In 1858, Giacomo Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots became the first show to be performed in the third (and most recent) incarnation of London’s Royal Opera House. Ostensibly the story of the massacre of Protestants (huguenots) by Catholics on St Bartholomew’s Day in 1572, it’s really a complicated romance—she’s Catholic and he’s Protestant—with plenty of death in the background. Put otherwise: it was an opera.
That, mind you, was 158 years ago. Times have changed, and just a year ago, that same Royal Opera House hosted the 2015 Call of Duty European Regional Championship. That, at first glance, is an intriguing shift. Les Huguenots had a song named “Piff Paff”; Call of Duty has … similar sound effects?
These are, I must confess, easy jokes to make. But beneath these jokes is a relatively honest question: What makes a good esport venue? As competitive gaming grows in popularity, traditional questions about gaming venues have started to crop up in this new arena.
Here, for instance, is a list of the “biggest and best” esport venues from Red Bull. Put otherwise: It is a list of stadiums for various athletic undertakings that occasionally host concerts and, in this case, the occasional esport competition. About which, fair enough: there are only so many large venues to go around. But much as London’s Olympic Stadium is imperfectly suited to its new role as a soccer stadium for West Hame (in short: the athletic track keeps fans too far away from the pitch), the 2012 velodrome is not exactly the perfect venue for competitive gaming, even though it hosted Gfinity3. Such is the curse of a multipurpose venue: If you can’t sell it out for one function every night, it’ll need to satisfy many masters.
But all of that economic analysis elides the question of what a dedicated esport stadium would actually look like? Would it just be a receptacle for as many people as possible? What sort of crowd noise is desirable? Are esport players athletes on a central playing surface or performers on a stage? All the questions about what makes a good esport stadium, in other words, are architectural ways of rephrasing more fundamental questions about the nature of the activity itself. This isn’t about buildings; it’s about an activity.
Maybe we’ll get some answers soon. A dedicated esports arena is coming to Oakland. Its debut performance will likely not involve Les Huguenots.