New e-sports arenas open in Las Vegas and Oakland

10 April 2018

A new e-sports arena that debuted in late March in Las Vegas offers a sense of what to expect at a similar facility opening at Oakland’s Jack London Square this month.

E-sports is video gaming where players compete against one another, often for cash prizes. As in a poker tournament, the prize pools are determined by the entry cost and number of players. It’s legal under California law because skill is involved — it’s not a game of chance.

This type of gaming has made a quantum leap in recent years as thousands of fans pack arenas, or even stadiums, to watch the virtual action.

The 30,000-square-foot Esports Arena Las Vegas opened March 22 on the casino floor of the Luxor hotel, on the south end of the strip, and is already hosting tournaments with thousands of dollars in prize money. Among the games are “Hearthstone,” “Paladins,” “Counterstrike Global Offensive” and “League of Legends.”

Approaching the Luxor arena, visitors see a virtual reality booth and are invited to try an interactive virtual reality experience.

“That brings people in,” said Jud Hannigan, CEO of Allied Esports International, the Santa Ana-based firm that built the e-sports arenas in both Las Vegas and Oakland. “Our entryway is like a welcome mat for people who are walking in saying, ‘What’s going on here? I want to check this out.’ It caters to the curious.”

Ambassadors at the entrance tell visitors about the games on offer and how to play them. Perhaps the most appealing room for non-hardcore players is an arcade featuring retro games, which are free to play, and exhibits detailing the history of gaming.

“You can get your hands on an old Atari and work through eight generations of gaming consoles,” Hannigan said.

The arena’s main hall, with a 50-by-20-foot LED screen, is designed to give visitors the feeling of entering a “traditional sports stadium,” he added. “You are greeted with the sights and sounds of the action. It all just opens up in front of you. It’s very interactive — you can play, or sit and watch.”

There are also a couple of bars and a food menus designed for gamers by acclaimed chef José Andrés, himself an enthusiastic player.

What do gamers eat? Tuna poke and pork katsu are mainstays of the Japanese-influenced menu.

“We don’t want greasy fingers,” Hannigan said. “You want something that’s quick and keeps your energy up and your focus going. Jose says that when he plays he prefers to eat with chopsticks because he can keep his fingers clean.”

While the Las Vegas arena is designed for a more general audience, the 15,000-square-foot Oakland facility, at 255 Second St., will target devout gamers. After its soft opening on Saturday, April 7, it will run free introductory events for a few weeks, Hannigan said.