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Saturday, March 2, 2024

How Wizards District Gaming Tells Their Story In Their Inaugural Season

*Team Infographics is a Proud Partner of Front Office Sports

Earlier this year, the National Basketball Association made the full jump into esports by launching the NBA 2K league. 17 of the 30 teams around the league field teams of competitive gamers squaring off in weekly matchups culminating in the first league playoffs, which will begin in August.

Professional soccer, in Europe and the MLS, has made esports a part of their operations for a few years now and the NHL recently announced a similar venture with the EA Sports NHL games. For sports marketers, the inclusion of esports being housed under the same roof as traditional sports within these organizations presents a few new challenges. For one, how should the social media presence of an esports team of, say, an organization with an NBA team differ from that of their counterparts on the hardwood?

Grant Paranjape, Director of Esports Business and Team Operations with Monumental Sports and Entertainment, offered some insight on this subject as well as what it’s like to be on the forefront of an esports revolution in America. Paranjape oversees the social media endeavors, along with many other aspects of Wizards District Gaming: the 2K league counterpart of the NBA’s Washington Wizards.

“There’s definitely no such thing as a standard day for me in this role,” Paranjape says. “I’d say probably the best way to look at it as different chunks of time as I’ve been in my role here.”

When Paranjape first came to Monumental in August of 2017, most of his time was spent educating internal stakeholders about esports and the logistics involved in making an esports team happen. This included finding practice and living spaces for the team, setting up schedules, and identifying potential partnerships. Paranjape also was on the ground in Madison Square Garden when the team drafted players back in April.

Around that time, Paranjape launched the @WizardsDG social handles for the team and quickly put his knowledge of the video gaming world to use in establishing a unique social voice for the brand.

“It’s a very different tone than what you would see from the NBA team. Their social handles are almost 90 percent bits about the team, updates about the player schedule, score recaps…that type of content. Very rarely do you see them tweeting at other teams during games with gifs and that type of thing.”

Overall, Paranjape tries to establish a more conversational voice on social media to reach fans. As he describes it, “It’s all the fun of Wendys’ Twitter without some of the  burns that they tend to put on people.”

“I think very early on we set a tone with our social handle where we do want to engage in light, playful banter. We’ll tweet at people and use a good gif or meme if we feel it’s appropriate or whatnot. It’s just a different attitude and I think it’s fun and I hope it doesn’t ever turn too silly and at the same time, we don’t want it to seem too ‘professional’. It’s always an interesting tightrope to walk.”

Sports fans of previous generations may raise an eyebrow at the idea of taking some of the “professionalism” out of team communications when it comes to esports. So for people in roles similar to Paranjape’s with sports-adjacent esports teams just getting off of the ground, it can be a hard sell. Fortunately for Paranjape, the leadership at Monumental understood what he was trying to build from the very beginning.

“It goes back to setting the tone right away whenever you join an organization and really detailing to leadership what other teams are doing in the space and what the industry overall finds acceptable. At MSE, we’re very fortunate that our ownership has been investors in a big esports player like Team Liquid for almost two years now.”

“So for them to hear myself and the staff say that the @WizardsDG social handles are going to be a little more playful and fun, it wasn’t anything that concerned or worried them.”

While there are obviously plenty of differences in running social media for an esports team versus a traditional sports team, Wizards District Gaming do provide their followers with some of the same type of content that their counterparts at the Wizards and Washington Capitals would. This includes score updates and stat profiles. This is where the products and services of Team Infographics (TI) come into play.

“TI really came into play back in November and December when we were evaluating what type of social content we want to be putting out during the regular season. At my previous esports team, we had a team of four designers who basically made every variation of graphics in advance of all the games that are played, and it was a very tedious and time-consuming process at isn’t really effective to scale across a season.”

“So when I became aware that the Wizards and Capitals were already using TI, I reached out and was fortunate to connect with Joe Centeno and saw a lot of value in what they’re able to provide. Having pre-templated graphics that don’t require photoshop knowledge and being able to have them be on theme, concise, and easy to quickly post the social was a no-brainer for us. We’ve been really happy with this first run of using TI.”

From an aesthetic perspective, one of the most interesting things about Wizards District Gaming and the other members of the 2K League has been their ability to establish a visual identity that pays homage to their parent organization while also providing them a look that is all their own. Paranjape told me a bit more about how the Wizards District Gaming logo came to be in working with Rare Design.

“For us and our team, what was really important was we wanted to pay tribute to the DMV and our home. Obviously, you have some association with the Wizards, but I think we wanted to keep it a little bit distinct from, from the traditional Wizards logo. You’ll notice we have the three stars representing the district, Maryland, and Virginia and also paying tribute to the city flag of D.C. as well.  We also were able to get a little playful and have the Washington Monument carved into the spaces of the WIn addition to working with the team’s main accounts, part of Paranjape’s role, along with others’ at the NBA and MSE, has been educating the newly professional 2K players on social media guidelines and best practices.

“I was a big advocate and I think a number of teams and other directors out there were big advocates that if you were trying out to be in the league, you had to uphold a certain standard on social media, clean it up, and really present your best image forward. I think a lot of players who ultimately made it until the league did take that to heart.”

The athletes of Wizards DG and the other teams in the 2K league even received some of the same training and education that NBA players do when they come into the league.

“The players were then put through a rookie orientation where the NBA did advocate some best practices in terms of what content they should be trying to post actually saying and how to keep their followers engaged. It’s something that will obviously continue working with them on throughout the season.”

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That type of merging of esports and traditional sports is only going to continue as the 2K league, competitive FIFA, and the NHL’s esports league find their footing in America. Sports marketing professionals looking to establish their career will need to be willing to take a step into esports. That approach has worked for Paranjape up to this point in his career as he continues to help Wizards District Gaming create a memorable and engaging social presence.

“Esports is no longer this thing that nobody ever heard about or this thing that just kind of existed in its own bubble. There’s actually a lot of crossover and it’s rapidly converging to the point where working in sports is synonymous with esports as well. So for anyone looking to get a job in sports, being able to speak the language of esports is a great way to differentiate yourself from other candidates for a lot of different roles, especially with a lot of these bigger franchises.”

*Team Infographics is a Proud Partner of Front Office Sports

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