As the largest dedicated esports facility in North America, the Esports Stadium Arlington is a testament to the scope and growth of esports. However, with rumors of inner turmoil and conflict, ESA has laid off all but two of its employees including now-former president of the facility Jonathon Oudthone who has hinted on Twitter the discontent behind the scenes. Now, the ESA will be run by new president Luke Bauer who spoke with TEO after employees took to Twitter announcing the furloughs.
Journalist Jacob Wolf was one of the first to take notice of the varying tweets of former ESA employees lamenting their situation, tweeting himself, “As I understand, today, almost all of the Esports Stadium Arlington staff were let go. Per my sources, the venue will now be run by Leitzman Luke. If I am correct, Leitzman is the grandson of Texas Rangers majority owner Ray Davis, who helped launch the venue.”
However, while Leitzman will be involved with the ESA as he currently works for the office of one of the board members, Luke Bauer has been appointed president at the ESA and explained the impetus behind the change of leadership at the facility.
“CEO Neil Leibman made the ultimate decision with backing from the board of directors (that he is also on),” Bauer told The Esports Observer in an interview on Wednesday. “Neil, to my knowledge, remains the CEO and will continue to hold final executive authority on all decisions.”
Leibman is chairman of the Texas Rangers ownership committee and its chief operating officer. He is also the owner of Esports Venues LLC, which entered into an agreement with the city of Arlington to manage the ESA. The facility itself is a 100,000 sq. ft., multi-use venue.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll on businesses including sporting entertainment, dining, and more, esports has mostly been able to shrug off the shut down effect as competitions moved to an online format. This shift meant that events scheduled for the ESA would be terminated, meaning revenue streams the facility needs to survive were no longer there. Bauer says losses at the stadium are to blame for the furloughs.
“Losses at the stadium reached a point that a full staff was not sustainable,” Bauer said. “That is why my team and I have been working for three months without compensation and will be continuing to do so until we get these employees back off of furlough.”
However, rumors of internal conflict with possible legal ramifications have surfaced surrounding the furloughs and other undisclosed situations. Additionally, there is ire that some esports fans are throwing Leitzman’s way in relation to a now deleted tweet he made regarding COVID-19 and ESA.
“Esports Stadium Arlington will not at any time require, request, or inquire about the vaccination record of anyone,” the tweet reads. “I will be buried in the ground before this changes.”
Bauer in response to this tweet and others said, “I don’t think it’d be appropriate to comment on a former employee’s personal tweets. This is an extremely difficult time for a lot of good people, even without criticism of how they choose to process these changes,” he said. “To my knowledge those tweets were directed at Luke Leitzman, who works for the office of one of the board members, and holds no position at Esports Stadium Arlington.”
Bauer also mentions that Leitzman will not be in a position to make those types of decisions, but that the ESA will in fact be following all CDC guidelines.
“To be quite frank, I’m not sure where this came from. This is not his decision to make. I want to make it very clear to everyone that we will be following all CDC guidelines,” he said. “We will work with the city in every way necessary to ensure the safety of ourselves, and anyone coming into the stadium. It is my top priority to ensure that everyone coming into the venue follows said guidelines.”
With the furloughing and firing of most of the staff, concerns have been raised as to the direction the ESA is taking in regard to what events the facility will host and if esports is still part of the business plan. Bauer does not come out and directly say what this new direction will be, but he does hint that esports will still be a part of the venue.”
“Would absolutely love to answer this in more depth, but we’re going to be putting out announcements in the coming days on what that’s all going to look like. Rest assured, this is the Esports Stadium,” he said. “I will say, however, that ESA was designed by people who care a lot about the industry, and it would be a crime if it wasn’t used as such.”
Looking ahead, Bauer wants to make the venue a profitable venture for everyone involved, a goal that may be difficult if the COVID-19 pandemic continues to shut down businesses across the country.
“My goals for 2021 and beyond are to make this venue profitable for the employees, the investors, and the city. We want everyone to feel the impact of esports not only in north Texas, but across the globe,” he said. “And that starts with the gamers. Without their passion across different game titles, platforms, and their respective communities none of this would be possible.
There’s a lot of work to be done, and I am beyond blessed with this opportunity.”