New Rochelle looks to eSports for downtown vitality

By Bill Heltzel

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New Rochelle could soon tap into the surging eSports phenomenon.

A proposed zoning amendment would allow eSports centers downtown, where players could develop their skills, spectators could watch competitions and gamer merchandise would be sold.

“It’s incredible,” Luiz Aragon, commissioner of development, told city council members on July 12. “I never realized how big it really is, how popular it is and the demand for it.”

The term eSports refers to video game competitions. But these are not your grandfather’s Pac-Man or Donkey Kong.

The games are complex and fast moving. They test players at many levels: teamwork and communication, instinct and reflexes, strategy and aggression.

They come in several forms, such as fighting games, first-person shooters, real-time strategy and multiplayer online battle arena. They have names like Street Fighter, Call of Duty, StarCraft II and Dota2 (Defense of the Ancients).

Competitions are played by amateurs and professionals. More than 1,200 American high schools participate in High School Starleague events. Professionals played for $61 million in prize money last year.

Competitions have filled arenas like Madison Square Garden. Coca-Cola and Red Bull and other consumer brands are lining up to sponsor events.

Estimates of eSports popularity vary widely.

Aragon cited a marketing study by Newzoo that says eSports worldwide made $325 million last year, are expected to make $463 million this year and have an audience of 226 million people. Newzoo expects the industry to grow to $1.1 billion by 2019.

Deloitte Global estimates that eSports will take in $500 million this year, but sees a smaller audience, about 150 million people.

Aragon said a number of eSports developers, whom he would not identify, have inquired about setting up in New Rochelle.

He said understanding and responding to new markets can position the city for the future. As traditional retail stores continue to decline, he reported to council, eSports can help develop and maintain a vibrant downtown.

The city’s downtown overlay zone allows for eSports centers under its definition of indoor recreation. But the underlying zone does not. The proposed zoning amendment would allow eSports centers downtown as special permitted uses.

The council scheduled a public hearing for Sept. 12.

If the zoning is approved this fall, Aragon said, eSports businesses could begin applying for permits before the end of the year.

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About the author

Bill Heltzel
Bill Heltzel has covered criminal justice, courts, government and sports – as a beat reporter and investigative reporter – for daily newspapers in Florida, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. He worked for Bloomberg LP in training and sales. He joined The Business Journal in 2016.

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