Cinema operators will soon be woven into the fabric of the competitive gaming business model, where audiences can experience esports tournament play with a wide range of 4D motion and special effects.

The TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, California, one of the most famous cinema complexes in the world that has been in operation since 1927 on the historic Walk of Fame, is stepping into esports by partnering with MediaMation to launch an immersive cinema that will double as both a functioning MX4D Motion EFX movie theater and serve as a spectator infrastructure for gaming fans.

MediaMation also has partnered with TCL Chinese Theatre and Hammers Esports, a successful esports franchise featuring Overwatch, Vainglory and Clash Royale teams, to form the subsidiary Hollywood Esports, a managing network that will provide theaters across the Unites States and China, as well as tournament organizers and game publishers a consistent network to host global events.

Subsequently, “Hollywood Hammers,” an organization that looks to lead the trend of esports teams being more accessible and connected to local fans, has been formed, too.

Daniel Jamele, CEO, co-founder and chief systems designer of MediaMation, will be bringing his company’s MX4D systems that are programmed to move in sync with the movie-and-esports action along with offering air and water blasts, leg and neck ticklers, seat and back pokers and rumblers, fog and other special effects.

Jamele joined AListDaily to discuss how esports can be the next big thing for theaters.

How do you introduce MediaMation as a company to those who are unfamiliar with the brand?

MediaMation has been around for 27 years now. We started in the attractions and theme park industry providing control systems for motion simulators—like dinosaurs for movies such as Jurassic Park and animatronics for The Terminator, as well as interactive show-control systems for fountain shows in museums and more throughout the industry. We were one of the first companies to do digital 3D motion simulator rides in Las Vegas back when HD and digital were unknown, and people were still using film. We come from that background, and about 12 years ago, we started manufacturing our own line of motion seats called MX4D Motion Seats. They’ve been selling throughout the world at different attractions and industries. About six years ago, we moved into the cinema market, and that’s done really well for us. We work with roughly 200 theaters worldwide that show blockbuster movies with our technology. We program all of the motion now for movies like Alien and The Mummy.

How did you identify esports as a new business vertical?

The thing was, “where do we go next with what we have?” We have this great network of theaters around the world, we have this great, interactive and immersive experience. The obvious move for us was esports because there isn’t a complete network of esports arenas for people to go watch, view and play. We ideated on how to turn a movie theater into not just a movie theater playing a video game, but actually an esports arena. Our plan was for players and audiences to have a consistent, comfortable, standardized place to play with high-powered computers.

How are you engaging consumers?

We’re trying to create a place where everyone can follow a schedule and go on a Tuesday night for Overwatch, Wednesday for Call of Duty or League of Legends, or whatever it is. They know they can go hang out with people, and have a social experience that they can’t get at home. It’s fun. It’s enjoyable. With effects and motion, it’s different. On the audience side, we drop in side screens so we can have all the player information presented. Shoutcasters are in the back to keep the whole thing going. Spectators are not just watching, they’re getting exciting arena action with effects, fog, smoke and everything else we do. They’re getting full motion to track people on screen. They’re immersed in the action. So we feel we have a fantastic way of getting this around, and with our network of theaters that keeps growing, to about 250 by the end of the year, we’re really anticipating this to be not just a local phenomenon, but a phenomenon that’s marketed in a world-wide setting.

Since MediaMation’s expertise is not in esports, how are you forming the right partnerships?

We formed a new company called Hollywood Esports, whose job is to feed content, create shows, work with organizers to book tournaments, book theaters and keep everything rolling so that we deliver premium experiences to cinemas. Hollywood Esports consists of MediaMation, TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood and Hammer Esports, owners of several esports teams who also have experience producing tournaments. They understand the whole ecosystem within the gaming community, which we don’t have expertise in. For instance, they provide casters, and input on how the game stations have to be set up, or how the game should be going.

Why does TCL Chinese Theatre want to be at the forefront of this potential movement? What’s their strategy going into the space?

Believe it not, TCL Chinese Theatre has always been at the forefront of technology. They have the largest IMAX screen in the world. They were the first to put in laser projectors. As they’re working toward expansion, one of the obvious things for them was to incorporate our MX40 and become a flagship; Robert K. Laity, the CEO of TCL Chinese Theatre, was very excited about it and wanted to be the first. With the branding they have as one of the most noticeable theaters in the whole world, it’s been a great start. We couldn’t get a better branding experience and partnership than with TCL Chinese Theatre. They also own huge digital billboards on Hollywood Blvd., where every month, whether it’s tourists or locals, 15 million people walk by them. After seeing the marketing, they start to understand. The buzz within the community of suppliers and sponsors is very high. . . . MediaMation is not three guys sitting in some trendy office building in Santa Monica. We understand the real world. We’ve been around, we’ve done it and we have all the gravitas. TCL Chinese Theatre knows how to put on events, and they know the Hollywood crowd, celebrities and bringing in people of influence.

Gaming is obviously a huge global market. How is your strategy tapping into it going to be different?

Rather than being just movie centers, the cinema space is looking to turn into entertainment centers. They’re vying to do anything different so that they can bring people out of the home, and into their venue. They have great audio and video, concessions, parking and access. They have this great space in prime locations world-wide. Yet, they’re dead from Monday-to-Friday night. They’re maybe at 10 percent occupancy. Friday night it kicks in and after Sunday they’re dead again. They have this great unused space, so we’re thinking this is the perfect opportunity to utilize it on off hours, and probably throughout the weekend, too. It’s a perfect win-win for them, it’s a win-win for the gaming communities and it’s a win-win for MediaMation. There already is a customer base, so we’re looking to expand on it.

When can we expect the grand opening to take place at the Chinese Theatre?

We’re on track, but unfortunately the city of Hollywood does not move at the kind of speed we normally move at when it comes to approvals of their building permits. So we’re probably pushing it more toward September. We have a network of theaters around the world that we work with already and they’re already clamoring to get this in there. They really want to know what they need to do so they can integrate it into theirs.

What is your marketing strategy looking like?  

We’re looking to leverage the network of Hammer Esports. They’re like a marketing team themselves with their communities. We have our standard, traditional and social media marketing mixes, too, of course. We’ll handle our end, they’ll handle the esports side.

How have you worked with Soylent as a sponsor? 

Soylent is Hollywood Esports’ first tier-one partner that we decided to expand and grow with. Our secondary partner is DX Racer, the official seat of Hollywood Esports now. Soylent also sponsored our E3 after party in June. They wanted to align their marketing strategy with gaming-related activations, which I think is smart because their grab-and-go product is great for gamers. It’s the perfect demographic for that type of food. 

How do you envision the space developing with these types of experiences?

One of the things that we’re also doing at TCL Chinese Theatre during the roll out is the first VR-ready motion cinema. We see that studios are creating VR experiences, but they have no place to screen and showcase it—and then we add the elements of motion to it. Each one of our seats has the infrastructure built in. We see great potential in what’s going on with that. The trick with VR is that nobody can figure out a really good business model for it because it’s expensive. The best business model so far has been PlayStation VR and some of the others that are designed for single-home users. The out-of-home entertainment market is a challenge.

How do you plan on scaling?

We’re proud of how this all came together. We think the differentiator of what we’re doing and what other people are doing is that we’re less concerned about being our own league. Maybe we’ll be a league, who knows. But we want to work with the leagues and grow the ecosystem. That’s extremely important to us. When you look at esports, it’s big, but it’s still so raw right now. We think that having differentiators from an experience standpoint, complemented with operational expertise and a network of theaters, is going to be a winning combination.

Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan