OverActive Media, the parent company to a number of esports teams in North America and Europe, yesterday revealed its plans to build a privately funded entertainment venue in Toronto, Canada. The 7,000 seater arena, which is estimated to cost $500 million and will open in 2025, will not only play host to your usual fare of stand-up comics and pop stars, but also esports events.
OverActive, which owns the Call of Duty League franchise Toronto Ultra, Overwatch League franchise Toronto Defiant, and European esports organisation MAD Lions, has got many in the industry excited. But while this arena will play host to esports events for OverActive’s teams, “premium music and entertainment bookings” will be the lifeblood of this venue, according to a press release.
So just how esports-focused is this arena actually going to be, and can it really help Canada build itself as a top esports destination that can rival the likes of Texas or California over the border?
“The bigger piece of the business here is going to be music and entertainment,” Bob Hunter, OverActive’s senior vice-president, tells The Loadout. “Esports is just a lucky recipient of getting a venue that will be able to create a great esports fan experience. On its own, esports probably wouldn’t justify the expenditure we’re looking at today. The business model must include a lot of other events.”
Hunter, who has over two decades of experience helping build entertainment venues, sports stadia, and training facilities, is realistic about the return on investment this project will get from esports alone. But that doesn’t mean it is taking a back seat; this venue will have plenty on offer to elevate OverActive’s teams, and Toronto as a leading esports destination.
“We’re going to have a content studio for content creation, and we’re planning on opening up space for amateur play on a daily basis,” Hunter says. “But it’s also going to have one of the best training centres for esports – for both our own teams and for development teams [in the area] – in North America. We want to build the best [facility] that’s out there so we can attract players and continue to develop local talent.”
In its reveal of the arena plans, OverActive also claims that the venue will provide an “unparalleled” fan experience. So, when it comes to watching the Ultra or Defiant on home turf, what can fans expect? Sadly, there’s no concrete plans just yet, but Hunter is confident that a “backbone” of technology will provide a blank canvas to create all manner of experiences.
“Those features are still in development, but [we want to work] with a Cisco or a Microsoft-type company that have specialists in this area. We’re going to ensure that the infrastructure and backbone of the building will allow for anything and everything at warp speed. It’s going to be the best you can get anywhere in an interior space. We want to make the esport fan experience exceptional [with this tech] and it will hopefully grow interest.”
— Toronto Ultra (@TorontoUltra) February 22, 2021
Hunter adds that with this premium venue he hopes to attract external esports events – not just those involving OverActive’s Toronto teams – to the city, and that it will help establish Canada as an esports heavyweight.
While we should be realistic around how this project will get its funding from the private sector – this is not a half a billion dollar investment into esports – it certainly shows promise for Toronto’s franchises.
There’s also a very real chance that if OverActive can follow through on Hunter’s claims that it will help build and develop a pool of talent in Toronto, and attract international tournaments, this venue could bring the city in line with its American counterparts as a top esports destination.