The Growing Importance of Destination Cities to the Esports Ecosystem

There is a shift happening in esports: Destinations are quickly becoming a more significant part of the ecosystem.

As esports burgeoned in popularity and influence, there were publishers, developers, competitions, platforms, teams and players who drew most of the industry’s attention. But as esports evolves and organizers of live events eye a return to some measure of normalcy in the second half of this year, cities adept at hosting events and enhancing the esports space are gaining prominence.

“Esports began online, but in order to gain exposure and validation, it had to transition to a live, in-person environment,” said Neil Johnson, Director of Esports for Events DC, the convention and sports authority for Washington, DC.

“Live events are a key component in esports stakeholders’ efforts to gain exposure and awareness,” Johnson added. For cities looking to position themselves as esports destinations, it is not just about landing events that generate revenue, it is also about enhancing and developing the esports space and experience.

“Now esports event organizers are looking at destinations that create the most powerful draw, have a track record of success, and are trying to do the biggest thing in esports – which is enhancing the space,” he said. “Esports event organizers want to go to destinations that lift and provide something new to the ecosystem.”

Cities that have realized success, per Johnson, include Los Angeles, which is home to multiple esports organizations, developers, and talent management companies establishing themselves in the industry; San Francisco, home to gaming platform Twitch, in addition to several developers and esports-endemic companies; and Atlanta, which is emerging as an esports destination thanks to support of local and state governments.

“As a destination, you have to know what your strategic advantage is. You have to understand what your selling point is,” Johnson said. “There are seven or eight leading destinations that have really carved out a unique space and an offering. As a young and emerging esports destination, we are looking to do the same in Washington, DC, but with our own unique twist.”

The Capital of Esports

Events DC is striving to elevate the nation’s capital to a top-five esports destination domestically and a top-15 destination internationally. The strategy behind this goal is to activate on all levels of the esports ecosystem – from grassroots to professional, and everything in between.

Here is a look at some of the ways Events DC is engaging with the esports space:

  • On a global level, Events DC is partnering with esports news and media outlets to raise visibility and awareness.
  • On a professional level, Events DC is a sponsor of several organizations, such as NRG, the Washington Justice Overwatch team, and Monumental Sports and Entertainment’s Wizards District Gaming (the current NBA2K League Champions).
  • On an amateur level, Events DC is committed to working with several branches of the U.S. military on their respective esports initiatives.
  • On a collegiate level, Johnson’s group is engaging with 15 area universities to form a regional league slated to launch this spring.
  • On a grassroots level, a local partnership has been successful with The Game Gym, which hosts esports events for K-12 students and provides education not only about gaming, but also nutrition, ergonomics, and mental health.
  • From a diversity and inclusion standpoint, Events DC is engaged in discussions with HBCU-affiliated programs in an effort to increase representation and decrease the technology gap lower-income schools are facing.
  • The Washington, DC area is home to the industry’s leading trade groups. The Consumer Technology Association, which hosts the massively influential Consumer Electronics Show, is based in nearby Arlington, Virginia. The National Association of Broadcasters, which organizes the NAB Show is based in DC. Bethesda Softworks, a leading game developer, is located just across the Maryland boarder.

Johnson’s message to potential partners: “Events DC is positioning the District as the Capital of Esports. Our propositional advantage is that you are interacting with Events DC, you are working with a partner who truly understands esports at all levels of the industry. “

Return to Live Events

ESL announced its 2021 schedule in January with a focus on “in-person competitions from within a controlled studio environment” until a return to live events with in-person audiences around November. Events DC is looking at a similar timeframe.

“We are ensuring all aspects of our business are in line with the requirements for hosting live events around Q3 and Q4,” Johnson said.

That preparation includes the Walter E. Washington Convention Center becoming the first convention center in the northeast corridor to obtain GBAC STAR accreditation for preeminent cleaning, disinfection, and infection prevention strategies. Two other Events DC facilities in the District of Columbia, Entertainment & Sports Arena and the DC Armory, were also awarded with the accreditation.

In November, the Walter E. Washington Convention Center hosted the DC Paradise Jam men’s basketball tournament, where COVID-19 safety protocols were of the upmost focus. Events DC worked closely with DC Health and Basketball Travelers to develop and implement a strict testing protocol, enforced social distancing measures, isolated teams while not competing, medical oversight, mandated wearing of PPE, enhanced cleaning procedures in the host hotel and venue and contactless food and beverage management. The plan was implemented as intended without incident.

“Events DC is prepared to take the protocols developed for the DC Paradise Jam and apply them to welcome live events back to our nation’s capital,” said Pete Kirschner, Senior Director of Business Development at Events DC. “As we work with our partners across the city to ensure that health and safety is on the forefront of any return to business policy, potential event organizers can rest assured knowing that they are coming to a city who is prepared.”

Washington, DC is not just touting their preparedness from a health and safety perspective, but they are actively discussing how to leverage technology within their venues to support some of the positive digital enhancements that can be applied to in-person events in the future.

“There has been a ton of innovation across the industry over the past year,” Kirschner said. “We are working with event organizers to take the most engaging parts of their virtual experiences and merge them into their live shows creating a hybrid model that will be needed as we slowly begin to gather, expand their reach and enhance the consumer experience.”

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