Nearly $400,000 has been invested in the first esports gaming center in Northwest Arkansas. The Grid Esports is set to open in Fayetteville in late September.
GMS Esports Enterprises, a division of GMS Group Inc., is the developer. Dan Allen owns the Fayetteville-based entertainment marketing firm.
The 6,500-square-foot center at 4155 N. Steele Blvd., Suite 3, will include 36 custom-built gaming PCs, 13 video game consoles, gaming desks and chairs, and high-speed internet. It will have the only tournament stage within a six-state area “where teams and solo gamers will compete against locals and others around the country for cash and prizes,” said Erin Ternes, GMS project manager.
Other amenities include 13 flat-screen TVs, a 120-inch projector screen, a streaming/podcast studio, two party rooms and a concession area. Rates will be an average of about $5 per hour.
“The owners have been researching this rapidly growing industry since late 2018 and have visited over 12 esports centers in five states to offer the best experience possible to the large gamer community here,” Ternes said.
The owner’s attachment to Fayetteville and the area esports interest led him to establish the center here, she said. Most Northwest Arkansas high schools and the University of Arkansas have esports teams.
“It’s essentially competitive video gaming,” she said. “Esports is taking that hobby and activity and recognizing that … it’s a sport.”
Participants put it on the same level as football or basketball and other sports and treat esports athletes as athletes who receive sponsorships and money, she explained.
In 2019, the esports industry exceeded $1.5 billion, she said. In the United States, about 30 million people watch an esports event at least monthly. Globally, there are 450 million viewers.
Business and corporate sponsorships have contributed to its popularity. Players pay to enter esports tournaments and want to win cash prizes.
“David Beckham owns [an] esports team,” Ternes said. “And quite a few celebrities and athletes are getting in on this as well.”
A group has created a platform for esports at Division I colleges that looks like football and basketball and other established athletics, she noted.
Taco Bell is The Grid title sponsor. The Grid also looks to become a training and testing facility for student gamers who want to apply for scholarships. Nearly 200 U.S. colleges offer scholarships in esports.
“Many people don’t realize how lucrative competing in esports is becoming,” Ternes added. “Top professionals are routinely earning millions [of dollars] in prizes and sponsorships.”
The Grid will have 10-12 full- and part-time employees.