D.C. is getting an esports theater Monumental Sports and Entertaiment is opening a live esports theatre right next to the IRL-sports venue, Capital One Arena.
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D.C. is getting an esports theater

The event space will hold more than 150 people. Courtesy of/Monumental Sports & Entertainment hide caption

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Courtesy of/Monumental Sports & Entertainment

By the end of this year, D.C. should have its first live theater dedicated to watching and playing professional video games, or esports.

Monumental Sports & Entertainment (owner of the Wizards, Capitals, and Mystics) is opening a 14,000-square-foot facility in Gallery Place for watching, playing, and practicing esports. And while it's easy for the uninitiated to poke fun at the idea of a facility that size designed for watching other people play video games, the new venue marks a significant investment in the billion-dollar industry — one that private and public city officials have been trying to make a thing in D.C. for years.

Dubbed "District E Powered by Ticketmaster" (catchy!), the space — located adjacent to IRL sports venue Capital One Arena — will have a 150-plus person competition studio and a food court. The venue will also house a practice facility and streaming hubs for the city's two esports teams owned by Monumental Sports: Wizards District Gaming, the city's NBA 2K league team that has won back-to-back championships, and Caps Gaming, D.C.'s NHL esports team.

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Created to "foster the amateur gaming community" in the D.C. region, the esports hub will also serve as a satellite office for Team Liquid, an international esports organization. (Monumental Sports CEO Ted Leonsis owns equity in Team Liquid, and back in 2019, said that the league was worth more than what the bought the Capitals for in 1999.) According to a spokesperson for Monumental Sports, the company has signed a multi-year lease, and made an investment of several million dollars in the facility.

A gaming event space. Courtesy of/Monumental Sports & Entertainment hide caption

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Courtesy of/Monumental Sports & Entertainment

D.C. is far from the first city to open a venue solely dedicated to esports, but District E marks another step in the city's push to make the District an esports capital.

Events DC, the quasi-public convention and sports authority, has invested a decent sum in the industry over the years, sponsoring tournaments and events. When the agency opened the Entertainment and Sports Arena (again, catchy name) on the St. Elizabeth's East Campus in 2018, the 4,200-seat facility was designed to become a hub of both IRL sports and esports. The first major event hosted at ESA was actually an esports competition. (A Monumental Sports spokesperson says that Events DC will be a partner on District E programming.)

On the private side, Monumental Sports isn't the only local entity to buy into the virtual gaming world; Mark Ein, who owns Washington City Paper, bought an Overwatch team in 2018, the Washington Justice. A watch party for the team's inaugural match at Penn Quarter, sponsored by Events DC, drew nearly 400 people.

"Given the rapid rise in the popularity of esports and the growing audience for gaming in general, we believe the time is right to build an esports-centric venue that serves as a rallying point for the gaming community in the Mid-Atlantic," reads a statement from Zach Leonsis, Monumental Sports president of media and new enterprises. "The wide-scale, international appeal of esports brands is well documented. We believe that developing deep, grassroots-level connections within our local community is the natural next step for esports as the genre develops into a major league aside other traditional sports."

Globally, the esports market is predicted to generate more than $2 billion in 2023, but the local challenge lies in building a D.C.- area fan base, and getting those fans to come out in-person. While the pandemic has been a boon for streamers on platforms like Twitch, it remains to be seen if District E will draw fans out of their homes to watch esports live. According to a press release announcing the venue, the space will be "intentionally welcoming," grabbing the attention of the passersby (like fans attending IRL Caps and Wizards games) "to peer into the gaming venue and learn more about the energy and enthusiasm of esports."

Monumental Sports predicts that the venue should be ready to open by fall 2022, and more information on programming will be available this spring and summer.

This story is from DCist.com, the local news site of WAMU.

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