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Hosting world's biggest esports tournament could reboot Gold Coast tourism

A person is cheering on a screen playing esports.

Hosting the Olympics of esports could be key to helping the Gold Coast’s embattled tourism sector bounce back from the double blow of bushfires and coronavirus.

Bond University Associate Professor of Computer Games, Dr James Birt, says the recent announcement of a global search for host cities for The International, the biggest esports tournament in the world, presents an opportunity for the Glitter Strip.

However, he says the Gold Coast will only be positioned to capitalise on this opportunity if a proposed new covered stadium for the city is built with an increased capacity of at least 15,000 seats. The current reported proposal for a new indoor stadium on the Gold Coast caps the number of seats at 10,000.

Valve Software recently issued an “open call” for cities wishing to host The International, their world championship esports tournament for Dota 2, which last year carried a record prize pool of $34.3 million (USD). The request for hosting proposals compares the scale of the event to the Superbowl, US Golf Open, and the Eurovision Song Contest.

Vancouver hosted The International in 2018 and the event was later reported to have added about $7.8 million to the local economy.

Cities wishing to host The International need to meet requirements including having a modern indoor stadium with a capacity between 15,000 and 80,000, 30,000 hotel rooms, fibre network connectivity, proximity to an international airport, and well-developed transport systems.

Dr Birt said provided the city built a stadium with sufficient capacity, Gold Coast fit the bill.

“Esports is here to stay, it is a major growing industry, and the Gold Coast is a perfect location to hold these types of international events. It’s safe, it’s got incredible facilities if the stadium is built, we have the council’s fibre optic link, we have Telstra and Optus’s 5G rollout, we have excellent transport and tourism sector support infrastructure, and I think we need something innovative and new if we’re to counteract some of the problems we’re facing at the moment in relation to tourism, especially related to coronavirus and bushfires.

“The International is a major event, you don’t have a $35 million prize money event with no-one watching. It’s the most watched event in esports.”

The benefits of hosting The International went well beyond exposing the Gold Coast to those who attended the tournament.

While the Gold Coast could potentially view hosting The International as a trial run ahead of South East Queensland’s bid for the 2032 Olympics, Dr Birt said tapping into esports provided potential benefits that the traditional global sports market was unable to deliver.

‘You have a conduit to a certain demographic that has disengaged from traditional media approaches, and this number is enormous, hundreds of millions of viewers.

“When you look at the pricing to bid on one of these esports events, it’s going to be far less than bidding on the Olympics or the Commonwealth Games. And the viewership is probably going to be about equal, if not potentially more over the years, given the growth in esports and the decline in the Olympic and Commonwealth Games viewership.

“If we’re not able to understand how these new emerging markets take place, then we’re going to be left behind in this fast-paced, technological world.”

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