Wizards District Gaming is owned by Monumental Sports and Entertainment, which owns both the Washington Wizards and the Washington Capitals. They have been in the esports news as of late, as Wizards District Gaming is trying to branch out into demographic traditional sports seems to lack a stronghold on: esports.
What a World We Live In
Sure, licensed sports simulations/games have existed as far back as the 1980s. Every year, a new Madden game comes out and has since we were kids. But as esports continues to grow, we’ve only recently seen a Madden esports scene. The NHL is moving that way, too, with the Gaming World Championship (GWC), which takes place before its yearly awards event.
The NBA has grabbed hold perhaps harder than any other sport, except for maybe Soccer/FIFA. The NBA 2K League has 23 teams competing this year, with players doing their best to excel at digital basketball. Included in this, is Wizards District Gaming esports star, 23-year-old Ryan Conger.
Conger is a part of a six-man squad that plays NBA 2K. “I wake up in the morning and my biggest concern is playing video games. I don’t think that’s a hard life if you ask me,” he said.
There are some interesting stories among the esports stars of traditional sports, such as John “JohnWayne” Casagranda, the only esports player signed to an NHL team. He lives independently of them and lives in Alaska. However, he has a regular job with an airline, in between practicing two to three hours a day during the week. That ramps up to 12 hours on weekends.
Significantly different from Conger who gets $37,500 to play NBA 2K and lives in a free apartment. Bear in mind, that’s 37,500 for six months of gameplay! That’s a pretty serious amount of money to play simulated basketball. It’s not all about competitions, though. They are also trying to get eyes on the product through practice sessions and livestreams.
After all, they need to get as many eyes on their product as possible. Streaming is such an integral part of getting people to watch actual esports tournaments online. Keep them coming to the streams, have the streamer talk about the upcoming match, hype it up!
Casagranda, for example, recently played against the Columbus Blue Jackets on a three-person team, with a team official and the Capitals bald eagle mascot, “Slapshot.” Precisely 226 people tuned in to the match on Twitch, even though the Capitals were blown out of the water. It’s hard to play a hockey game in a mascot costume, so expect these things.
Zachary Leonsis, senior vice president of strategic initiatives for Monumental Sports & Entertainment, discussed this change. “Twitch is monetizing big audiences very differently,” he said. “I think we do look to eSports as reaching a brand-new audience and reaching an audience that we may never touch with our traditional sport teams.”
Is There Hope for Online Sports?
We sure think so! Newzoo has discussed this, and if anyone knows analytics, it’s them. What did they say? Remer Rietkerk, head of esports at Newzoo, the video game research firm said that online simulated sports “represents a relatively modest marketing investment to engage a younger audience who might not be exposed to the team otherwise.”
An example of this is NHL’s GWC in 2019 which brought in 632,907 unique viewers, which is more than 190% up from last year. That is a colossal improvement. Sure, that’s nothing compared to the real-world Stanley Cup finals, which had 8.9 million viewers. The world championships for League of Legends had 44 million people watching. Does that mean it’s not worth growing esports for traditional sports? I don’t think so.
Traditional sports outlets aren’t giving up either. For example, NBA 2K’s free version has 44 million users in China, according to Brendan Donohue, the league’s managing director. He fully expects to launch divisions in Asia and Europe as the years go on. He discussed the NBA and online gaming as well. “My son became a fan of Steph Curry and LeBron James playing 2K,” he said, referring to the two basketball superstars. “In terms of the speed, of the growth in terms of the number of teams, it’s a very successful affiliate league.”
All esports must start somewhere, after all. League of Legends didn’t start with 40+ million viewers. And after all, there is an overlap somewhere between traditional and esports, they must find it. If they can get their traditional fans watching gamers playing, it can mean a lot of things.
More people will view traditional and esports as they overlap, and perhaps the children of traditional sports fans might try to get into esports. There’s a lot of potential in traditional sports moving into the realm of esports. It sounds like Wizards District Gaming is on the cusp of something great in their moves into this still-growing realm.