Esports is an opportunity for destinations to build engaged communities that collectively shape a future that is resilient, integrated, and meaningful for those destinations and those who live there.
Thousands of fans descended on Mexico City, New York, Atlanta, and San Francisco in 2022 to experience the highs of in-person esports competition at the Riot Games “League of Legends World Championship,” also known as “Worlds.” The global championship showcased how esports will drive the future of tourism in 2023 and beyond.
Tickets for each stage of the tournament were sold out in seconds — an impressive feat considering Atlanta's State Farm Arena has a capacity of 21,000 and the Chase Center in San Francisco can hold more than 18,000.
“Worlds,” while one of the most notable gaming competitions ever, is only one of the thousands of esports events that happen all over the globe – from a 10,000-seat arena in Katowice, Poland, to a humble shopping center in Chantilly, Virginia. Events of all sizes currently play — and will play in the future — an enormous role in bringing scores of people into cities all over the world.
Events like “Worlds” are just the tip of a massive iceberg that is esports tourism. Every city can cultivate a culture of esports and gaming in their community in some shape and size. That culture can help turn a city into a hub of gaming, esports, and tech for generations to come.
“Super Smash Con,” a Super Smash Bros. tournament and festival hosted at the Dulles Expo Center in Chantilly, Virginia, barely brought in 1,000 entrants when it began in 2015. Now it brings in more than four times that number with more people attending to watch and experience the atmosphere every year. This is a great example of destinations that can support esports event producers so they grow their events from local to regional and from regional to national.
More than 100,000 viewers tuned in to the livestream broadcast to watch the action unfold in Virginia in 2022, turning a local tournament into an opportunity for that destination to be recognized nationally and globally. That’s free visibility and recognition that does not require a media budget. Chantilly is widely discussed as a “must-go/see” destination for Super Smash Bros. fans and players every August.
Success Starts Locally
The majority of esports success stories like this one start at the local level. Achieving something similar — and reaping the benefits for years to come — requires a comprehensive plan that seeks out and supports the communities that already exist in the destination’s market. That community can include anyone from local tournament organizers and video game developers and publishers to influencers and streamers who live locally but garner a global fanbase.
“Quality of Place is one of the eight priorities within our 10-year Destination Strategic Plan,” said Visit Raleigh Executive Vice President and Esports Committee Tri-Chair Loren Gold. “It is defined as the experiences created for residents and visitors to the community through economic momentum, public investment, private investment, academic investment, and the benefits of having a globally recognized gaming and esports industry in our backyard. The biggest leverage we have is when we can leverage our passionate local community playing, watching, and making video games all here in our area.”
The Waterloo Region in Ontario, Canada, is a prime example of public support for gaming and esports at work. Three local schools, the University of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University, and Conestoga College, all boast their esports programs. The combination of those institutions and Odyssey Interactive — a game studio created by former Riot Games talent — has set the stage for Waterloo Region to become a Canadian hotspot for all things gaming.
"We're not going to be the ultimate authority of esports, we're looking to be a facilitator," said Waterloo Esports Commission co-chair Jeremy Dueck. "We know we already have all these pieces in our local community, it's about how we bring them together now."
It's clear that the region already has a burgeoning esports scene as its schools boast a wide variety of teams and players. The University of Waterloo has Overwatch, Rocket League, Valorant, and League of Legends teams ready to compete on the big stage. Esports is in the region's DNA — it just needs a strategy and platform to be showcased.
The Waterloo Region Esports Commission (WREC.gg) plans to position its region as a premiere esports locale of Canada, rivaling major regions like Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. The Commission's plan includes a pipeline of regular events that will spread awareness of how esports can be a major economic driver for the region through entertainment, workforce development, and community engagement.
Waterloo Region Esports Commission Services on Explore Waterloo Region's website
Continuity is Key
Even if an event only brings in a few hundred people at first, growth can easily occur if the support and activities are consistent. Making sure the event has a presence online, including elements like a curated Twitch livestream, a social media strategy, local media presence, and an online event landing page or listing, is essential.
Every weekly event, Twitch stream, and dollar of support builds toward increasing the quality of place in a destination like Chantilly or a region like Waterloo. The opportunity to build the next great esports tourism destination is waiting to be claimed. Many will be built in the coming few years. Major events may bring footsteps and eyeballs to a destination for a few days, but a healthy and sustainable esports ecosystem strategy will bring passionate visitors to a destination several times a month or year.
If you want the full story about how the Waterloo Region Sport Hosting Office took on bringing the world of competitive, organized video gaming to the region — following in the footsteps of the Greater Raleigh Convention & Visitors Bureau — check out this episode of the Future of Tourism podcast.
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