An alternative entertainment and tourism venue is in the works in the Lowcountry that would seek to attract competitors and fans of a fast-growing online business: competitive video gaming.
“Esports is big business,” said Mark Schuster, who leads the project, in a recent presentation to the Mount Pleasant City Council Economic Development Committee.
Gamers pay to watch other gamers play competitive video games for the same reasons fans of sports like football or baseball flock to these stadiums, he said.
Esports is “a professional or semi-professional game in an organized format,” according to Newzoo, a company that tracks data on the gaming industry. The pandemic has canceled many in-person esports events, but the sport has grown globally as the increase in time spent at home has accelerated the adoption of live streaming. Live streaming audiences grew 12% in 2020 and are expected to grow another 10% this year, Newzoo found.
Schuster, who was behind the development of Joseph P. Riley Jr. Park and was the first general manager of the Charleston RiverDogs minor league baseball team, said he had had conversations with communities in other parts of the country on the establishment of esports. targeted multipurpose places.
“So while I’m talking to these other cities across the country I’m like, ‘If I’m going to build them, why not build one in my own backyard?’” Said Schuster, who lives in Mount Pleasant. The original RiverDogs land was his last project in the area prior to this new venture.
Because Charleston “is a destination,” Schuster said he sees the region’s potential to become a “major league” esports market.
Just like any other sport, Schuster said he expects a similar infrastructure to emerge for esports, with cities like Las Vegas being mega-markets with the biggest venues and then markets. “major league” and “minor league” below.
Over the past year, Schuster’s idea has focused on one specific location: part of the Carolina Park development off Faison Road in Mount Pleasant.
The venue would have a 1,600-seat auditorium with theatrical lighting and an “immersive” sound system where spectators would pay to watch players compete in multiplayer competitions. According to the plans, there would also be a convention hall, retail and catering areas, a private event space and a place where aspiring professional esports players can work on their skills, according to the plans.
Other amenities could be added around, such as a hotel, restaurants, and recreation areas – things families would be looking for if they were in town for a tournament.
“Esports will be the kind of anchor tenant on the ground,” Schuster said.
But, said Schuster, the auditorium format would also lend itself well to non-sporting events, like concerts and conventions.
Another proposed part of the plans – a content production studio where things like commercials and other content could be shot – was the suggestion of city council member Kathy Landing running for mayor.
The building would be “about the size of a grocery store,” large enough to house three studios, Landing said. It could also house offices for post-production work.
The area’s tourism marketing group, Explore Charleston, received plans for the project earlier this year, Landing said.
“It was received with a lot of enthusiasm,” said Landing.
It would cost around $ 50 million to remove the esports site, including acquiring the land for around $ 9 million, Schuster said.
Other potential elements of the project, such as the production facility, hotel and other sites, would require more capital.
Schuster said he has a letter of intent for the Carolina Park property and hopes to have the full plan in place for the venue, including where the capital is from, by the end of the year.