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Esports get serious: Alienware, top team partner on training sites

The gamer-friendly PC maker is working with Team Liquid, a leading esports team, on two gyms to up its players' gaming skills.

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Esports is becoming a big business. Here is the stage at the League of Legends championships in Beijing.

Getty Images

It takes more than lightning reflexes to become the best gamer on the planet.

Just like other competitors, esports players need regular exercise, constant training and even the occasional scrimmage against other teams.

That's why Dell gaming devices brand Alienware is partnering with Team Liquid, one of the top gaming teams in the world, to outfit an 8,000 square-foot building in Los Angeles they've named the Alienware eSports Training Facility. The building will be home to gym equipment, administrators, an in-house chef, sports psychologists, nutritionists and, of course, a bunch of high-performance computers.

"We're definitely being as sophisticated in terms of support structure of a typical sports team," said Mike Milanov, chief operating officer of Team Liquid, which has groups that compete in hit titles like League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Defense of the Ancients 2.

The partnership, which includes a smaller site in Europe, is getting announced during CES, the tech industry's largest annual trade show. Dell is also using this week's Las Vegas show to announce new XPS-labeled gaming computers and software to manage them. Along the same lines, the company is hosting a tournament amid CES for a VR running game called Sprint Vector.

The investment in training sites marks another step in the gradual move toward treating esports as legitimate international competition. Over the past couple decades, competitive gaming has expanded from players coming together to face off for fun to matches broadcast on national television in South Korea.

By 2013, the world championship for League of Legends sold out the 21,000-seat Staples Center in Los Angeles and attracted 32 million viewers through streaming services. That's more than the number of people who tuned in for the finales of "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and "The Late Show with David Letterman" -- combined.

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Here is a concept image of one of the stations that Team Liquid intends to set up at its training sites.

Team Liquid

Meanwhile, all manner of investment is flowing in. The Philadelphia 76ers NBA team, for example, bought two esports teams in 2016 and opened up its training sites to them. Meanwhile, Facebook has teamed up with ESL, one of the largest esports leagues in the world, to stream competitions. Even the sporting news heavyweight ESPN covers esports.

"We're getting a lot less 'this is not a sport' comments," Milanov said.

The competitions are growing rapidly enough that Andrew Paradise, CEO of esports technology company Skillz, expects esports to hit the big time sooner rather than later. "You're looking at esports becoming a part of the Olympics in the 2020s," he said.

Alienware chose to work with Team Liquid both because it wants to help further legitimize esports. The company also sees it as a chance to learn from the players, so it can build mice, keyboards and other devices the teams will want to use in competition.

"We want to be the hardware that's driving the next generation of esports players," said Bryan de Zayas, head of Dell's gaming efforts.

As part of the three-year deal to support Team Liquid's training sites, Alienware will outfit players with high-performance computers and work with them to create team-approved devices it can sell to fans and aspiring competitors.

"The level of coaching -- even a chef and nutritionist on staff -- preparation and technology in the facilities is unprecedented," said Jeff Clarke, Dell's vice chairman of products and operations.

It's all a necessary part of helping the industry grow into a legitimate worldwide sport, said Mike Vorhaus, president of brand consulting firm Frank N. Magid Associates. Vorhaus said he realized esports would be huge when he learned that teams have dedicated fans and even groupies. 

"This is just like real sports," he said.

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