The future of gaming? Huge stadiums, like those for football and soccer, with cavernous interiors and screaming fans. That's the vision of Kansas City-based architects Populous, designers of sports venues all over the world, including London's 2012 Olympic stadium.
In these images, first made available exclusively to Gizmodo, we see an architectural vision of the year 2020, when, in Populous's telling, the sprawling, global and multi-billion dollar industry of gaming has finally found its public form. Brian Mirakian explained to Gizmodo what such a stadium might entail, down to private gaming pods and rearrangeable interiors, a futuristic proposal perhaps as much Archigram as it is NFL.
After all, Mirakian explained, live public gaming is already a cultural phenomenon in places like South Korea, and even large-scale venues like the Staples Center in Los Angeles, normally home to the L.A. Lakers, have hosted immensely popular gaming expos, he pointed out. This alone reveals a genuine desire to get out and about with other gamers.
That a new type of building would be required by this cultural shift is, in some ways, a no-brainer.
Mirakian went on to discuss the live-gaming culture, or e-sports, in South Korea, something that was also interestingly documented by journalist and games designer Jim Rossignol in his excellent book This Gaming Life.
Rossignol traveled to Seoul several years ago for some New Yorker-style gaming reportage — as much pop cultural anthropology as it was game criticism — where he immediately noted the frenzy of attention spent on champion gamers. "Flick to a gaming channel," he writes, as he did when he first checked into his hotel in South Korea, "and behold the spectacle as I did — many times."
To a fanfare of Asian nu metal and the sound of a thousand screaming fans, a young Korean man entered a dazzling arena. Like an American wrestler at the heart of a glitter-glazed Royal Rumble, he strode down a ramp toward the stage. Adorned in what appeared to be a space suit and a large white cape, he stopped out to meet his opponent on the stadium's ziggurat focus. Amid a blaze of flashbulbs and indoor fireworks, he clambered up the steps, to be exalted by the thronging crowd.
In this context, and with, since the publication of Rossignol's book, nearly another decade's worth of growth in the gaming industry, it is only a matter of time before dedicated facilities begin to appear.
Populous decided to pre-empt this by looking ahead a few years to 2020, combining some deep research into the architectural tendencies of today's mega-venues with the particular — some might say peculiar — media needs of a public gaming space.
This gaming super-venue, Mirakian described, would thus include individual pods — break-out rooms mounted on robotic arms strong enough to move whole gaming sessions into the center of the arena for particularly intense team events or heads-to-heads — and the use of almost every available surface as a kind of display space, a surface of pixels through which live games, crowd shots, and spliced-in footage from off-site tournaments could be displayed in real-time. Further, LED lights embedded in the floors, walls, and other structural surfaces — similar to Populous's work with its 2012 Olympic stadium in London — could offer directional info for fans but also scores, stats and back stories for all of the games and players.
It's like a giant, overwhelming, three-dimensionally immersive computer screen, wrapped around thousands of people at a time and blown up to the scale of the Superdome.
This billion-candle-power beacon of all things gaming would "increase the feeling of synergy between the fans and the athletes," Mirakian suggested, using that interesting and unexpected word: athletes.
Part of Populous's bet with these preliminary renderings, and their desire to think about the media-stadium of tomorrow, is their belief that gaming could very well take off to the extent that it becomes an Olympic sport — that, yes, athletes will come together in Olympic cities around the world and battle it out, live, for global sports fans.
But if a gaming tournament could travel — from, say, Los Angeles this year to Hong Kong the next, to Seoul to Sydney to Stockholm — should each and every one of those cities also design and maintain its own gaming venue? Populous's answer to this potentially very expensive problem was to come up with a mobile venue, a modular counterpart, something that could be boxed, shipped, unpacked, and pop up again for gaming competitions elsewhere.
The mobile venue, seen in the image above, perhaps inadvertently reveals the limits of the visualisation going on here. In other words, these images are, at best, just concept art for an architectural future, not designs in any real or detailed sense. They're just pretty pictures of a possible spatial future, not something rigorously considered for any particular site or even revenue model.
Nonetheless, this shipping container-based pop-up venue, also lit from within with its own media screens and immersive facades, could thus make Times Square the center of gamers' attention for a week or, for that matter, bring thousands of fans and athletes to more off-center cities and towns — like Kansas City, where Populous is based.
Both visions — the super-stadium and the pop-up venue — are preliminary stabs, sure, but they indicate the need for something monumental and public enough, something architecturally spectacular, for this explosively popular industry, a business (and a fan base) now bigger than Hollywood and nipping at the heels of other professional sports.
All images courtesy of Populous, with thanks to Brian Mirakian and Annie Hellweg for the conversation.