Competitive videogaming coming to Oregon East

Competitive videogaming has gone mainstream, and a couple of local entrepreneurs are bringing a new esports business to the up-and-coming Oregon East entertainment district.

In the spring, Bob and Mary Baldino plan to open a new business called Connect E-Sports in a ground floor space in the Wheelhouse, which is a mixed-use building at East Fourth Street and Wayne Avenue near the Oregon District.

Connect E-Sports will have PC and console gaming stations where players can compete against their friends and others online and take part in tournaments.

Competitive videogaming has a massive and growing U.S. fan base, and Connect E-Sports brings a unique and fresh element to the Oregon East district, which seeks to be a vibrant urban neighborhood, the district’s developer said.

"I think their concept … gives the people that live and work in the area another great choice for fun experiences," said Lee Weyland, the director of business development for Weyland Ventures.

Connect E-Sports will add to a growing number of downtown businesses that offer experiences instead of retail, including a new axe-throwing and adult-games activity center coming to the Fire Blocks District.

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Connect E-Sports will occupy about 1,900 square feet of space in the Wheelhouse, located at 210 Wayne Ave.

The Wheelhouse already is home to the Troll Pub and Speakeasy Yoga and has apartments on the upper floors.

Connect E-Sports will offer a mix of ways people can play and compete in video games, including scheduled tournaments, leagues, drop-in play opportunities and more, Mary Baldino said.

“The goal is to bring the online community together in one place, so that way people they can gather and connect over this new type of entertainment,” Baldino said.

Connect E-Sports is not just for hardcore gamers.

Causal and amateur video-game enthusiasts will be able to play with their friends and others, and Connect E-Sports will have areas for spectators to watch tournaments and multiplayer matches.

Esports games include first-person shooters, multiplayer online battle arenas and racing, sports, fighting, strategy and battle royale games, according to Nielsen.

Baldino said she and her husband started developing the business idea about two years ago and always had their hearts set on finding a space to rent downtown.

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She says they love downtown in part because of its helpful and supportive entrepreneurs and business community.

Baldino said she and her husband have signed a lease and are going through the permitting process. She said the business should open in the spring.

The Wheelhouse space is perfect for esports because it is very close to the other entertainment options in the Oregon District, and the Oregon East district has a bright future because of the developer’s ambitious plans, Baldino said.

Developer Weyland Venutres proposes spending more than $120 million to create 730,000 square feet of new development in the Oregon East district, which is generally east of Wayne Avenue.

The developer plans more than 250 new residential units, a 110-key hotel and new offices and entertainment venues.

Esports venues have opened in Los Angeles, California; Las Vegas, Nevada and some other major cities across the country.

“We are taking similar models that we have seen out west and bringing it here,” Mary Baldino said.

A state-of-the art esports facility is in development in Cleveland's Battery Park neighborhood. Columbus already has an esports arena. Akron this year welcomed a new esports center.

Some industry groups predict esports will continue to increase in popularity in coming years, and its fan base could exceed some other traditional sports.

Esports viewership will reach about 84 million people in the United States in 2021, besting all major professional sports' viewership, except for the NFL, according to the consulting firm Activate.

More than 164 million adults in the United States play video games, and three-fourths of all U.S. households have at least one gamer, according to a survey by the Entertainment Software Association.

The study found that nearly two-thirds of adult gamers play video games with other people, on average spending about 4.8 hours per week playing others online and 3.5 hours playing with others in person.

The study found that about 46% of gamers are female, and that the average gamer is 33 years old.

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Blockbuster games that have spawned countless leagues and draw big viewership online and via TV broadcasts include Fortnite, League of Legends, Dota 2, Overwatch and Counter Strike: Global Offensive.

Across the globe, esports viewership is expected to soon reach 500 million people and revenues are expected to exceed $1 billion, according to some estimates.

While most people play video games for fun, others compete for cash, prizes, sponsorships and even scholarships.

Schools like Ohio State University have started esports degree programs, and OSU has invested in a state-of-the-art arena where its esports teams can practice and compete.

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