Titans push the start button on Vancouver e-sports market

When flurries of blue and green jerseys flood downtown bars to catch a game this month, it may not be the playoff-hungry Vancouver Canucks monopolizing the screens inside.

Instead, the fiercely loyal focus of fandom this Saturday (Feb. 16) will be on the Vancouver Titans’ debut in the e-sports Overwatch League.

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“It is way more popular than you could ever have imagined. Not just worldwide but locally,” said self-professed gamer Damon Holowchak, director of brand and marketing at Donnelly Group.

His hospitality organization operates about a dozen pubs and clubs in Vancouver, and will be hosting a viewing party for the Titans’ season opener against the Shanghai Dragons at the Railway Stage & Beer Café (formerly the Railway Club).

“For these viewing parties we’re pulling out all the stops to make sure that you’ve got a big-ass screen … good sound, good beer, private room,” Holowchak said.

“It’s not that far off from [what] viewing a sporting event would be.”

Overwatch plays like a first-person shooter but trades in the typical blood and guts for bright colours and stylized animated heroes.

The Aquilini Group owns both the Canucks and the Titans, hence the cross-marketing efforts underway such as matching team colours.

Titans players, who originally hail from South Korea, also appeared right before puck-drop at Rogers Arena before a recent Canucks game to promote the e-sports league to hockey fans.

But it’s unclear whether the Titans will eventually play at Rogers Arena, which hosted thousands of e-sports fans over six days last August for the International Dota 2 Championships.

Instead, the team will be based in Los Angeles for the 2019 season before making a permanent home in Vancouver.

“I look at the Aquilinis as a group who are looking for smart investments,” said Canucks podcaster Chris Golden, who launched the Titans-centric Ready Set Pwn podcast upon finding out in September Vancouver was getting an Overwatch team.

“If I was the Aquilinis, seeing a product like [Dota 2] in a facility I own, I take notice and then start to wonder, ‘Is there a potential to diversify our own product lineup, our portfolio, and potentially introduce a revenue stream that’s showing growth?’”

Global e-sports revenue grew an estimated 38 per cent annually to US$905.6 million from 2017 to 2018, according to marketing research firm Newzoo.

Deloitte, meanwhile, forecasts US$1 billion in global revenue for 2019. Newzoo said that number could grow to US$1.4 billion by 2020.

The Newzoo report also predicts most of the revenue growth (77 per cent) will come from sponsorship, advertising, media rights and content licences.

Nessa Harrison, Overwatch director of the UBC eSports Association, is among the first fans to nab a shirt featuring the Titans’ distinctive sasquatch logo.

“The community is so excited to have a home team to represent them when they’re down in L.A.,” said Harrison, who is hoping to travel to Los Angeles this season to watch the Titans work their controllers live.

And with only two Canadian Overwatch teams – the other is the Toronto Defiant – she expects the Titans to eventually draw fans from the region and other parts of Canada to catch games in Vancouver.

In the meantime, she’ll be among the fans attending local viewing parties and helping to facilitate events featuring Titans players when they visit Vancouver.

“You’re part of the fan base that also admires these people who are playing at a professional level. So you can bond over something that you’re also involved with yourself,” Harrison said.

“This is something that’s attainable and everyone can do, and I think that’s really amazing.”

Lest one assume the fan base for competitive gaming is composed mainly of university students, event producer Jason Rouleau said that’s not necessarily the case.

“I’m in my early 30s and I’m one of the younger people organizing the supporters’ club,” said Rouleau, referring to the Rain City Runners, the Titans’ supporters club.

He’s organizing the viewing party at Railway and believes more events could spread throughout the city as fandom grows.

“The way that Overwatch has structured their professional scene has been very smart in that it’s elicited the same kinds of feelings people get when they are supporting any other local team,” Rouleau said, referring to Overwatch teams being divided into cities rather than the geography-free teams of other e-sports leagues.

“It offers a lot more opportunity for people to feel a little bit more connection with the team because they’re representing their city. People love that stuff.”

torton@biv.com

@reporton

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