Philadelphia Fusion Gives Sneak Peek of Esports Future at Arena Groundbreaking
The arena is slated to open for the 2021 Overwatch League season
Unlike most populated locales in the Northeast strip of the United States, Philadelphia clustered their sports venues into one centralized complex in the southern section of the city. For a good amount of the 21st century, Lincoln Financial Field, Citizens Bank Park, and the Wells Fargo Center have called this territory home, but at the beginning of the next decade, the esports evolution will stick its flag in the sand with the grand opening of the Fusion Arena.
“Tucker Roberts’ [president, Spectacor Gaming and Philadelphia Fusion] passion got the whole organization at Comcast Spectacor to lean in and start to unlock the potential of esports,” says Dave Scott, chairman and CEO, Comcast Spectacor. “We have over 400,000 Overwatch fans in Philadelphia, so we like this new space because it’s young, digital-centric, and diverse.”
A Philly Special: Overwatch League and the City Forge a Philadelphian Friendship
Having a team with a $50 million, 65,000 sq. ft. arena has long been a pipedream for executives at the Overwatch League. In their first few seasons, the model consisted of games being hosted at a neutral site (i.e. Blizzard Arena in Burbank, CA). Next year, the league will transition to a home-and-away method that the league aspired to have since its birth. With a full-fledged esports franchise in the form of the Philadelphia Fusion at the forefront, the City of Brotherly Love is ushering the new wave of customized venues for each individual team.
“When we first conceptualized the Overwatch League three years ago, we imagined that one day teams will be hosting home fans in their own arenas,” says Pete Vlastelica, commissioner, Overwatch League. “Comcast Spectacor is sending a message to the sports world that esports and their fans have earned a place next to the major sports. The Philadelphia Fusion are making a huge commitment to the fans to give them a place to gather and connect around the game that they love so much.”
Finding the Source: Fusion and Populous Look Inward and Outward
With Comcast Spectacor in hand as financial backing, the staff at the Philadelphia Fusion needed to scout potential destinations for their new home. In a grassroots effort, they hit the road and embarked on a whistle-stop tour of Philadelphia.
“It’s been quite the journey since we started this process back in March of 2018. We didn’t know if we wanted to build a new space, have it retrofitted into the city, or renovate a facility, so Tucker [Roberts] and I loaded into a van and drove around looking at different locations in University City, Northern Liberties, and Fishtown,” says Joe Marsh, chief business officer, Spectacor Gaming and Philadelphia Fusion. “As part of the process, we hosted watch parties throughout those areas. We eventually held an event at Xfinity Live and that brought in 1,000 people. [The Sports Complex] was a no brainer for us with ample parking and access to public transportation. It also legitimizes esports since it’s down here next to the other teams.”
After testing the eclectic cultures of the city and identifying a sensible spot for the new arena, the team on the architectural side did their due diligence to find styles that could influence their work. Populous, the selected partner on the project, relied on the knowledge of past works on their substantial resume and also traveled to other continents to obtain their structural inspiration.
“We’ve been privileged to construct venues around the world, and bringing people together to have these memorable experiences is the cornerstone of what we do,” says Brian Mirakian, senior principal, Populous. “While we might have done this in a lot of traditional sports venues, we’ve been really focused on the excitement and passion of esports. We’ve traveled all over the world for venue designs in Asia, Europe, and other sites in North America, so we have a deep understanding of how professional esports venues work.”
After conducting thorough research from other venues, both teams took their concepts into consideration and took a deep dive to unearth the ethos of the city itself.
“We asked ourselves ‘How are we going to connect with fans in a uniquely different way and do something that’s ultimately authentic to Philadelphia?’”, says Mirakian. “As we tried to uncover what the spirit of Philadelphia was, one thing that struck our design team was that the city was at the heart of the modern Industrial Revolution. We took that theme and implemented it into our design.”
Two Years Away: What’s to Come in the Sports Complex
With an auditorium that contains 3,500 seats, two balcony bars, club suites with USB ports, flexible loge boxes, and other private suites, there is a lot to look forward to as a fan of the Fusion. When spectators arrive next to Xfinity Live, they will be able to immediately interact with the edifice.
“The best part about the plaza is that fans can stop and take pictures in front of the huge Fusion wordmark on the outside entrance,” says Marsh. “We also changed the design [of the structure], so now we have the ability to change the lights that can color code with the Wells Fargo Center.”
Once inside, fans will be entertained as they go through the turnstiles with the help of 2,000 sq. ft of interactive media that resides 30 ft. above the concourse. For select fans that do snag seats inside of those loge boxes, they will be treated to something that combines at-home and live experience.
“In the loge boxes, we wanted to add a unique feature that allows up to 12 modes of viewing,” says Marsh. “In those booths, there are personalized screens that gaming fans will have the ability to watch their favorite player and monitor what they’re doing because part of going to see a live game is watching the best in the world do it.”
Below the main auditorium will be the 10,000 sq. ft. Xfinity Training Center, a playground for the players to put in extra reps without even leaving the building. In addition, player locker rooms and team offices will be under the same roof, and as an avenue for content creation, a live broadcast studio will be present as well.
Although esports will be the main priority of the space (it will be crowned as the largest purpose-built esports arena in the Western Hemisphere), the Fusion Arena will adopt a strategy used at the neighboring sports venues and host other events like concerts and comedy acts at the beginning of 2021.
“We worked through a lot of the design with great detail to understand that this needs to be the best in the world for esports, but can also be super flexible, too,” says Mirakian. “Ultimately, we’re going to have year-round applications [at the venue].”
Writing the Next Chapter: Cultivating New Sports Moments in Philadelphia
Generations of fans are used to celebrating the athletic feats on the ice, hardwood, and dirt of their fabled Eagles, Phillies, Flyers, and 76ers. While traditional sports may still reign supreme along the banks of the Schuylkill River, the eventual opening of the Fusion Arena can pave a lane for esports in the fabric of the city’s culture as a gathering place for all kinds of fans.
“One universal observation that we noticed is that fans want to be together for a shared experience with a team. They can watch esports on Twitch or YouTube and have a virtual experience, but when you come here, it’s going to be more palpable,” says Mirakian. “There’s a lot of nuances to [constructing an esports arena] and there’s a lot of lessons that we learned that will be applied here, but what you’re going to see is a completely transformative environment.”
And for families that have grandmothers and grandfathers who witnessed the accolades of Richie Ashburn and Chuck Bednarik and fathers and mothers who were dazzled by Mike Schmidt and Bernie Parent, the Fusion Arena can be a dwelling place that connects them to the sons and daughters who admire the skill of Carpe and Poko.
“We tried to envision what the future looks like from a technical perspective and see this as an experiential opportunity. As competitive gaming grows, there is going to be more parent-to-child relationships which have been the foundation of sports and entertainment across every league,” says Roberts. “We hope that we can foster many more of those moments for families with this arena.”