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Seattle should make KeyArena a home for eSports

James Clayster Eubanks competes with his team at the Major League Gaming World Finals in New Orleans, Oct. 16, 2015. Thousands attended the tournament to watch players competing in Call of Duty and Dota 2. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Seattle may have cut a KeyArena development deal with the hope of attracting classic sports. But by focusing on the NBA or the NHL, Seattle is missing out on another major, emerging attraction: eSports.

GeekWire reports about speculation that the Dota 2 international tournament (The International) will move from Seattle to Vancouver B.C. next year. KeyArena, where the tournaments have been held, will be unavailable due to construction.

Now is an ideal time for Seattle officials to figure out how to incorporate eSports into the KeyArena redevelopment.

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For those unaware of its rising popularity — eSports is essentially video games set on a sporting stage. Individuals, but most often teams, compete for titles and large sums of money. The 2017 Dota 2 tournament at the KeyArena offered a $24.7 million prize pool — an event akin to a Super Bowl or World Cup. Tickets to the tournament are hundreds of dollars, drawing spectators from across the globe to Seattle (bringing their tourism money with them).

Seattle is an ideal location for the tournament as the game developer, Valve, is based in Bellevue.

Beyond the interest and tech companies already present in Seattle, all signs point to eSports becoming the next major gaming industry. Seattle has an opportunity to get in on the action.

eSports is growing fast

In 2018, two major game developers are slated to open their leagues to franchising — Blizzard Entertainment (World of Warcraft, Overwatch) and Riot Games (League of Legends). Broadcasting rights and league sponsorships are expected to follow. It’s a move that comes on the heels of major sports team owners investing in eSports teams.

Such investments are likely to pay off. It was estimated that eSports would produce nearly $700 million in revenue during 2017. That number is expected to grow to $1.5 billion by 2020.

But beyond the statistics and the expected industry boom, Seattle has already proven it is a fertile ground for eSports. Dota 2 is the most popular game in Washington, according to an analysis by Frontier Communications (Seattle is commonly ranked as a top city for eSports). In fact, Frontier places Washington as the second most popular state for eSports, behind Hawaii (Utah, Virginia, and Alaska round out the top five).

On top of that, the widely successful international gaming convention, PAX, started in Seattle and continues to grow as one of the most popular annual events in town.

An NHL team — great. An NBA team — OK (even though Seattle already has a professional basketball team). But city officials should be reaching out to the industry now to find out how Seattle Center can create an eSports arena.

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