Written for the Daily Hive by Rui Yang Xu. Xu is a writer for Akshon Esports, and a Langara Journalism Alumni.
While their focus was originally on the in-person experience, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the Gaming Stadium — Canada’s first esports stadium — to switch gears and focus on online events instead.
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While many industries have been affected by COVID, the esports industry has fortunately been able to experience a mostly smooth transition to online events. Despite this, there were still some difficulties for the Gaming Stadium, according to CEO Spiro Khouri.
“For all intents and purposes, we were a retail establishment, and like many other retail establishments, it was very difficult. In the beginning, we’re lucky, we were able to change and work really hard to change,” Khouri said.
“But it was drastic, it was shocking. And it was something that I think a lot of people had to deal with, in an unfortunate set of circumstances.”
While the change was sudden, Khouri admits that it was a positive long term change.
“It forced us to adapt to a new way of running our business, which has allowed us to grow and scale quicker and bigger than we would have if we stayed the way we were previous to the pandemic.”
Since the shift to online, the Gaming Stadium has been able to reach a wider audience as the physical restraints of their Richmond, BC location were no longer a concern.
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Along with that, as they looked at the prospects of the online environment, Khouri said his team realized there were plenty of opportunities available.
“There’s a lot of people in the community looking to play in events, gaming at that point, and it is still harder than ever, because everyone’s at home, and there’s not much else to do.”
Through their commitment to online events, the Gaming Stadium was able to fill gaps in the industry such as brand integration and providing a better opportunity for brands to get involved with esports.
Along with that, the Gaming Stadium’s newfound success has allowed them to acquire other platforms and organizations to streamline the online event experience and fill in the gaps and issues they saw with the general process.
“The problem is, as a tournament organizer we have to set this event up on multiple platforms, as a player, you’re registering on one platform, you’re communicating on another, and then the actual tournament is being run on another. And then at the end of all of it, if you win some money, you know, now you’re getting your money through an e-transfer or PayPal, so it’s done through another one,” Khouri said.
“It’s very confusing, especially for people who are newer to the industry that isn’t used to it because this is how it’s always been done. So it’s easy to just say ‘I’m not going to participate.’”
With that in mind, some key acquisitions of note include Pepper, a team that has been developing an esports platform that has tools for tournament organizers to better run their tournaments, and Even Matchup Gaming, the tournament organizers behind GOML, one of the biggest smash tournament series in Canada.
In the case of Even Matchup Gaming, its acquisition contributes to adding more experienced tournament organizers that in turn can leverage the extra resources of the Gaming Stadium to further improve their own events.
Despite the move to online and in-person events being on hold, the actual facility itself hasn’t been abandoned quite yet. The Gaming Stadium’s production team has been able to use the physical space itself as a production studio, where they produce multiple series for their Youtube channel. Along with that, they have continued to provide their space to third parties in need of production space (in accordance with COVID guidelines).
Overall, with the huge success of their shift to online events and the amount of growth the Gaming Stadium has experienced throughout the COVID pandemic, it’s unlikely they’ll make the change back fully.
“While we’re excited for the restrictions to start to loosen, to see more and more people, we still believe that long term, the digital space is much more scalable, and is much more appealing to gamers,” Khouri said.
However, he notes that their commitment to more online events doesn’t mean in-person events will fully go away.
“I think what we’ll probably see more is the focus continuing to be online and then a few times a month having special events where we can leverage the auditorium space,” Khouri said.
Overall, the experience of adapting to COVID has been a fairly successful one for the Gaming Stadium, but Khouri realizes that their luck is not a common experience for businesses during these times.
“In my opinion, some of the greatest inventions or adaptations to certain things come from necessity. Unfortunately, for us, and many other people in retail, COVID was that necessity, it forced us to think differently,” Khouri said.
“For us, the change that we made was much more beneficial to the bottom line into the business, but there were a lot of people out there that didn’t have that same fortune.”