Calling all players
North Carolina wants to become a hub for competitive multiplayer video game events – also known as esports. As such, the state’s latest budget includes millions of dollars to attract esports events. Some colleges in the state are also keen to get in on the action with custom facilities, esports teams, and new degree programs. Can NC become a destination of choice for gamers? This is the N&O special report.
The town of Cary is home to several video game publishers, including industry juggernaut Epic Games, the company behind such hits like “Fortnite” and “Rocket League”.
Epic’s games are so popular that they regularly draw thousands of players and spectators to events across the country. the Fortnite World Cup, for example, filled the Arthur Ashe tennis stadium in New York City the last time it was held in 2019.
But can Cary himself become the host to some of these growing esports events? The city hopes so. But what he needs is a place to organize the events.
Doug McRainey, director of Cary’s parks, recreation and cultural resources department, believes he might be on the verge of finally creating one.
The city is currently negotiating the construction of a city sponsored sports complex on the site of the South Hills Mall & Plaza.
If negotiations are successful, the planned $ 193 million complex could become the key to Cary’s attempts to host more esports events in the city.
The resort has been planned for years, although its future has been tossed about by Epic Games itself.
Cary had originally planned to build the arena on the Cary Towne Center property, but this idea became null and void after Epic bought the mall. Epic plans to turn the old mall into its headquarters. His dezoning file is currently being investigated by the municipal council.
“We are now in the early stages of negotiations to potentially place” the sports complex on the South Hills property, McRainey said in an interview.
The sports complex is important, he said, because it would be designed to create a 4,000-seat arena, opening up the possibility for a variety of events, including esport. “We’re definitely going to design it to make sure we could host a big esports event,” McRainey said.
Before the pandemic, the city hosted its own “Rocket League” tournament as a chance to gain experience by hosting an esports event. Over 1,000 people ended up attending and Lenovo provided laptops, McRainey said. The city plans to hold a similar event in the spring.
“We are trying to create an idea of the industry: what is working? What is wrong? What is our niche? ” he said.
Esports have become an increased priority for the Greater Raleigh Convention & Visitors Bureau, and McRainey said the Cary Complex is not intended to directly compete with upcoming events in Raleigh, but rather complement them.
He expects esports to develop sufficiently in the years to come to justify this concentration. There are already more than 2.4 billion players worldwide, according to at the Statista research firm. And esports revenue was expected to exceed $ 1 billion last year, another report from Newzoo game finder found.
“By the time our facility is built (in a few years) the tournament gaming industry will be even bigger,” said McRainey. “But the infrastructure is not necessarily there yet.
“A lot of communities are trying to catch up. Dallas has a facility, and there are a number of places that built them, ”McRainey added. “But more is needed.”
When asked if Cary could leverage his local video game giant Epic to create a thriving esports hub, McRainey said the city “would love this.” He noted that there had been discussions in the past with Epic, but nothing recently.
“We would love (…) to partner with and work with a company like Epic,” he said.
Epic declined to say whether it plans to host games locally or take advantage of a new state program that would offer incentives for major esports events.
But the company is set to return to live events after disrupting many, like its Fortnite World Cup, during the pandemic.
The company said in December it was again accept proposals for events featuring “Fortnite”.
This story was produced with financial support from a coalition of partners led by Innovate Raleigh as part of an Independent Journalism Fellowship program. The N&O retains full editorial control of the work. Learn more; go to bit.ly/newsinnover
This story was originally published January 12, 2022 6:00 a.m.