As the popularity of esports has risen over the past handful of years, Blizzard Entertainment has made a name for itself as more than just the company that created classic video games like Diablo and World of Warcraft. Competitive titles such as Hearthstone, Heroes of the Storm and last year’s award-winning Overwatch have all become staples in the gaming industry, and now the Irvine-based company is taking what is arguably its biggest step yet.
After years of brainstorming and planning, the 450-seat Blizzard Arena will open its doors on Oct. 7 for the finals of this Overwatch Contenders season. Although it won’t be the first esports-dedicated venue — Esports Arena in Santa Ana has been the area’s go-to option and Blizzard opened a smaller stadium in Taipei earlier this year — the new Burbank facility is based around giving the company’s devoted players and fans an experience they typically get only if they’re one of the 25,000 people who attend Blizzcon in Anaheim every year.
“What players and fans can expect when they come to Blizzard Arena is just walking into a facility that’s been designed to be able to support esports competitions and create the best-in-class experience around that,” says Adam Rosen, Blizzard’s senior business operations manager of esports. “One of the things we love to do at Blizzard is to create these monumental moments where we can communicate with players — and players can come from all over the world to interact not only with our games but with each other. Blizzard Arena gives us the opportunity to do that year-round.”
From the lobby and merchandise themed specifically to whatever event is taking place to the stadium’s Hall of Champions and trophy case, Blizzard Arena provides not only a sense of permanence to Los Angeles’ esports community but also a look back at some of its history. Sure, you’ll only be seeing official Blizzard events there — which means members of the fighting game community will still be making their weekly trek to Orange County — but having a world-class venue in the heart of an entertainment capital can only be viewed as a positive for the industry as a whole.
In addition to giving Blizzard a home base for its live events, the arena will provide a secondary focus on the lifeblood of esports: streaming. While the NFL has network TV deals, esports is a community that’s been built on broadcasting over the internet via channels like Twitch and YouTube. For that reason, Rosen says Blizzard Arena has been set up to provide the best possible experience not only for the fans inside the venue but also the ones watching through their phones, tablets, computers and consoles.
Aside from being able to permanently set up its technology (rather than having to take it down and start from scratch for each weekend’s events at various locations), Blizzard will be able to record and stream multiple broadcasts from the venue at any given time — allowing fans to watch the competitions going on in the arena itself as well as any broadcasts streaming from private studios away from the spotlight.
“Historically, we’ve had events all over the world, and we’ve also had broadcasts with our players playing onstage, but the broadcasts happened in studios and other places that aren’t open to the public,” Rosen says. “Blizzard Arena gives us a really great opportunity to create this awesome experience where we can invite our players and our fans to be a part of the events with us on a more ongoing basis.
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“One of the things that’s important to us is to make our broadcasts compelling to the fans,” Rosen adds. “We see the arena as a way to improve the quality of the narrative around our players and their stories by integrating technology to grasp their stories in a way that would be really difficult with broadcasts that were being developed all over the world and weren’t connected as well.”
As much as Blizzard Arena symbolizes the company’s investment in the future of esports, it also provides a look at the history and future of entertainment. It wasn’t too long ago that video gaming was still looked at as nothing more than a children's pastime, and it wasn’t long before that when people still weren’t sold on smartphones — or the internet, for that matter. But as the crew at Blizzard looks to push entertainment into the future with esports, the new venue happens to carry a very familiar address from one of the mediums it’s cutting into.
“[The location of] Blizzard Arena is really important to us, because it was the former home of The Tonight Show, and it held a number of breakthroughs for television and entertainment,” Rosen says. “We’re excited to usher in the next generation of entertainment through Blizzard Arena as well. For those who aren’t familiar with esports, it’s everything that you know and love about sports merged with everything you know and love about entertainment in one of the most compelling live event experiences. Esports is the future of entertainment.”
3000 W. Alameda Ave., Burbank. us.blizzard.com/en-us.