Minnesota Røkkr, the Eagan-based e-sports franchise, is moving to expand the scope of professional video game playing by hosting a Call of Duty:Warzone tournament for women this week.
The company, owned by the Wilf family that owns the Minnesota Vikings, is the first of the professional Call of Duty League teams to host a tournament in the Women of the eRena series. Games were played Thursday, streamed on ESPN Esports' Twitch channel, for a $10,000 prize pool sponsored by the shoe company Crocs.
Ashley Glassel, director of content for Røkkr who captained a team in the tournament, said the events normalize the inclusion of women at the highest level of e-sports. The Call of Duty League has 12 teams and 48 players, but none are women.
"Events that give shine to female gamers, whether they are competitors or just trying to create content around the game, are really important to help get their name out there," Glassel said.
Alesha Horn, a New Brighton-based gamer known as Minnesota Mocha, was one of the people invited by Røkkr parent company Wise Ventures Esports to participate.
"I'm over the moon about it, honestly," Horn said Thursday. "To have an all-women's tournament is absolutely incredible."
Horn, a serious gamer since graduating high school in 2012, built a following on Twitch and an income stream by posting herself playing games and other content. She gained more subscribers this year by completing a 100-day challenge, eventually posting for 291 straight days at Twitch.tv/mocha.
"I feel like women have been put on the back burner a lot in e-sports," she said. "Today we are here to show everybody that we are serious competitors and we are good at what we do and are passionate about what we do."
Mocha is not an employee or team member of Røkkr but was happy to be invited to the Women of the eRena event.
"When Røkkr announced they were going to have a Call of Duty team in e-sports I was absolutely stoked," Mocha said. "I've been a huge fan ever since."
The event concluded with Mocha's team Ava finishing 12th and Glassel's team Midnite finishing 13th out of 15 teams. Team Smixie took home the $6,000 first place prize, SlayerBritt second place and $3,000.
Two teams tied for third, Cloud9 Emz and Hollyylive. Rather than split the $1,000 planned for third place, each team got $1,000 after a sponsoring partner in the event, eFuse, chipped in.
The Wilfs started Wise Ventures Esports in May 2019 and officially launched Røkkr two months later.
This year, they launched a new team, called Version1, to compete in the Rocket League Championship Series. Rocket League is a vehicular soccer video game and more family-friendly than Call of Duty, a first-person shooter game.
Brett Diamond, chief operating officer for Wise Ventures Esports, said the company now has 17 employees in addition to the two coaches and four players on Røkkr and one coach and three players on Version1.
Røkkr and Version1 depend on a variety of revenue streams, Diamond said, just like teams in physical sports. That includes tickets and concessions at live events, merchandise sales, sponsorships and ultimately media rights.
Online leagues have also been affected by the pandemic and they have shifted formats to all online events to continue offering entertainment to fans. As a new company, Wise Ventures needs to keep building brand equity in its teams despite the limitations presented by the coronavirus, Diamond said.
"For e-sports there is certainly an easier pivot from live events to online events specifically," he said. "The best version of our product is with live events with full arenas and fans excited and chanting."