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Minnesota gets a new pro 'Call of Duty' team, with a possible arena in Eagan

The Wilf family, which owns the Vikings, is hoping esports competitions like this one in Burbank are the future of sports entertainment.

The Wilf family, which owns the Vikings, is hoping esports competitions like this one in Burbank are the future of sports entertainment. TNS

Brett Diamond is gearing up to be the COO of a new sports team. It’ll be owned by WISE Ventures, which is controlled by the Wilf family—better known for controlling the Vikings. It will possibly have its own arena in Eagan a few years down the line, in the same city as our state’s beloved football team's headquarters.

The team doesn’t have a name yet, or an established roster. But when it does, it will have competitors in New York, Toronto, Paris, and, most recently, Los Angeles. Already, the new team has been squabbling with Toronto over which team can truly call itself "The North."

The name of the game? Call of Duty—one of the crown jewels in the gun-toting, shoot-em-up, first-person-shooter genre, and the key reason why that 12-year-old squawking into your headset keeps saying vulgar things about your mother. Minnesota is one of the latest cities to invest in the league, which has a reported franchise fee of over $20 million per team.

“Esports is the next big thing in the sports entertainment industry,” Diamond says. He’s only dabbled in Call of Duty himself—his generation grew up with its spiritual predecessors, GoldenEye 007 and Halo. But the new recruits will be the best of the best—hardened, competitive players.

There are those out there who may be wondering why the Wilfs are investing in a Call of Duty team, of all things, let alone a possible esports arena out in Eagan. (Diamond’s not sure what exactly it would look like yet, but similar facilities have seated anywhere between 3,500 and 5,000).

If that’s you, you aren’t alone. The “are esports a real thing” debate has been raging for years, and if you haven’t been paying attention, you probably haven’t cared. Roughly 75 percent of American adults neither play nor watch competitive gaming, and its relative revenue stream is several orders smaller than, say, basketball or hockey—to say nothing of the $14 billion league the Vikings participate in.

But there are people who have been paying attention, and showing up in larger and larger droves to watch major competitions. Some championships have global audiences that have topped 100 million viewers. The industry analysis firm Newzoo estimated that esports would be worth $1.65 billion by 2021.

“A hundred years ago, the NFL was just being founded, and boxing and horse racing dominated the sports scene,” Diamond says. The sports world has changed, and it will change again. The Wilfs are willing to bet esports will be one of the games to come out on top.

WISE Ventures’ next step is to hire a manager and build its roster. Then it has to look for its audience—the people who have been dying to root for the home team in a knock-down, drag-out, video game coup d’etat.

Diamond, for one, is confident it’ll find them.

“Anything where you’re assembling the best people at something in the world has an audience,” he says. “At the end of the day, it’s all entertainment.”