Vikings and Gary Vee’s Version1 to Deliver the Regional Vision of Call of Duty League

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Version1 esports, Minnesota Røkkr’s parent company of the Call of Duty League, will host the upcoming regular season CDL competitions in Minneapolis. Typically, personal matches are reserved for CDL Majors – five major tournaments spread over the season. The Minnesota Røkkr Home Series is the first time a CDL team has personally hosted regular-season games.

During the two events, the Røkkr will face 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 division has made minor changes to the CDL’s schedule to accommodate the event.

Regional focus of version1

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 a minority of entrepreneur and investor Gary Vaynerchuk. The Minnesota Røkkr was a founding member of the Call of Duty League and the debut of Version1.

At the end of January 2020, Version1 hosted the opening weekend of the CDL. During this event, the team was able to execute the 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 focused on building that local fan base with the Minnesota Røkkr while using the Version1 brand to go global.

In addition to hosting professional competitions, the Version1 team has put time and effort into the fan experience. The event hosted an open tournament in which participants could participate. Overall, most fans agreed that the event itself was a success. Version1 is convinced that 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 has changed. This spring, the team hosted its second Call of Duty Major. Likewise, the event was a huge success for Version1 and fans alike. The 2,000 available tickets were sold out.

But for 2023, Version1 plans to further repeat its event 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 five majors will have only 12 teams as potential hosts in the league. In addition, large events on this scale become heavy and expensive for teams to host.

“The Call of Duty League Majors are not always available or feasible to host on an annual basis. For us, majors are probably every two or three years. In the meantime, we wanted to find a sustainable format for live events that we can organize every year, several times a year,” said Diamond. “We think the local fans mainly want to see their home team. That’s really the origin of this concept. It’s something that nobody has tried on this scale before in North American esports.”

go local

Version1 sees smaller, more frequent live events as a community building tool.

In addition to organizing tournaments, the team has managed to bring fans together for viewing parties. The company partners with Bud Light’s Cool off in Europe for watching parties next to a local bars. The company even organized a concert. For the Rocket League World Championship in August 2022, Version1 hosted a daily March to the Match to build hype.

More teams shifting to independently hosted esports events:

  • Complexity, owned by GameSquare, leverages streaming talent like Tim”TimTheTatmanBetar brings fans to the company’s GameStop Performance Center in Dallas
  • FaZe clan just announced a deal featuring Comcast’s Xfinity to bring music and gaming crossover events to US college campuses

The advantage of Version1 is that it was able to test its event strategy on a smaller, but consistent basis. This gives the company more opportunities to learn and iterate.

“It’s also important to consistently test the upper bound 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 experiential point of view?” Diamond explained.

Most of Version1 borrows from traditional sports stadium culture to enhance the fan experience. For example, Diamond promises something exclusive like merchandise to fans attending both days of the Minnesota Røkkr Home Series.

Version 1 schedules the programming from before the games until the fans go to sleep. Diamond-plagued activities around the venues and fan meetups before the matches. Fans can expect sponsor activations at the venue and the opportunity to interact with visiting teams at their own booths.

But Version1’s expertise really shows through the game. “A lot of exciting things will happen from a programming standpoint around the games. I think that really set the events apart [Version1] has done in the past is the intentionality of every minute of that fan experience. Our director of events was previously the endgame show for the Minnesota Timberwolves. He has a game script meant to entertain and build to a crescendo of energy. We want fans to be loud to support the team,” Diamond emphasized.

The Røkkr also involve sponsors in their fan base. With partner USAA Insurance, it created a fan group called the Røkkr Regiment to connect with military personnel who share a passion for Call of Duty. The community members get exclusive benefits.

“Fans will have different motivations for coming to events for esports, sports and other forms of entertainment. You always have your hardcore fan who will see the action every second, but you also have people who come for the overall experience. For us, the event experience is from the moment a fan wakes up to the moment they go home on event day. It’s about making sure we give fans the opportunity to have the experience they want,” confirms Diamond.

Back on track

Now that esports companies like Version1 are confident that COVID won’t stop fans flocking to events, they’re going all out to engage with fans in person. Plans were paused, not sunk.

“I think this is where the localized franchise model would have evolved naturally if COVID hadn’t been a thing. Logically, events like this are a good fit from both a business and fan engagement point of view,” Diamond speculated.

If these events prove successful, more esports leagues and tournaments could take note. Many industry leaders were skeptical of the Overwatch League and Call of Duty League’s city-centric approach. However, it may be that they were on to something with a focus on building a local fandom. Creating a community is everything in esports and stakeholders want to add every effective tool to their arsenal.

For both Diamond and the Version1 team, it’s an opportunity to learn by adapting the format of the event and operating on a different scale. Through these iterative tests, Minnesota Røkkr and Version1 hope to remain at the forefront of event production.

“One of our priorities for 2023 is to take the things that have been successful in building a local fan base around Røkkr and scale it up nationally with Version1.”

Fans can now sign up for the presale tickets early November. Ticket options include general admission and VIP, day tickets and combination packages to attend all Home Series events in 2023.

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