Red Bull Conquest comes to Washington DC

One of the world’s premier esports fighting tournaments, Red Bull Conquest, made a recent appearance at the US political capital, Washington DC. The massive event took place in the city’s new state-of-the-art Entertainment and Sports Arena, and despite low attendances, it put on a masterclass in gaming for top fighting titles like Street Fighter V, Tekken 7 and Guilty Gear Xrd Rev2.

The tournament was the final of a long-running Red Bull Conquest competition that had previously been travelling across the US. With gamers like Victor “Punk” Woodley putting in epic winning performances to pick up the Street Fighter V title, it was a great start for the ambitious tournament and bolstered Washington DC’s bid to become a new esports hotspot. But with a glaring absence of spectators, it seems that the city has plenty of work to do.

What went down in Washington DC

The Red Bull Conquest final took place over the weekend of 16-18 November, and it gathered together the nation’s best gamers for Street Fighter V, Tekken 7 and Guilty Gear Xrd Rev2. The finalists from 15 different US cities and one online event took the stage in the new $65 million stadium. With over 200 participants and dozens of keen local gamers, it promised to be a great start for Washington DC’s fledgeling esports scene.

However, no amount of atmospheric lighting could distract from the fact that audience numbers won’t have been what the event organisers, Events DC, would have been hoping for. The arena was set up to accommodate up to 4,200 spectators, but the large amount of empty seats revealed that more needs to be done to build up the competitive gaming community in the city.

Despite this, we saw plenty of exceptional performances from the likes of the Philadelphian Street Fighter V star, Victor “Punk” Woodley. Plus the majority of attendees seemed to think that DC’s esports venture was easily on par with some of the best esports events such as the EVO fighting tournament in Las Vegas.

Big money investment for Washington DC’s esports scene

Whilst the actual spectator numbers for the Red Bull Conquest finals have yet to be disclosed, it will have proven to be disappointing considering the huge amount of money that was invested in the event. Alongside the fact that the Red Bull logo was displayed everywhere online and in the arena, we also saw the Korean car firm, Hyundai, using the event to show off their new car, the 2019 Veloster N.

This vehicle was boldly displayed in the entrance to the Entertainment and Sports Arena, and gamers were also given the chance to enjoy a sponsored photo-op where they could use props to pretend to be characters from the Tekken and Street Fighter Series. Efforts like this reveal just how keen big brands like Red Bull and Hyundai are about penetrating the hugely promising esports scene, and it’s a phenomenon that hasn’t gone unnoticed by the event organisers.


© Drew Gurian

Events DC put in a huge amount of effort into advertising the Red Bull Conquest finals, and whilst the event numbers might have been underwhelming, all agreed that it was a positive start for the city’s esports ambitions. The organisation had already made their presence felt as far afield as the London Games Festival, and they have noted that they want to make sure that Washington DC remains an attractive proposition for innovative industries such as esports.

How can Washington DC boost its esports profile?

So what can DC events learn from the experiences of last weekend? Many people have stated that the fact that the Red Bull Conquest finals were held relatively shortly after the city’s Super Smash Bros tournament may have sapped audience numbers. Plus there’s also the fact that stand-alone fighting games like Street Fighter V and Tekken 7 traditionally lack the support of well-organised esports tournaments such as the Overwatch League and the League of Legends Championship Series.

We have already seen several other US cities making an excellent start in catering to their community of esports fans. From the likes of Seattle which hosted the massive Dota 2 tournament, The International, to the hugely popular Overwatch League that has made Los Angeles its home, there’s plenty of activity in the nation’s competitive gaming scene. There’s been a significant amount of investment in Las Vegas too, as traditional casino operators seek to expand their customer demographic through creating special esports arenas such as the one at the Luxor casino and hotel.

But ultimately, it’s a city’s gaming community that can make or break their esports ambitions. Whilst the Red Bull Conquest finals may have had unspectacular audience numbers, once word spreads about what is capable in the city, we could soon see Washington DC emerging as an esports superpower.