Last week, Vancouver Canucks Sports and Entertainment announced that the team’s esports franchise—the Vancouver Titans, who play in the Overwatch League (OWL)—will be playing home games in front of fans next year.
The team will host some of its matches over two homestand weekends in 2020 to be announced later, representing a further windfall for the operating group that will surely only increase as esports continue to permeate the market.
It’s massive news for the company, as esports have grown into a lucrative business. Look no further than the International Dota 2 Championship held at Rogers Arena last August, which injected around $7.8 million into the local economy over six days.
We caught up with the organization’s director of esports, Tim Holloway, about what the announcement means for Canucks Sports and Entertainment, as well as the sports scene in Vancouver.
Q: How did you and the organization in general get into the esports game?
This really all kicked off last fall when Rogers Arena hosted the International. There were internal conversation before then, but that’s when everyone company-wide really saw firsthand how big this is and how passionate and electrified the fanbase is. After that, there were conversations with OWL and some of our team internally went and intended the [OWL] Grand Finals last season at the Barclays Center [in Brooklyn].
So after that, the league and the group negotiated and here we are with the Vancouver Titans. Really since last fall I’ve been directly involved with esports.
Q: What it’s like being on the frontlines of a product that’s such an unknown for a lot of people?
I get asked that a lot, I’m a popular guy at dinner sometimes. But you’re exactly right; it’s starting to get into the limelight a bit when people see these big sponsorship deals or celebrities and traditional sports families like the Aquilinis get involved on the ownership side. It’s really shined a light on it and one thing we’ve tried to make sure at Canucks Sports and Entertainment is that we’ve built this entire thing out with our watch parties and activations with that grassroots fanbase and the community that was there even before I was involved.
It’s pretty unique to be able to work side by side with the people that have been around and cut their teeth when it wasn’t so mainstream, which is why I’m really excited for the product we have in store for Rogers Arena in 2020.
Q: What’s that going to look like in terms of the atmosphere in the arena?
As a company we learned a lot after hosting the International last year. And seeing some big positives of what it could look like with Dallas’s homestand weekend earlier in the year, and Atlanta’s very successful one just a couple weeks ago. I think personally we’re going to learn the most in Los Angeles next month when we’re part of a homestand weekend for the first time.
Q: How can you best convert the average sports fan to an esports aficionado? Does that happen?
It’s funny you ask. So I have a traditional sport background, played junior hockey in B.C., all that. And I think like every employee here, when I saw those lines at the International a good hour, two hours before the doors even opened and just how positive the vibe was and being passionate and cheerful—the moment it really hit me and I truly became an esports fan was when I heard the fans and the passion during the International.
Rick Fox, who has won three NBA championships, put out a really cool article about how it was just like that for him. He took his son to an esports event at Madison Square Garden and the moment you hear this fanbase and this passion and this community really support their teams or favourite players, it just hits you. I have goosebumps right now talking about it. So that’s the biggest thing that I’m going to want. As a company we want to build out that true festival vibe, where there’s lots of activations, just a true fan experience with a musical element, lights, everything. That’s what I’m most looking forward to, just educating people or even bringing out a new wave of esports fans that truly didn’t know they were.
Q: What are you shooting for in terms of attendance at these games?
Internally we’re still discussing that. Dallas was around 4,500, they sold out both days. And that was more comparable to Rogers Arena than Atlanta, which was that typical theatre style venue. And they were 2,600 fans. But then look at the International, which sold out Rogers Arena.
The one thing at the top of our priority list is really just making this event the best fan experience possible. And we can scale that any which way. We’re not going to rush into something and not going to underplay it. It’s going to be the right fit.
Q: Is there going to be anything specifically oriented to the Titans that you do in the stadium? Thinking about how Warriors games differ from Canucks contests, for example
Absolutely. I think over the last few years with Canucks games people can feel that vibe being really electric now. The Warriors, their first year at Rogers Arena was great, all the fan experience and activations there. We’re going to take all the positives of that and all the positives esports franchises have had and that’s what I’m really excited about—it’s almost a massive pot of all the cool experiences we’ve noticed and have been a part of and really building this thing out to be quite the community and fan event.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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