On any trip up to New York City, visiting the Microsoft Store on Fifth Avenue is always the best part. Being able to see the latest and greatest that Microsoft has to offer up close and personal is a blast, and being able to talk shop with all of the other Microsoft superfans never gets old. Itís not every day, however, that I get the opportunity to see a brand new portion of the building.
For those that donít know, the flagship Microsoft store on 5th avenue recently put in an extremely high quality eSports studio, accessible to the public only for special events. As someone who frequently follows the eSports scene apart from Microsoft, hearing about the studio was a huge surprise Ė and I knew I had to see it for myself.
The booths for the competitors are heavy duty. They can be moved around as necessary, and have face-cams installed.
The eSports studio is nothing short of professional looking. If youíve ever watched a high profile eSports event like the LCS Spring/Summer Split or the DOTA 2 International, youíll be able to recognize this setup. The screens behind the players are made up of several LED lights to display logos and other information, and the pods that the players are situated in can each display both team colors and face-cams to see player reactions. When we arrived, the stage was set for a 4v4 game Ė although they have the space and resources to do up to 7v7 games. For the demo our tour took part in, we played a game of Rocket League.
Where many big eSports events are prepared to hold massive crowds, the Microsoft Storeís eSports studio seems like itís build around providing a small, tight-knit experience that offers a handful of people a more intimate experience. There isnít all that much space in the studio, and what space is available is mostly taken up by the shoutcasting desk and a massive room full of tech for broadcasting.
The stage is well lit, and really gives off a vibe familiar to any eSports veterans.
Another key difference between this studio and most other eSports staging areas is the way that broadcasting is set up. Unlike most studios that deal in eSports, events held in the Microsoft Store are going to be broadcast exclusively on Beam, the streaming service that Microsoft acquired back in August. With Twitch being the go-to streaming service for the vast majority of the eSports viewership, weíll have to wait and see if Microsoft sticks to that policy in the future.
Hereís another fun note on broadcasting: we were told that the studio is already set up to broadcast on any major cable network, if they decided they needed to. We werenít told whether or not Microsoft had any plans to broadcast eSports events onto cable in the near future, but it certainly wouldnít be out of the question. ESPN 2 has already made eSports a part of their programming with events like Heroes of the Dorm, so itís only a matter of joining the bandwagon.
The studio isnít huge Ė itís designed to hold a small live audience and broadcast to Beam.
So, all in all, what does this mean for the future of eSports in Microsoft? Itís hard to say. As much as I want to believe that this is the beginning of some grand movement by Microsoft to embrace the increasingly profitable world of competitive gaming, itís just too early to say that. It very much seems like this studio, at least for now, is a love letter to the casual fans of multiplayer gaming who want to get more interested in seeing the true competitive scene.
Itís entirely possible that this studio could start seeing a whole lot more action as time goes on and games like Gears of War 4 and Gigantic work on expanding the competitive scenes for Microsoft-owned games. I was one of the first 100 or so people that have set foot inside the completed studio: Itís most certainly in its infancy right now. For the moment, all we can do is sit and wait Ė even if Microsoft doesnít decide to dive head-first into eSports in the near future, you can bet that theyíre keeping this studio handy as more competitive games come to Xbox.
If you want to check out this studio yourself, keep an eye on Microsoftís eSports and Gaming webpage, where youíll be able to see if there are any events coming up soon.