Staples Center, League of Legends Gaming final, 2016

The Staples Center served as the venue for the 2016 League of Legends World Championship finals. The market for competitive gaming events has exploded over the last decade, with huge events offering prize money that can run into the millions of dollars for professional gamers competing in battle-themed and other games. Dreamleague Gaming, a Pasadena, California-based company will host competitive video gaming events in New Orleans.

Dreamleague Gaming, a Pasadena, California-based company that hosts competitive video gaming events, is opening a New Orleans operation that it expects to be the base for dozens of new shows around the South.

The company, which has been in negotiations with state and local economic development agencies for the past year, said Thursday it expects to employ 25 in its New Orleans studio once it is fully operational.

The three-year-old company hosts events for amateur gamers and has built a strong niche on college campuses. Starting with a dozen events in 2016, it hosted twice that number last year and is targeting 30 events this year, Dreamleague CEO Nathaniel Tsai said.

Dreamleague's move to New Orleans is a win for GNO Inc., the local economic development agency that has been working to promote the city as a regional hub for the gaming industry, bringing in companies like InXile and High Voltage Software. It is also a counterpoint to recent publicity surrounding the passage of restrictive abortion laws by the state, which local industry promoters have worried will put off tech companies who need to recruit primarily from a younger, more progressive demographic.

A main attraction for Dreamleague was the tie-in GNO arranged with the Nola Angel Network, a group of investors who bankroll startups or early-stage companies with high growth potential.

Mike Eckert, chairman of Nola Angel Network, said Tsai and the Dreamleague people were impressive. "We put them and the company through its paces in our due diligence phase and we were amazed at what we learned about the 'eSports' (electronic sports) market and the growth and trends in esports competition," Eckert said.

The market for competitive gaming events has exploded over the last decade, with huge events offering prize money that can run into the millions of dollars for professional gamers competing in battle-themed games, like Overwatch, or games based on branded sports, like NBA basketball or FIFA soccer. There have even been talks about making esport competition an Olympic Games category.

The esports market is now going through a period of segmentation, "and what Nathaniel and his team have wisely done is target amateur college students in under-served markets," Eckert said.

The New Orleans investors have raised $1.5 million to fund Dreamleague's next phase of growth, which means they will host an event every week next year, "and a lot of those will take place in New Orleans," Tsai said. "We're hoping to use our base there as a hub for the South for live events," as well as to develop new content, Tsai said by phone from California.

The esports niche fits well into the sports culture in New Orleans and the region, as well as the growing tech company ecosystem, said Michael Hecht, GNO's president and CEO. "New Orleans has always been a leader in sports and entertainment, and in recent years we have become a leader in tech. So, now with the trinity of sports, entertainment and tech, New Orleans is an outstanding location for eSports firms like Dreamleague," he said.

The company has promised to create 25 new direct jobs in New Orleans, with an average annual salary of $52,600, and has applied for inclusion in the Louisiana Entertainment Job Creation Program, which would give it payroll tax credits. Though a location hasn't yet been picked, the company has been looking primarily in the Central Business District, which is a federally-designated Opportunity Zone, making its investors eligible for significant breaks on capital gains tax, Tsai said.


Follow Anthony McAuley on Twitter, @AnthonyMcAuley2.