Interested in learning what’s next for the gaming industry? Join gaming executives to discuss emerging parts of the industry this October at GamesBeat Summit Next. Register today.
Version1 esports, parent company of the Call of Duty League’s Minnesota Røkkr, is set to host upcoming regular season CDL matches in Minneapolis. Typically, in-person matches are reserved for CDL Majors — five larger tournaments spaced throughout the season. The Minnesota Røkkr Home Series is the first time a CDL team is hosting regular season matches in-person.
The two events will see the Røkkr face off against two opponents per day in front of 1,000 fans.
Brett Diamond, chief operating officer at Version1, confirmed in an interview with GamesBeat that Activision Blizzard’s esports department made small modifications to the CDL’s schedule to accommodate the event.
Version1’s regional focus
Version1 esports is a relatively new organization. Founded in 2019, the team is majority owned by the Wilf family, owners of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings, and minority owned by entrepreneur and investor Gary Vaynerchuk. The Minnesota Røkkr was one of the Call of Duty League’s founding teams and Version1’s debut.
In late January of 2020, Version1 hosted the CDL’s opening weekend. During this event, the team was able to execute on its intended business plan. After all, both the Overwatch League and the CDL were pitched as regionalized esports leagues modeled after traditional sports. Version1’s plans centered on building that local fanbase with the Minnesota Røkkr while using the Version1 brand to go global.
In addition to hosting professional matches, the Version1 team put time and effort into the fan experience. The event hosted an open tournament where attendees could participate. In general, most fans agreed that the event itself was a success. Version1 is confident they could have sold twice as many tickets as they did.
And then COVID hit, forcing Version1 to pause its event plans. But now, that’s changed. This spring, the team hosted its second Call of Duty Major. Similarly, the event was a major success for both Version1 and fans. The 2,000 available tickets sold out.
But for 2023, Version1 plans to further iterate on its events business. Hosting CDL majors will be central to the success of both the league and its teams, but they are not something the teams can rely on. The 2022-2023 CDL season will have five majors but 12 teams as potential hosts in the league. Additionally, major events at this scale become resource heavy and expensive for teams to host.
“The Call of Duty League majors are not always available or viable to host on a yearly basis. For us, majors are probably an every two or three year thing. In the meantime, we wanted find a sustainable live event format that we can host every year, multiple times a year,” said Diamond. “We believe the local fans primarily want to see their hometown team. That’s really the genesis of this concept. It’s something that nobody has really tried to do before at this scale in North American esports.”
Version1 sees smaller, more frequent live events as a community building tool.
In addition to organizing tournaments, the team has succeed in bringing fans together for viewing parties. The company has partnered with Bud Light’s Cooldown in Europe for viewing parties alongside a local bars. The company even organized a concert. For Rocket League’s world championship in August 2022, Version1 hosted a daily March to the Match to build hype.
More teams are shifting towards independently hosted esports events:
- Complexity, owned by GameSquare, has been leveraging streaming talent like Tim “TimTheTatman” Betar to bring fans out to the company’s GameStop Performance Center in Dallas
- FaZe Clan just announced a deal with Comcast’s Xfinity to bring music and gaming crossover events to college campus’ across the U.S.
Version1’s advantage is that it was able to test its events strategy on a smaller, but consistent basis. This is giving the company more opportunities to learn and iterate.
“It’s also important to consistently test the upper limit of what fans are interested in and what they want, how many events do they want to go to? What are they looking for, from an experience standpoint?” explained Diamond.
Most of Version1 is borrowing from traditional sports stadium culture to elevate the fan experience. For example, Diamond promises something exclusive like merchandise to fans who attend both days of the Minnesota Røkkr Home Series.
Version1 is planning programming from before the matches until fans go to sleep. Diamond teased activities around the venues and fan meetups before the matches. Fans should expect sponsorship activations at the venue and the opportunity to engage with visiting teams at their own booths.
But Version1’s expertise truly shines during the game. “There’ll be a lot of exciting things from a programming standpoint around the matches. I think that’s what really differentiated the events [Version1] has done in the past is the intentionality of every minute of that fan experience. Our director of events was previously the ran the end game show for the Minnesota Timberwolves. He has a game script intended to entertain and to build to a crescendo of energy. We want fans to want to get loud to support the team,” Diamond emphasized.
The Røkkr are also involving sponsors in their fan outreach. With partner USAA Insurance, it created a fan group called the Røkkr Regiment to connect with military members who share a passion for Call of Duty. The community members get exclusive perks.
“Fans will have different motivations for coming to events for esports, sports, other kinds of entertainment. You’re always gonna have your hardcore fan who will watch every second of action, but you also have people that are coming for the overall experience. For us the event experience is from the time a fan wakes up until the time they go home on event day. It’s about making sure we give fans the opportunity to have the experience they want,” Diamond confirmed.
Back on Track
Now that esports businesses like Version1 are confident that COVID won’t keep fans from flocking to events, they are going all-in on engaging with fans in-person. Plans were paused, not scuttled.
“I think this is what the localized franchise model would have evolved towards naturally had COVID not been a thing. Logically, events like this are the right fit from both a business and fan engagement standpoint,” Diamond speculated.
If these events prove to be successful, more esports leagues and tournaments may take note. Many industry leaders were skeptical of the Overwatch League and Call of Duty League’s city based approach. However, they might have been on to something with the focus on building a local fandom. Creating community is everything in esports and stakeholders want to add every effective tool to their arsenal.
To both Diamond and the Version1 team, tweaking the event’s format and operating at a different scale will be an opportunity to learn. Through this iterative testing, Minnesota Røkkr and Version1 hope to stay ahead of the curve in events production.
“One of our priorities for 2023 is taking the things that have been successful with building a local fan base around Røkkr and scaling those nationally with Version1.”
Fans can sign up now for the ticket pre-sale beginning in November. Ticket options will include general admission and VIP, single day tickets and combination packages to attend all Home Series events in 2023.