A rendering of Surge ESports.

CHICAGO — Bronzeville will be home to Chicago’s first large esports arena, as the City Council approved plans for a $30 million, 108,000-square-foot video gaming stadium with capacity for 1,040 spectators on Wednesday.

Smash Interactive plans to build the Surge esports arena, virtual reality hangout and space for its corporate headquarters at 2601 S. Wabash Ave. in Bronzeville. Smash is co-owned by developer Scott Greenberg. The development would also include restaurants.

Ticketed esports events at the arena would happen primarily during the evenings and weekends, but the space would also be available to members of the public looking to hold an event with a virtual reality component.

The plans were approved by the zoning committee Tuesday with enthusiastic support from aldermen praising it as the “way of the future.”

The arena is the next stepping stone in the rise of esports in Chicago, following the 2018 decision by the Illinois High School Association to recognize video gaming as an emerging sport.

Last year, the Parks District launched its first esports tournament, allowing 13-17 year olds to compete to be crowned champion 32 player bracket battling in NBA2K21, according to the Sun Times.

The paper reported $16 million in esports scholarships had been doled out across the country for the 2018-19 school year.

Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), who represents the area, said she supports the project and is “especially excited” the developers are partnering with the Illinois Institute of Technology to launch the Bronzeville Esports League and expose local middle and high school students to the esports world. 

A rendering of the proposed Surge ESports facility planned for 2601 S. Wabash in the Near South Side Credit: Provided/City of Chicago

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) said “esports is the way of the future.”

“If you look at some of these esports tournaments, they’re amazing and they’re well-attended,” he said. “This thing is going to take off, based on what I’ve seen online and the research that I’ve done on esports. It’s really amazing. So, just hold on to your bootstraps …,” he said.

Aldermen said the stadium will also benefit the Near South Side. Ald. David Moore (17th) said the project is “huge for Chicago” and it will push tourism in the city “further south.”

“As a father of teenage boys, I know more about esports than I care to, and I know this will be a draw to that part of Bronzeville,” Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) said.

Floor plans for the building show the esports stadium, four separate virtual reality rooms, a virtual reality climbing wall and a broadcast studio. 

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