Scott Greenberg, the real estate developer behind EMC2, theWit, and other swanky hotels in downtown Chicago, recently unveiled plans for his latest and most avant-garde project: Surge, a 106,000-square-foot professional e-sports arena, complete with an IMAX-sized screen embedded in the facade.
As the pandemic forces us to stay home and keep ourselves entertained, there has been a massive surge in the video game industry. Gaming has provided self-isolated consumers with a much-needed sense of comfort, connection, diversion, and escape. E-sports in particular have evolved in recent years from a niche hobby into a multi-billion-dollar industry. Virtual tournaments attract millions of advertisers, investors, and universities—some of which are doling out e-sports scholarships to prospective, tech-savvy students, and purpose-built arenas have been popping up across the country.
Taking advantage of the electronic age, Greenberg’s development firm, ECD, partnered with Chicago-based virtual reality gaming company, MassVR, to transform a derelict Near South Side property into Chicago’s first e-sports stadium dedicated to professional video game competitions.
The $6.8 million site, located along Interstate 55 and neighboring McCormick Place convention center, will include a parking lot, a brick building that once housed a Kozy’s bicycle shop, and a promenade of modern, geometric structures designed by KOO, an architecture and interiors firm native to Chicago. The venue’s proximity to McCormick Place and Illinois Tech, which has a vigorous e-sports program, will likely create a player pipeline to keep Surge occupied. Convention show attendees and college students could generate a lot of demand for the space post-COVID, as large gatherings could resume by the end of 2021 as vaccine distribution continues to ramp up. Surge has the potential to put Chicago on the map in the e-sports and virtual entertainment worlds, acting as a hub and international networking site.
The $30 million project at 2500 S Wabash Ave will house a two-story, 25,000-square-foot free-roam space and arena, large enough to accommodate crowds of over 800 people for major events. The arena component will also include a global broadcasting center, stadium seating, and a stage for professional gamers to compete and interact with one another using state-of-the-art, virtual reality equipment, Greenberg told the Chicago Tribune. The focal point of the arena will be an enormous 35-by-85-foot vertical screen on the complex’s exterior, complete with high-quality sound effects, allowing guests outside (and possibly neighbors and passerby_ to immerse themselves in the action, IMAX-style. A lounge, bar, and restaurant will sit adjacent to the arena, where guests can grab a bite to eat and converse in a more intimate setting.
The project will undergo a Chicago Plan Commission meeting this month for rezoning requests that require City Council approval. The developers hope to begin construction by this summer, with plans to open doors to the public by summer 2022.