SVG Sit-Down: 1337 Facilities CEO Bob Jordan on the Future of College Esports Venues

U.S. schools join the burgeoning industry with programs, infrastructure

The esports industry continues to grow at a breakneck pace, with esports-specific venues popping up all over the world. Meanwhile, universities across the U.S. are putting a major focus on developing esports programs and creating on-campus infrastructure to serve those programs.

With that in mind, Robert D. Jordan CVE — a 30-year veteran of major-project development and operations in sports and entertainment venues and public assembly facilities — launched 1337 Facilities last year. The company aids institutions in the conception, design, construction, and sponsorship of campus gaming by developing solutions (software and process) and facilities (brick-and-mortar) that integrate the best practices of the traditional sports space with the requirements and expectations of the gaming ecosystem. The resulting integration brings new activations and experiences to the fans, the partner, and all stakeholders for both esports and traditional sports.

SVG sat down with Jordan to discuss the evolving esports-venue landscape; his thoughts on HDR, UHD, and 8K; how venues can attract younger audiences; and more. 

The area of esports continues to gain traction, and there seems to be an explosion of esports-arena projects. Also, existing venues are looking to become more “esports friendly.” How do you see that market developing, and are there any dangers of overbuilding?
The entire esports ecosystem is on fire, and some of the numbers are astonishing. As with any trend, there are outliers and those who will jump on the train just to be part of it, and the metric does not support the dollars. We have already seen some coalescing in the higher-end and pro-team numbers, and I would imagine that will continue for a while. The questions being asked in esports are the same questions we were asking in traditional sports 10 and 15 years ago. Who are the fans? What experience do they want at an event? What will keep them coming back? The difference in esports is, the data is being complied in real time and the esport genre allows for a direct analysis of the experience. That is invaluable in developing the new event structure. Will there be an overbuild? That is a crystal-ball moment: the growth of the sport and the penetration of the market are still developing.

You yourself have tackled esports as it relates to college campuses. Can you talk about your current efforts and how you identified the opportunity?
With three other investors, we have created 1337 Facilities (in gaming lingo, Elite Facilities). Two of us are traditional sports development and integration, and two are esports visionaries in funding, tournaments, and publishing. The combination has been a tremendous asset in bringing clarity to esports’ open questions. Our focus is to develop high-end esports programs at the college level with venues, software-defined user experiences, tournament and casual play, with solid partnerships and naming-rights entitlements. We work with the campus to define the roadmap to a sustainable development for the students and the campus program, academically and/or athletics-based. Looking at the esports holistically, the pro teams and leagues are the top of the pyramid, just like traditional sports. Traditional sport has a well-established training and development structure to provide players and longevity for the sport. We see the college program as the corollary to this. The level of commitment by each college campus varies according to their demographic, but each campus desires to meet the student expectation of providing a gaming culture.

Opinions vary with respect to what matters most for an in-venue experience. Top of mind are things like HDR, UHD, and even 8K. What are your thoughts on those three formats as they relate to venue video operations?
As with any technology, the acid test is, what will enhance or deliver a customer experience to an inflection point of added monetization or a quantifiable increase in related customer engagement. Too often, venues react to technology for technology’s sake: to be the first or the latest with the candy. It plays well in the media as a splash, but the staying power or incremental build foundation can be counter to the desired outcome. With the level of technical expertise on staff now in venues rising, a much more robust analysis of the new formats is being achieved. The adoption of HDR, UHD, and 8K is an example of this.

The value of UHD was, in some respects, set aside when the empirical study of 1080p HDR was tested against a UHD source and the 1080p HDR was preferred; this set in motion an effort to bring 1080p HDR to life in the workflow and to set aside the UHD lift to a later date for economic and program reasons. The understanding of the consumer market is a major component in this discussion: if the fan/guest has a feature at home, they are typically expecting it a venue. The typical fan is not understanding of the venue’s need for cameras, switching, routing, and graphics that are renovated to make it happen. They just expect at least their experience at home.  The UHD-to-8K race will be interesting as it unfolds. With 8K in the consumer market and with the exponential advantages of the 8K map, it may be a timeline that waits to jump to 8K.

Many teams and venues are wondering how they can make their facilities more attractive to younger fans. Do you think younger fans are looking for a different experience from older fans? What do venues need to do to meet their expectations?
Absolutely. Understanding that humans are tribal and we want a live experience to share, how this generation shares that experience is very different from the last and will be dynamic for the next generation. The rise of what are considered non-typical premiums, different seating options, different circulation areas are all factors in the next generation of design. The next generation of fans has a very individual perspective of engagement, and this group are also nimble and dynamic in their expectations, [which] may change within a season. The venues must expect change and embrace it. Defining the experience is now a duplex transaction with the fan. They will express their feelings with their attendance and their wallet. Pay attention to the details and the date and prepare to constantly evolve with the fans.