Brett Diamond has helped coordinate more than a dozen Super Bowls during his time working for the National Football League and the Minnesota Vikings.
This week he is in the driver’s seat of another sporting event: the Call of Duty League Launch Weekend, a three-day extravaganza that begins Friday and will be the largest professional video game competition or e-sports event the Twin Cities has hosted.
Thousands of spectators are expected to descend upon downtown Minneapolis to cheer on their favorite players as they duke it out in the first-person shooter video game.
“Obviously, this is not an event quite to the extent of the Super Bowl, but it’s our Super Bowl,” said Diamond, chief operating officer of Wise Ventures Esports, which manages the new Minnesota Røkkr e-sports franchise.
The event will serve as the launch of not only the recently announced Røkkr (pronounced “rocker”) team but also Activision Blizzard’s new e-sports league which pits teams from across the world against each other shooting it out in its popular “Call of Duty” video game.
The launch weekend will be a high-production, celebrity-packed affair held at the Minneapolis Armory which will thrust the local e-sports industry, still little known to the general public, onto a prominent stage.
“It’s an incredible opportunity for us as a new team in a new league to host the first-ever event,” Diamond said. “ ... We can be looking back at this league in 10 years, 20 years, 30 years the same way that people today look back at the first NBA game or the first NFL game. We honestly believe that e-sports has that kind of runway and that this is a historic event.”
The Timberwolves basketball team and Minnesota United soccer team have e-sports teams that play the video game equivalents of their sports. Other professional sports teams similarly are trying to capitalize on the popularity of video games and livestreaming as they expand their fan bases and sponsorships.
Professional players like those on the Røkkr team are similar to other professional athletes, Diamond said. They exercise, scrim or scrimmage with other players, watch recordings and are coached to hone their skills. Players for teams like the Røkkr can earn well into six figures per season.
Justin Fargo-Palmer, 24, who goes by the gamer name SiLLY, said there is a stigma that video game players are lazy, but he said players like him put in 12- to 15-hour workdays as they prepare for matches and said good players must have good work ethics.
All 12 teams in the league, including those from Paris, London and Toronto, are in town to compete on PlayStation 4 consoles. The matches have been “cherry picked” for competition between teams with large rivalries or interesting stories, Diamond said.
For instance, the Røkkr has a “grudge match” against regional rival Chicago Huntsmen on Saturday night in which Røkkr co-owner Gary Vaynerchuk will be on hand. The last match of the weekend pits the Røkkr against the Toronto Ultra in a “Battle of the North.”
Timberwolves stars Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins are scheduled to play a match Sunday along with rapper Vince Staples. On Friday night, Shredders, the new indie rap project from Doomtree members P.O.S, Sims, Lazerbeak and Paper Tiger, is scheduled to perform.
Organizers are expecting crowds of about 10,000 for the weekend, though as of Wednesday afternoon there were still a few hundred tickets available for each day, Diamond said.
The Wilf family, which owns the Vikings, in 2018 started the Wise Ventures investment fund that launched the Røkkr team.
In October, the Minnesota Røkkr, which was derived from an old Norse word for “twilight” commonly associated with Ragnarøkkr, the end of the world in Norse mythology, debuted. The team logo portrays a dark figure clad in a horned helmet.
This month, the Røkkr organization is moving from its temporary location in the co-working WeWork offices in Capella Tower in Minneapolis to its new, nearly 11,000-square-foot headquarters and training facility on the Viking Lakes campus in Eagan.
This week the Røkkr team has been practicing with visiting teams in a boot camp at Viking Lakes.
The headquarters, which cost $2 million to complete, is one of only a few of its kind in the country, featuring a scrimmage room, gaming and streaming pods, conference rooms and workspaces as well as a gamer’s lounge and bunkroom. Besides serving the players, the office will host watch parties, amateur matches and more.
“This facility is an incredible investment by the Wilfs and the ownership group,” Diamond said.