Minnesota Røkkr Esports Team Hosts its First Professional Tournament Since Pandemic
Røkkr’s Eli “Standy” Bentz competes on stage at a Call of Duty tournament in 2021. Courtesy of Minnesota Røkkr

Minnesota Røkkr Esports Team Hosts its First Professional Tournament Since Pandemic

The four-day Call of Duty tournament will be an "important test of the growth of esports in Minnesota."

The Midwest’s first professional-level esports tournament since the pandemic starts today at Mystic Lake Center in Prior Lake.

The Vikings-owned Minnesota Røkkr will host the four-day Call of Duty tournament. Leadership hopes the event will elevate the team’s status as an esports organization in the Midwest.

This event will be the second out of four Call of Duty “majors,” organized by Activision Blizzard, a California-based video game holding company that keeps an office in Eden Prairie. The first major was hosted by Optic Texas in Dallas, the third will be in Toronto by the Toronto Ultra, and the fourth major is in New York, hosted by the New York Subliners.

Version1, the esports organization that operates Minnesota Røkkr, won the bid to host the event after it hosted the inaugural Call of Duty tournament in January of 2020 at the Armory. That event drew 10,000 attendees. The Wilf family, which owns the Vikings, has an ownership stake in Version1. Serial entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuck, who plans to host an NFT conference in Minneapolis in May, is also part owner of Version1.

“Esports, as a whole, is an enormous business and industry,” said Brett Diamond, chief operating officer at Version1. “And as big as it is, it’s still a relatively small subset of the overall gaming industry, which rivals anything in entertainment or beyond—the gaming industry is bigger than traditional sports. But ultimately, what we’re trying to do is build a local fan base and a regional national fan base for our esports teams, much in a way that you would have with traditional sports.”

So, what does a professional-level esports tournament look like? Diamond describes it as a hybrid between a big concert and a traditional sporting event.

The tournament will showcase 12 professional Call of Duty teams competing on a stage with fans in attendance. The winning team will walk home with a $200,000 prize, distributed by Activision Blizzard.

On the side, there will be a “Challengers” tournament for 96 amateur teams. The teams competing in that tournament will be a mix of players who may eventually play on next season’s pro roster, alongside other local groups like high school leagues. Challengers division will vie for a cash prize, too.

Version1 currently anticipates the online audience over the four-day event to be up to 1.2 million viewers and its in-person audience to be around 5,000.

“At the end of the day, like any traditional sport or any competitive environment, it’s really about creating the truest form of competition when you have the best players in the world competing,” said Diamond. “This event is a really important test of the growth of esports in Minnesota, but everything we’ve seen to this point has been overwhelmingly positive in terms of fan reception and excitement heading into the event. So, we want to put on a great show for those core Minnesota Røkkr fans.”

The Call of Duty league season began in January and will conclude in August with a championship tournament.