Although it’s not officially a city, the District of Columbia is the first of what could be a new wave of local, city and state convention and tourism involvement in the burgeoning business of professional video gaming, commonly referred to as eSports. Events DC, which represents the US capital’s convention and sports authority, has officially stepped in to sponsor NRG ESports, an electronic sports team owned by NBA veterans such as Andy Miller.
While Shaquille O’Neal, Alex Rodriguez and Jimmy Rollins are the more famous investors in NRG ESports, team president Brett Lautenbach told [a]listdaily that it was early investor Justin Siegel who made the introduction to DC. “We knew DC had interest in getting involved in eSports,” said Lautenbach. “They saw that the power of eSports was something to harness and there was a benefit to working together. Conversations moved very fast with the goal to help drive tourism interest into the DC area. There’s a lot of cool stuff we can do with them.”
Lautenbach explained how Washington, DC will have logos on the team jerseys, player streams and the NRG website. It will also serve as the host city for upcoming NRG boot camps to help players prepare for big competitions across games like Overwatch, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Hearthstone, Super Smash Bros. and Rocket League. Local WNBA team, the Washington Mystics, will get a new $65 million 4,200-seat arena by late 2018, which will be wired for eSports as well as basketball. NRG ESports co-owner Andy Miller believes this sports and concert facility will also open up DC to future eSports events. Red Bull has hosted a couple of eSports events at local DC theaters over the past few years, but having a state-of-the-art arena certainly opens up more opportunities as leagues and tournament organizers like ESL, IEM, DreamHack and MLG look to expand.
We’ll see this trend more with new arenas outfitted with eSports in mind,” Lautenbach said. “ESports has proven that it can fill arenas like Barclay’s Center, KeyArena, MSG and Staples Center by having the assets and facilities to engage the eSports fans,” Lautenbach said. “DC has its eyes set on hosting some major events, and hopefully our seven rosters of teams could be part of that.”
DC was also home to the first-ever White House Twitch livestreaming gaming event, which was organized by the Obama administration to educate gamers about health care reform. NRG ESports was part of that event, thanks to O’Neal’s connections. According to Lautenbach, it was there that Events DC was able to get to know NRG ESports better, stating that, “DC is looking at eSports and how to tackle that at every level because they see the massive amount of fans showing up at events like MLG Columbus and ESL One New York at Barclay’s Center.”
While no current NRG ESports team is based in DC, Lautenbach said that they’d love to send players there to practice and do boot camps. “When you’re a pro player at boot camp, you scrim for eight hours a day, but there has to be a moment when you walk away from the PC and do something else with your brain,” Lautenbach explained. “The ability to take in everything DC has to offer with its history is compelling.”
Lautenbach also sees the potential to have a gaming house in DC in the future. “We could have some players stationed there for a seasonal or year-round experience,” Lautenbach said. “I’m more fond of gaming facilities, where players can come and go for practices. I see that happening in the near future and it’s the obvious way for guys to interact.”
In addition to integrating DC across all of NRG ESports’ branding, the team’s video crews will shoot segments with players in the city to delve into its history. “We’ll raise awareness that DC is a great place to go,” Lautenbach said. “I’d be stunned if we didn’t see other cities jump into eSports. Teams and tournaments have so much to offer for the eSports community. Fans are excited and they’ll support any brand or organization that gets involved. We see this every time a new brand comes into the space. They’re welcomed by the fans.”
DC is the latest non-endemic to jump into eSports, but there are still a lot of brands sitting on the sideline.
“A lot of brands have jumped in and done amazing activations, but there are always parties that are a little hesitant,” said Lautenbach. “They should jump in now rather than later. ESports has been around a long time, but it’s still early days for these brands getting involved. It’s almost always about the community more than anything else. The only reason eSports is where it is today is because of those fans. They’re so rabid and dedicated at these eSports events. If you don’t see the value of that, I can’t convince you.”