Former 'Tonight Show' Studio to Become eSports Arena

Overwatch_Gameplay - Publicity - H 2016
Courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment

The studio will be renamed Blizzard Arena Los Angeles.

The portion of the Burbank Studios venue where Johnny Carson hosted his version of NBC's The Tonight Show will be turned into an eSports arena where the world's best video gamers will play for major prize money in front live audiences, Blizzard Entertainment is set to announce today.

The studio will be renamed Blizzard Arena Los Angeles and used for a televised eSports experience, with many of the needed features already in place, including multiple sound stages, control rooms and areas that can be used as practice facilities. Blizzard will also open a retail store on the property.

The inaugural event at the new arena will take place Oct. 7-8 with the Overwatch Contenders Season-One Playoffs, which is the culmination of a summer North American and European contest.

ESports is a fast-growing business, with an estimated 258 million fans worldwide expected to tune in to watch some competitions this year, according to SuperData. The industry raked in about $892 million in 2016, but that should grow to $1.13 billion this year.

The new arena in Burbank, which measures 50,000 square feet and will seat 450 spectators, will also be home to a forthcoming Overwatch League, where teams representing cities around the world will compete against one another.

Before that, though, the arena will host the ongoing Hearthstone Championship Tour's Summer Championship on Oct. 13. That tournament, which includes $250,000 in prize money, concludes next year. Blizzard is already selling tickets for the Burbank portion at $15 a seat.

Also in October, the Burbank facility will host early battles in a Heroes of the Storm tournament and a World of Warcraft Arena Championship, with winners of those competitions squaring off in November at BlizzCon, an annual event in Anaheim, Calif., that typically draws 25,000 video game enthusiasts.

"We're at a tipping point for eSports," said Mike Morhaime, CEO of Blizzard Entertainment, a division of Activision Blizzard, run by CEO Bobby Kotick. Blizzard Entertainment is renting the Burbank Studios space for an undisclosed period of time.

"As we open the doors of Blizzard Arena Los Angeles and welcome fans from around the world, we're honored to bring the best in Blizzard eSports to the same stage that some of the biggest names in entertainment have called home," Morhaime said.