A Røkkr good time

Spending a Wisconsin afternoon with the Minnesota Røkkrs esports team.

A Røkkr good time
The Røkkr home series at The Orpheum Theater in Madison. Photo by Jason Dean

It seems strange for a Minnesota team to have a home game in Madison, Wisconsin.

These states are often rivals. From the NFL to college sports, there is often a (usually) good natured disdain between the two. Yet, on Saturday, the Minnesota Røkkr Call of Duty esports team played a “home” series at The Orpheum Theater in Madison. Why leave the comforts of your home arena to play across the border?

“We want to represent the region,” says Cassie Batinich, a representative for the Røkkr. “We’re the Minnesota Røkkr, but we’re also the only team in the Midwest.” Batinich’s comments are true. In the 12 team Call of Duty League, two are international, and the rest are on a coast or in the South.

“Our goal with the home series is to create more opportunities for fans to come out, to see players in person, to see them on stage,” says Batinich. “We kinda think that the gold standard of esports are live events. Getting to be with all your friends. Getting to be with like-minded people in an environment like this.”

Madison felt like the perfect place to host an esports event. Both Madison Area Technical College and Edgewood College have esports teams, while UW-Madison has a large esports club. The Madison area is also home to several game developers, including Raven Software which makes and supports Call of Duty games. Also, there was local interest.

“We wanted to get into the esports space for a long time,” says Jamie Patrick, Vice President of the Madison Area Sports Commission. “We’ve been looking at what we could do for about a year.”

According to Patrick, momentum built over the past six months. Representatives of the Minnesota team toured various venues in Madison to find the perfect one to host the event. The Orpheum fit the bill, and the match was scheduled.

Gameplay action. Photo by Jason Dean

On match day, the Orpheum was bustling. Hundreds of fans arrived to watch the Røkkr live. Long lines for gear and beverages were normal. Inside the ballroom, a pregame streamed on the large screen behind where the team would eventually play.

The Call of Duty League is set up similar to other sports leagues. Athletes sign contracts to play for a team. They are paid and train daily. During the season, they play the most recent version of Call of Duty in competitions, which in this case was Modern Warfare 2.

“It’s not unlike traditional sports,” says Batinich. “It’s an eight hour workday. And after their day of practice, they go back and stream.”

Maps and modes for the first match

The big news of the day was that former world champion Dillon "Attach" Price was replaced in the starting lineup by rookie Kevin “Fame” Bonanno. It was a shakeup for a Røkkr team that struggled recently. Attach was still in attendance, live streaming from the balcony.

The Røkkr came out to cheers from the crowd for their first match against the Florida Mutineers. A match consists of five different maps and modes chosen by the teams. The first team to win three of the five wins the match.

Røkkr started strong and won the first set, led by rookie Fame and Marcus “Afro” Reid. Fans cheered on the local team throughout. After the strong start, they shutout the Mutineers 3-0. Between their win and the Røkkr’s next match with the L.A. Guerrillas, a livestream of another bout was broadcast for fans to enjoy. Røkkr also ended up defeating the Guerrillas 3-0.

For local fans, it was a fun and entertaining experience, one they may get a chance to enjoy again. “We certainly hope this is an annual event,” says Patrick. “That it continues to build in engagement and excitement, and kinda becomes a rallying point for esports in our area.”

Editorial note: the author received complimentary tickets to this event.