Mall of America is planning to open a new eSports broadcast studio and gaming venue in early 2022 as shopping centers across the country try to add more experiences to their properties in an attempt to draw consumers in.
The Minnesota-based mega-mall is no stranger to experiential retail, with a theme park in the center of the mall as well as an aquarium. The 18,000-square-foot space exclusively for gaming events, developed in partnership with Wisdom Gaming, is a relatively new concept, though it began picking up traction just before the pandemic began.
Simon Property Group, the largest mall operator in the United States, in early 2019 said it would invest $5 million in entertainment company Allied Esports; the two companies opened their first venue at the Mall of Georgia in early 2020.
Visits to indoor shopping malls were down 6.5% in September and 2.5% in August compared to 2019, according to location analytics company Placer.ai, though visits were up 1% in July. Still, the decline in visits has improved since earlier this year; in March traffic at indoor malls was down nearly 21% versus two years ago.
According to PYMNTS research, brick-and-mortar native shoppers have fallen by 10% since the pandemic began, while the share of consumers who prefer online shopping have risen by 17%.
Other Alternative Uses
The idea of turning vacant retail spaces into physical sports venues has also been experimented with at different shopping centers around the country. The Citadel Mall in Charleston, S.C., installed a basketball court in the middle of the mall in 2017 in a bid to draw foot traffic from travel sports fans, for example; and the St. Louis Outlet Mall in Hazelwood, Missouri, in 2019 was planning to convert its real estate into a youth sports complex.
Earlier this year, the Northshore Mall, a Simon property located near Boston, opened a Life Time “luxury athletic resort experience” that includes over 400 pieces of exercise equipment, two full-size basketball courts and an outdoor aquatic center. This was the fourth such location that Life Time and Simon developed.
Mall operators have also begun using empty space to create micro-distribution centers; logistics-as-a-service provider Fillogic, for example, has partnered with Simon, Tanger Outlets and other major mall operators to convert underutilized, but not customer-facing, space to fulfill orders for both digitally native and mall-based retailers.
Ethan Chernofsky, vice president of marketing at Placer.ai, told PYMNTS earlier this year that he’s been impressed by how quickly malls rebounded from the height of the pandemic.
“There is real reason for optimism that top tier malls are entering into a period of unique strength,” Chernofsky said. “While many malls will need to reposition or reimagine themselves, many of the top players are taking the steps necessary to drive short- and long-term success.”
Growing Interest in eSports
In 2019, just over 21 million people in the U.S. watched eSports competitions, according to eMarketer; this year, that number is expected to exceed 26 million. By 2023, 31 million people could be watching eSports content, which accounts for approximately 50% of all gaming video content views.
Wisdom Gaming said the split-level eSports venue at Mall of America will include a gaming lounge with food and beverage, seating for a live studio audience and a retail shop. The company also plans to use Mall of America’s TCF Rotunda, an open area for concerts and celebrity appearances, for large-scale events.
Jill Renslow, executive vice president of business development at Mall of America, said the shopping center had wanted to enter the eSports landscape “for a long time,” but wanted to ensure they approached it “in a holistic way.”
“By partnering with Mall of America, we are expanding our commitment to building fan affinity and providing an incredible opportunity for brands to authentically engage with esports and gaming audiences,” Nicole DuCane, vice president of sales and partnerships at Wisdom Gaming, said in a statement.