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OCIF to fund Calgary’s first Esport arena, digital media production hub at Bow Valley College

Esports is coming to Calgary in a big way, thanks to an investment of $5.5 million into what will become western Canada’s largest Esport Arena at Bow Valley College.

The Opportunity Calgary Investment Fund, in partnership with Bow Valley College, will be creating a Calgary Entertainment Arts Production Hub which will focus on digital media transformation, the creation of media production facilities including a full-motion actor capture studio, and the college’s Esports program.

The arena, when complete will have the capacity to house 300 spectators in addition to being able to host top level Esports competitions.

“We want to do is to bring students, to bring startups, to bring industry experts, to bring investors and other stakeholders in that environment where they can collaborate, where they can network, where there will be knowledge sharing, and business partnerships,” said Dr. Misheck Mwaba, President and CEO of Bow Valley College.

“This space is going to be a space where talented individuals who might otherwise would never have met, come together create worlds and characters that most of us can only dream of.”

He said that the new hub would be a game changer for a variety of entertainment industries in Calgary, from indie game developers to major film studios.

“This is a game changer for Calgary, not to mention that the hub’s future Esports arena is going to attract creators and Esports players—mobile and college—bringing unrivalled entertainment and creative inspiration to our college and our city,” said Mwaba.

Brad Parry, CEO of the Opportunity Calgary Investment Fund and President and CEO of Calgary Economic Development, said there are significant changes in the way entertainment is being created and delivered.

“We’re seeing disruptive technologies reshape how content is created, distributed and commercialized around the world. Emerging technology in this sector continues to attract more and more capital investment. We’re seeing entirely new creative industries and sub-sectors emerge,” he said.

“This is why we need to foster this incredibly important economic opportunity. The strategic investment in the hub sends a clear message that we are a community that continues to believe in itself and continues to invest in itself.”

One of the challenges that the entertainment industry has faced, said Dr. Mwaba, was that there haven’t been sufficient facilities in Calgary despite existing industry interest.

“We’ve got companies that actually have to drive to that bridge or to Edmonton because that’s where they can get a motion capture. We’ve got industry saying when you do this, please let me be the first one you call because this is what we’ve been looking for,” he said.

Parry said that looking at the film industry in particular, the hub will address a critical component of filmmakers coming to Calgary but not completing their films here.

Having those facilities were also another aspect of addressing the burgeoning Esports industry, as a 2022 Deloitte Report to Calgary Economic Development highlighted the need for international-level production facilities in order to hold Esports events.

“There’s a whole bunch of other stuff that’s going to come out of the arts community and the film community. All of this talent now, and these artists have a chance to develop new skill sets. That’s where going after so Esports can be a major component of it, but it’s not the only thing we’re doing,” Parry said.

Esports is big business, but elsewhere

In 2022, the global Esport industry was valued at between $1.3 billion and $1.5 billion USD, with most market analysts projecting double-digit growth of the sector through 2030.

According to that 2022 report, Esports as an industry had a nearly half-a-billion viewer reach in 2020, with major events like the League of Legends finals in 2019 reaching more viewers than the Super Bowl.

As an economic driver, the games industry as a whole provided $5.5 billion towards Canada’s GDP in 2021—which was itself a 23 per cent increase from 2019.

Parry said that more recent changes to the Esports industry, such as the closure of Activision Blizzard’s team-based Esports Overwatch League, didn’t dissuade them from the investment.

“I think you see cyclicality happening in any industry. We’re putting ourselves in a position for the future that we’re going to take advantage of it,” he said.

Eddie Sargent, Associate Dean for Bow Valley College’s Chui School of Business, said that the number of viewers for Esports competitions had been on the rise for the past decade, pointing directly to that 100 million plus viewership for the League of Legends finals.

He said that a major benefit of having an Esports arena was the relatively low cost of investment versus the high economic return.

“You can go to FIFA, they have an international tour that they do, and there’s an economic impact of about $20 to $25 million indirect economic impact on a city. We’re not building a speed skating oval to do that, that costs a billion dollars.”

The opportunity exists in that there are already professional players in Calgary who compete internationally in Esports, but they don’t compete locally, Sargent said.

“I was really shocked to hear that we already have some of that talent here in Calgary. What they’re lacking is a platform. They’re lacking that megaphone to tell our story to the world,” he said.

“We have to have the facilities and the training programs. We have to have investment from government to make those different things happen, and that’s what this seeks to do. The Calgary Entertainment Arts production Hub in partnership with OCIF is hopefully going to get us to where we need to be.”

The opening of the Esports portion of the program would open up several opportunities for students and for the college. The hub will launch the Esports Business Management Program, and will provide a home for Bow Valley College’s first varsity team.

“We visited UC Irvine as part of our research to put this together. They’ve been basically ranked number one for as long as there’s been rankings—ESPN actually does varsity rankings, and they’ve always been a top-tier team,” Sargent said.

“With the program for the Esports business management program, that’s where most people are going to find jobs. There’s one Wayne Gretzky, but all the people that are around his ecosystem, he probably directly employed in his playing career over 100 people. So that’s what the Esports Business Management Program does, it creates that capacity. It adds that business acumen to the world and Esports.”

Construction on the Calgary Entertainment Arts Production Hub will begin in January 2024, with the arena located in the south campus tower, and the production facilities in the north campus tower.