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D.C.’s new entertainment and sports arena to host major eSports competition in November

Competitors play “Street Fighter” during an eSports event near Tokyo last month. (Kyodo News via AP)
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The first event to be announced for the 4,200-seat arena on the east campus of the former St. Elizabeths hospital, which will host the WNBA’s Washington Mystics and NBA G League’s Capital City Go-Go when it opens, isn’t a basketball game, but an eSports competition.

Red Bull, in partnership with Events DC, the city’s convention and sports agency, on Thursday announced the details of Red Bull Conquest, a regional fighting game circuit that will culminate in the national finals at the under-construction venue in Southeast, on Nov. 16-18. The tournament circuit will attempt to determine which region in the country is home to the best players in three popular fighting games — Street Fighter V: Arcade Edition, Tekken 7 and Guilty Gear Xrd Rev2. The circuit begins in Chicago on April 28, to be followed by trips to 14 cities throughout the country and one online qualifier. The champions crowned at each stop will convene in D.C. to represent their region on a national stage.

What do owners of the Patriots, Rams and Flyers have in common? A big bet on eSports.

“Red Bull Conquest will foster and encourage a sense of local pride that the fighting game community (FGC) was built on, empowering players nationwide to rise to the occasion and compete in prestigious tournaments with the goal of repping their city and winning it all at the national championship,” Red Bull said in a release. “The series’ local focus harkens back to the arcade days, when players came together on the weekends and developed a sense of community built on the spirit of competition and salty runbacks.”

Events DC board chairman Max Brown said in a release that the partnership with Red Bull “represents another step forward in cementing D.C. as the capital of eSports.”

“We’re excited to partner with them on this event in the arena, and I think it validates our approach to eSports and why this arena is going to be at the forefront of venues for these sorts of tournaments,” Brown said Thursday.

The North American Regional Finals for CAPCOM’s Street Fighter championships will also be held at the venue that weekend, Nov. 17-18.

Events DC hosted an eSports tournament at the D.C. Armory in January that drew more than 2,000 people, and announced earlier this week the creation of a new training home in D.C. for the players on NRG Esports’ developmental Overwatch roster. Events DC has sponsored the Los Angeles-based NRG Esports team, which competes in such games as Overwatch, Rocket League and Hearthstone, since March 2017.

There were nearly 400 million eSports enthusiasts and occasional viewers in 2017, according to market research firm Newzoo, which projects the total audience will be close to 590 million worldwide by 2020. Newzoo reports that annual revenue is approaching $1 billion. Traditional sports franchises have taken notice, with several owners, including the Patriots’ Robert Kraft and Mets’ Jeff Wilpon, among the investors who paid $20 million to buy a franchise in the Overwatch League, which began its inaugural season in January.

In 2016, Monumental Sports and Entertainment purchased a controlling interest in Team Liquid, an eSports franchise that competes in popular video games such as League of Legends, Overwatch and StarCraft 2. Last August, Team Liquid won $11 million at the International Dota 2 championships in Seattle.

“I think very quickly eSports will be the largest participatory sport, business, industry, with the most active participants, the most dollars, compared to any sport,” Monumental Sports and Entertainment CEO Ted Leonsis said in December. “It will dwarf the NFL. It will dwarf the NBA, because first and foremost it is a global phenomenon. China, Korea, all of the Asian nations, they are early adopters there first.”

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