When they built the Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center in Eagan, the Wilf family touted the Vikings’ new practice facility as the penultimate goal of sorts in their ownership of the team, with the final objective being a world championship.
Come next year, while the Vikings are working to build a Super Bowl team in Eagan, there’ll be another franchise tucked away in a nearby building, chasing a championship in its own right.
WISE Ventures, the Manhattan-based investment fund the Wilfs launched last year, announced Monday it will field a team in Activision Blizzard’s upcoming Call of Duty e-sports league, to be based in the Viking Lakes development in Eagan. Details for the start of the league have yet to be announced, but it stands to reason play could begin sometime next year, after Activision’s existing five-team Call of Duty league wraps up its season in August.
Players will live in Minnesota, practicing in the STEM building on the Viking Lakes campus near the Vikings’ outdoor practice fields. Brett Diamond, the chief operating officer of the franchise, said the team will have administrative offices, practice space and a players’ lounge in the building, adding the group is looking at the possibility of building an e-sports arena on the campus.
“Whether it’s in a traditional sports league or e-sports, these are long-term propositions,” said Diamond, who’d worked as the Vikings director of partnership strategy the past three years. “The Wilfs are looking at it as, ‘What does this look like 10 years from now, 20 years from now?’ That’s really what drives any investment like this, and you’ve seen that approach over the last  years of their ownership [of the Vikings] here.”
The Wilfs’ latest venture makes them the latest owners of a professional sports franchise to invest in e-sports. The Timberwolves run a e-sports franchise in an NBA-backed NBA 2K league, and Minnesota United has a competitive gaming franchise playing the latest installment of EA Sports’ FIFA soccer series in the eMLS league.
Pro sports owners nationwide have bought into e-sports franchises, where gamers stream their competitions on Twitch, the Amazon-owned video platform that boasts more than 17 million daily viewers.
The Patriots’ Robert Kraft and the Rams’ Stan Kroenke — whose teams faced off in Super Bowl LIII in February — each own franchises in the Overwatch League, run by Activision Blizzard (the same game developer responsible for the Call of Duty franchise). The New York Mets’ Fred Wilpon also has a franchise in the league, and Jerry Jones is the majority owner of an e-sports franchise that practices at the Dallas Cowboys’ facility in Texas.
“The business of competitive gaming and e-sports has been evolving and maturing over the past few years,” Diamond said. “It wasn’t important to the Wilf family to necessarily be the first ones in, but all along, we felt like when the right opportunity presented itself, it was something we wanted to get involved in. Call of Duty, as a franchise, is one of the more established games; it has a long history. And there’s been great success with the other leagues with a similar model — the Overwatch League and League of Legends [Championship Series]. Having observed the first few years of the life cycle of those leagues, it really gave the group more of a comfort level that now was the right time.”
The new franchise’s first order of business is finding a general manager, who’ll then begin putting the roster together. Just like any traditional sports league, Diamond said the Wilfs’ new e-sports franchise will scour the country for talent. If the next Adam Thielen of e-sports is sitting in the Twin Cities, waiting to be discovered, it certainly couldn’t hurt.
“This market is filled with those great stories, whether it’s an Adam Thielen or a Joe Mauer, and this is no different,” Diamond said. “If you have a local player that’s very successful, it’s an incredible way to connect with the community. But just like with any other sport, the intention is to build a roster that has the best chance to compete and to win.”