the city of Philadelphia," he added.
For local Philadelphians, the journey to Fusion Arena will be a familiar one. Its placement in the Philadelphia Sports Complex puts it directly next to Lincoln Financial Field, Citizens Bank Park, and the Spectacor-owned Wells Fargo Center, the homes of the Eagles, the Phillies, the 76ers, and the Flyers (also owned by Comcast Spectacor). "I think it's a great step for us as far as legitimacy goes, for esports being there with all the other traditional sports is great," Roberts told Cheddar Esports.
In addition, the Sports Complex has already proven itself an attractive location for potential esports viewership. Roberts said the Fusion's watch parties for the Overwatch League playoffs last year at Xfinity Live!, the entertainment complex also housed in the Sports Complex, made it clear that South Philadelphia was the most convenient location for Philadelphians. "I think the location's great," Roberts commented. "People are used to going to see a Flyers game down there and now you can go and see a Fusion game there as well."
The arena itself will be a striking addition to the sports complex. Promotional video for the arena showcases an eye-catching geometric design skinned in brushed gunmetal black and neon orange, the Philadelphia Fusion's signature combo. Plans for the interior reveal a layout catered to esports ー the entryway will feature a 2,000 square foot LED screen 30 feet in the air showcasing interactive media, and the bowl itself, splashed in the same orange light, is an apparent hybrid of packed concert arena and traditional baseball diamond. The arena's list of promised features also point to a desire to merge gaming and traditional sports audiences. They include club seats with USB ports and exclusive suites like those one would find at an Eagles game.
"It's supposed to be sort of jaw-dropping," Roberts said. "It's supposed to be like the most hype EDM concert you've ever been to, but you're watching Carpe pop off," he quipped, referring to the Fusion's star DPS player Jae-hyeok "Carpe" Lee.
"We were trying to find something that would fit in with the aesthetic of the sports complex but definitely be unique to the gaming scene," said Spectacor Gaming and Philadelphia Fusion CBO Joe Marsh.
That design comes attached to a lofty pedigree ー Fusion Arena is designed by Populous, the architecture firm which has previously designed arenas such as the new Yankee Stadium, the San Francisco Giants' Oracle Park, and the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games venue.
"You walk into the inner bowl and it just kind of has that arena feel with the large LED screen on the wall," Marsh said of the venue's design. "Having the traditional seating elements inside an arena, with premium options as well as general seats ー that was kind of a big deal. We designed the space to feel gritty... we really wanted it to feel like what our fans would want and not just feel like a spaceship. Even the training space ー it took a lot of time to design the team training space."
That training space ー nearly 10,000 square feet ー is perhaps the most exciting amenity included in the plans. While the Fusion currently live and practice in a massive Los Angeles manor with its own practice space, personal chef, and pool, Roberts is confident that this training space will be of a heretofore unseen caliber. The arena isn't just intended to be an event space ー it's also meant to be a home for the team that will accelerate their play to a new level.
"It's going to be up there with what you'd expect from a professional athlete in traditional sports to receive. On top of that, it's not just sweet space and computers. It's streaming rooms, it's VOD review rooms, it's food and beverage... it's going to take away all of the other issues that you would have to worry about so that you can just focus on the game and focus on teamwork and getting better," Roberts told Cheddar Esports.
"This is going to be, I think, the best training facility for esports in the world bar none."
Construction on Fusion Arena is planned to start this summer.