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NRG's Washington D.C. sponsorship worth six figures

by Sasha Erfanian, Daniel Rosen Mar 10
Thumbnail image courtesy of Events D.C.

NRG Esports' new partnership with the city of Washington D.C. is worth six figures, Max Brown, the chairman of D.C. Events' board of directors, told theScore esports.

D.C. Events, the convention and sports authority arm of Washington D.C. announced they were sponsoring NRG Esports on Friday afternoon, stating at the time that their goal was to position D.C. as the capital of esports. Now, Brown has shared more details about the sponsorship with theScore esports, including a look at how much money has changed hands.

"We do sponsorships all the time, you know," Brown told theScore esports. "We sponsor jazz fest, we sponsor the cherry blossom festival, we sponsor things all the time. It's just a normal course of what we do. So it's a six-figure sponsorship."

NRG president Brett Lautenbach confirmed the six-figure estimate to theScore esports, but declined to comment further on the exact amount of money involved in the deal, as well as how long the sponsorship is set to last.

Brown says that D.C.'s entrance to the esports industry began around 17 months ago, when Brown joined the D.C. Events board. He's been a fan of gaming since he was five years old, and says he has a backgrounds in gaming partially thanks to his father's business, where he helped move and fix old arcade machines. Once he joined the board, he got the ball rolling on esports.

Brown says that included looking at several teams all over the world and setting the infrastructural foundation for building an arena with at least a partial esports focus. After looking through their options, D.C. approached NRG, which Brown says was attractive in part because of their strong business background. Another attractive thing about NRG is the fact that their teams and players compete all over the world, which feeds into D.C Events' primary focus: tourism. People see D.C.'s logo on NRG jerseys in Korea, and they get interested, Brown says.

"International tourists are a big component of our pool of folks that we're targeting to come to Washington and visit, they stay longer, they spend more money," Brown said. We're about putting folks in hotel rooms, spending money in the city, eating in our restaurants, and ultimately, long term, all these people who come to Washington, many of them we want to actually stay here and live here. Raise a family here, send their kids to school here, for us, it's not only a short-term play on how to build up an arena that we're building and put on esports tournaments, but ultimately get people to come here, stay here and move here."

Bringing people into the city is one of the primary things D.C. Events is focused on when it comes to this new esports push. Brown points out that the esports industry could not only bring tourism, but create jobs and encourage new avenues for education.

"We also have like, ten universities here, with tens of thousands of kids," Brown said. "Kids are going to be given opportunities to say, 'Oh, I want be in sports marketing,' and it's traditionally been football or hockey or baseball or basketball, and now there's another industry folks can get into. If we can establish, if one of the universities can establish a program in esports marketing, esports journalism, there's announcers at tournaments.

"There's a Bob Costas of esports somewhere, or a James Brown of esports. Maybe he or she is in 10th grade now, but in five or ten years, this person is going to have a real following and be able to create a career. It's a huge opportunity and we're excited to be in the vanguard of that."

For that same purpose, the outreach D.C. hopes to do within the city with NRG isn't quite what you'd expect from a typical sponsorship. The team will probably do things like pop-up tournaments and local games, but Brown says he wants to do things like getting children from D.C public schools to play with pros and introduce them to the industry.

For NRG, the sponsorship also has a few more practical ends. Lautenbach says that fans should expect to see NRG teams and players head up to Washington D.C. for events and bootcamps, particularly their Smite and Overwatch teams.

"We think it's an incredible place with an incredible appetite for esports, and it's really been a place that I think, they have a lot to support esports with," Lautenbach said. "They have great venues, great people great infrastructure, and I think there's a lot we can do with them."

In the short-term though, Brown says he hopes that the infrastructure that D.C. is putting in place will help the city get a spot for the upcoming Overwatch League.

"Right now, we, as a city, would love to see an Overwatch franchise be awarded to the district," Brown said. "But we don't have any exclusive with any ownership group right now. We just want to facilitate having the district be awarded a team."

Lautenbach told theScore esports that this particular deal is not specific to the Overwatch league, but is more focused on NRG promoting esports within the city.

"This is not specific to the Overwatch league," Lautenach said. "We think we have the ability help promote tourism an interest in esports within the D.C. area. It's incredible city, and I think they have a lot to offer esports, and esports has a lot to offer them."

That itself dovetails with Brown's stated goals. He says that while most partnerships that Events D.C. enters into are evaluated after one year to see what the returns look like, newer industries like esports need closer to three years to really understand how it's working out.

In that time, Brown hopes D.C. can host pop-up tournaments and examine how turnout looks like for those, both on and offline, then continue pushing forward in the space. Brown says that D.C. is free to partner with other esports organizations and says they probably will in "different areas."

That itself could take a lot of forms, but for now, the goals don't change. Brown wants to bring people into Washington D.C., and he wants to use esports to do it.

"Our mission is to help drive entertainment sports activities to attract tourists to Washington," Brown said. "Cities across the globe are competing for tourists and people visiting here, doing business here and ultimately moving here. We see this as another competitive advantage for this city.

"Esports is going to be a billion dollar business in the next two or three years, and for us, it's a key differentiator [sic] as a city to show that we're forward thinking, we're getting into a potential driver of jobs and entertainment that really fits into the trajectory of the city that Mayor Bowser has taken to make sure the district remains an inclusive, innovative capital."

Daniel Rosen is a news editor for theScore esports. You can follow him on Twitter.

Sasha Erfanian is a news editor for theScore esports. You can follow him on Twitter.

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