Team Dignitas’ female Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) team was the first to go through the Philadelphia 76ers “boot camp,” a program designed to apply the same training, nutritional and marketing expertise that NBA rookies undergo to esports for the first time. Heather Garozzo, director of fan marketing at Team Dignitas, experienced that boot camp first-hand by spending time inside the Sixers’ Camden training facility the week before E3.
“In the past, we’d boot camp by getting together in a player’s house or studio apartment, so now we have access to the Sixers’ $82 million facility overlooking their beautiful practice court,” Garozzo said. “We’re mostly Los Angeles-based and we compete in Europe, so it’s a nice location to break that long trip in half and get some practice time, as well as access to the nutritionists, the sports psychologists, strength and conditioning coaches, physical therapists and all the tools that the professional athletes have access to.”
Garozzo has been playing competitive CS:GO since 1999 for teams like Evil Geniuses and Virtus Gaming and has a female world championship under her belt. Garazzo also spent time working at the FleischmanHillard PR agency on the Championship Gaming Series. She joined her current team in 2014 and was along for the ride as they were picked up by Team Dignitas, which was then acquired by the Sixers last year.
“The core of this team has been together now for three years and we’ve gone through a number of different organizations, but a lot of times, it was us ironing our names on the back of our jerseys and it was really hard to get those big sponsors at the time,” Garazzo explained. “Dignitas is a historic brand and now that they’re backed by the Philadelphia 76ers, another iconic brand. Everything is different.”
Before having the Sixers step in to sell sponsorships, the women’s team was attracting endemic brands like such HyperX and Dell. Now the team is also working with brands like Mountain Dew and Buffalo Wild Wings.
“We came from playing in small venues with endemic sponsors and now we’re doing things for some of the biggest brands in the world,” Garozzo said. “We hosted a fan meet-up at a Buffalo Wild Wings event to watch ELeague and 150 people showed up to meet us, get autographs and hang out. So, we’re excited to do more of those in the future.”
As more non-endemic brands enter esports, the Sixers are also looking to tap into brand new sponsorship opportunities that only a women’s team can attract.
“We sat in a room with 15 to 20 people from the Sixers marketing team and their jobs are to find us sponsors,” Garozzo said. “They asked us to list the things that we use and what products are important to us as players and as people. We’re really excited now that we have this entire team going out and trying to find products that we feel that we could market really well to our audience.”
Garozzo said the power in esports for brands is that fans are extremely loyal and they get to know players at a personal level through daily digital interactions across platforms.
“If we’re not competing at a tournament, we are streaming on Facebook or Twitch and interacting with our fans on Twitter,” Garozzo said. “There are a lot of opportunities to show off the brands that we love and the brands that we’re passionate about and there are a lot of females that have recently come into esports. It’s one of the fastest-growing audiences and we never had female role models growing up. Now we look at ourselves as the role models, the pioneers for female esports, so we feel like we can speak very passionately to and authentically to a lot of our big sponsors.”
The Sixers organization made a business decision earlier this year to expand beyond Twitch and have all of its esports teams also stream on Facebook, a platform many non-endemics are very familiar with.
“With Facebook, we essentially have 500 hundred million people that could potentially be our fans that maybe know a little about gaming or maybe know about sports and competition, and we want to welcome them to Dignitas,” Garozzo said. “Facebook is a great place to be as we’re working with non-endemics like the Buffalo Wild Wings and the Mountain Dews.”