GAME ON: District E includes a space for events to accommodate hundreds of guests. It will host gaming fans for NBA 2K League games and the EA Sports NHL North American Championship. (Courtesy venue)

Facility features gaming rooms, private lounges for players and event space

Even with the NBA and NHL regular seasons winding down, there is no rest for Monumental Sports & Entertainment. The Washington, D.C.-based entertainment company that owns and operates the NBA Wizards, NHL Capitals and WNBA Mystics will stay busy throughout the year in a realm it is very much familiar with in esports.

On March 24, Wizards District Gaming, another Monumental Sports property that competes in the NBA 2K League, opened District E Powered by Ticketmaster. The new 14,000-square- foot gaming hub includes a bar and restaurant called District Bites, operated by Aramark. It’s situated in Gallery Place, adjacent to Capital One Arena, The new facility features gaming rooms, private lounges for players and event space.

“The grand opening could not have gone better,” said Zach Leonsis, president of media and new enterprises at Monumental Sports. “We had league and programming partners and partners who helped build the space attend, and everyone has been blown away by what they’re seeing.”

The facility also features gaming rooms and private lounges for esports competitors. (Courtesy Monumental Sports & Entertainment)

“It was an initial challenge for us to communicate what this experience could look like,” Leonsis said. “You try to picture the thing in renderings, but it will always be different when you finally see it in person. It all came together, and people are very impressed.”

What attendees of the grand opening got to see was a manifestation of Monumental’s eight years of experience in esports. Leonsis said that prior to the company’s first investment in the gaming industry, Monumental Sports spent one year learning about the industry to better understand the different layers that come with esports, such as publishers, tournament organizers, media networks and streaming platforms YouTube and Twitch.

“We were drawn in by how organic and highly engaged the audience was,” Leonsis said. “The live event category always going to be digital first and linear second. There would always be something that traditional sports could bring to the table and be complementary to esports and vice versa. There were plenty of things esports could teach traditional sports, particularly on the media side.”

Following the assessment, Monumental bought a stake in Team Liquid, one of the top esports organizations in the world, and Epic Games. a developer of video game software.

District E has booked NBA 2K League contests and will host the EA Sports NHL 23 North American Championship on May 20. Blast Premier, a professional esports league for the popular game “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive,” will use District E for its upcoming competition in June. Tickets for most NBA 2K events cost $10 to $15.

The investment as well as the facility couldn’t have come at a better time for Monumental and the local professional gaming scene.

Liz Noe of Aramark Sports and Entertainment, from left, Ted Leonsis, Zach Leonsis and Jordan Silberman of Monumental Sports & Entertainment, Brendan Donohue of the 2K Sports League, Melissa Dueñas of Leidos and NBC Sports Washington host Wes Hall cut the ribbon during the grand opening of District E Powered by Ticketmaster. (Courtesy venue)

“When the pandemic hit, usage for esports really peaked, and we started to think about what we want to be and want we want to look like post-pandemic,” Leonsis said. “I wanted to create an experience that was highly flexible that could leverage our core properties as well as esports. Esports is the anchor tenant, but also takes care of the ancillary opportunities with companies like Aramark, and we’ve done that.”

Though the schedule of events revolves around gaming, the new facility was also designed to be serve as one of the premier bars and restaurants in the area for fans to congregate before, during and after events at Capital One Arena. Bruce Springsteen was in town on March 27 and District E was a popular destination before and after the show.

“It was packed,” Leonsis said. “We had a 30-minute wait to get a table. People could appreciate the high quality of the venue and Aramark’s food and beverage experience. It is (quickly) turning into the best sports bar in the neighborhood.”