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Last weekend, the Minnesota Røkkr hosted the first-ever home market event for the Call of Duty League in Minneapolis. From day one, the CDL will look to engage local fan bases for each of its 12 franchises as each plays host to league competition throughout the year.
The Overwatch League kicked off the city-based esports era in 2018, and that model has already provided at least on regional sponsorship (the Houston Outlaws and grocery store chain HEB) that would not have been viable otherwise. However, for Røkkr owner and VaynerMedia CEO Gary Vaynerchuk, the localization model gives the CDL an advantage for more than just local sponsors.
“I’m less about the strategy of [sponsorships in local markets], Vaynerchuk told The Esports Observer. “I’m more into what it actually means to somebody who could be casual, or not aware at all, and the tribalization of local sports.”
He added that all of the promotion surrounding the launch weekend has inevitably converted a new fan for the Røkkr.
“Let’s just make him up: Rick, the 44-year-old in a suburb of Minneapolis has become aware of this, has not been super aware of the esports phenomenon, living his life outside of that market…Becomes aware, does a little Google-ing, and literally has bought a Minnesota Røkkr hoodie this weekend and has decided because he loved video games in the 80’s and 90’s…’I want to have a new team,’ or ‘it’s fun being a [Minnesota Timberwolves] fan, but let me add this, I didn’t realize it was this big.’
According to Vaynerchuk, that added variable of an established connection to a fan familiar with the city’s sports teams helps lock in a fan more than if the organizations were simply OpTic Gaming or FaZe Clan. “So I think what the localization does is it allows the expansion of the sport on a casual level that I think could benefit the overall sport.”
Additionally, Vaynerchuk believes that the league’s model of touring from city to city ”gives it a structure fans are accustomed to, and creates a framework of repetitive structure that they’ve seen in other sports, which I think subconsciously makes the sport grow in legitimacy.”
Having this added layer of legitimacy will help the league court major non-endemic sponsors and reach casual fans, Vaynerchuk explained, but also risks upsetting the entrenched Call of Duty fan who preferred the grassroots teams and culture the game had before its pros played for multi-million-dollar franchises. However, he said that these fans will likely remain invested in the league because “the gameplay will always trump that.”
“The NFL has gone through a ton of muckery over the last 15 years. Casual fans might have left it potentially. I will never miss a snap of a New York Jets game. If you’re a die-hard CoD fan, you’re watching this. You may be miffed with some of it, you may have wanted this to be on Twitch instead of YouTube, you might think that the city thing is a sellout, but you still want to see the best players in the world play.”
In fact, for Vaynerchuk the simple fact that this league is based on Call of Duty is its strongest selling point. He feels that the game’s broad appeal, having been one of the games that was considered “cool” before video games had reached today’s level of mainstream acceptance, gives the league a big advantage.
“It’s the biggest reason I spent a lot of money to own a piece of this team. It’s broader. To me, when the coolest people on instagram are putting screenshots of them playing in their stories, that matters. And it happens for Call of Duty much more than it happens for the far majority of games in the world.”
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