ESports fans compete against their favorite team in Brooklyn
In a pop-up shop on Atlantic Avenue on Friday night, more than 100 people crowded around dozens of computers to watch New York’s first official professional ESports franchise play competitive exhibition matches with its devout fans.
New Yorkers decked themselves out in team gear to welcome home and compete against New York Excelsior (NYXL) of the Overwatch League in the futuristic first-person-shooter online video game. The event was part of a month of weekend events at 472 Atlantic Ave. in Boerum Hill that aim to build and engage the ESports community in New York.
“There’s a whole bunch of great New York gamers who have been wanting great programming,” said Ben Nichol, the head of events and business development at NYXL. “So the culture is super, super hungry and it’s only now, it’s really the first time in history that we’ve been able to kind of open up the pipeline and really just dump resources into trying to grow something here.”
Public gatherings of players in New York are rare because of high real estate prices, Nichol says.
ESports has seen a global explosion of popularity in recent years, in part from internet personalities bringing attention to games like League of Legends or Overwatch. Brands have jumped onto the bandwagon and are expected to invest up to $1.4 billion in the ESports industry by 2021, according to a 2018 report from Newzoo. By this year, the number of industry enthusiasts was expected to reach 165 million people, the report states.
New York’s team was founded last year and its pro roster is entirely made up of players from South Korea. The franchise is owned by Sterling.VC, a fund sponsored by Sterling Equities.
“The whole vision in the beginning was that ESports is this big amazing thing that we’re all excited about … and everyone’s looking at it saying, ‘How do we get in?’” Nichol said.
NYXL ran a series of qualifying matches to identify the top 30 amateur New York players to compete against the pros Friday night. The professionals won in the exhibition matches, but the heated games still left the room raucously cheering after intense plays.
During the Overwatch League’s inaugural season, NYXL went 34-6 before getting upset by Philadelphia’s team and losing the opportunity to play in front of 18,000 people at Barclays Center. The team is now slated to begin the second season in February 2019 with 19 other teams from around the world.
The franchise’s pop-up retail shop and gaming center will be open to the public every weekend until Dec. 23.