How the Washington Justice’s new facility brings fans closer to the team

by Jessica Scharnagle

The Overwatch League was created with the intention of eventually having city-based homestands where fans would get to watch their favorite teams compete live. Because of the pandemic, those plans changed, but now that things are opening up again, teams are trying to find ways to bring fans back into the action.

The Washington Justice have done that with their new player facility, which is situated in the heart of Washington, D.C., just blocks away from the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol.

Finding a location was a unique challenge that vice president of esports business Grant Paranjape was tasked with. Not only did he need to find a facility where players could practice and fans could visit, but it also needed to be within walking distance for the players.

“We had seen how passionate the fan base was here for going to events, and we said “let’s try to get a space where we can at least host some amount of fans. It’s not going to be 3,000, it’s not going to be 5,000, but let’s get something,” Paranjape told Nerd Street Gamers.

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The goal was to get some kind of interaction between the fans and the players, safely. Finding a space to make that possible was integral to the Justice’s goals for their facility.

Because of the pandemic, there was an abundance of real estate from businesses that were shut down or had been empty for a while, but the practice facility was only one part of the puzzle. Players also needed housing, and that housing had to be a short walk away from the practice space.

Luckily for the Justice, a personal connection landed them a space attached to the current player facility called The Lansburgh.

Photo credit: Washington Justice

“[The Lansburgh] is known for doing short-term, corporate housing. Fully furnished apartments, where you can get in with just a suitcase and you’re good,” Paranjape said. “We solidified that as our best option for housing the team.”

From there, the team started looking for office spaces which could accommodate the team. Paranjape noted that they weren’t immediately concerned with a space that could support fan events, but when they told the staff at the Lansburgh that they were looking for an office space, they offered up a spot next door that was perfect for both players and fans.

An old lighting store called Illuminations was transformed into the place Justice fans and players alike can call home.

Retail store and merchandise

Before fans even walk into the door, they can get an idea of what merch they might have based on the mannequins dressed in their finest Justice regalia. The Washington Justice logo on the door welcomes them into the space, and after a short flight of stairs, fans have a variety of things to see.

The first thing that anyone sees when they walk up the stairs is the Justice merch. There is a small selection of Justice clothing and merchandise that is available for purchase at the facility itself.

Photo credit: Washington Justice

“Very similar to how traditional sports teams have retail stores in their arenas, we will have limited store hours throughout the week so that after a match on Sunday and you wake up on Monday and you’re like, “wow the Justice had a crazy match, I want a jersey,” you can come here. You can buy a jersey. You don’t have to go on our website … that in-person purchase is what feels so rewarding,” Paranjape said.

During the matches in the merchandise section of the space, the Justice have a small concession area where fans can purchase snacks. But the Justice staff have their eyes on bringing more than just snacks into the mix.

“Penn Quarter as an area has a lot of great local restaurants,” Paranjape said. “We want to have folks who want to demo products, or give out samples come in here and set up a table.”

Photo credit: Washington Justice

Watch parties

Fans will arguably be most excited for the watch parties that the Justice plan throughout the year. When they first thought of bringing fans into the space, they were almost too cautious about the rules and practices they created to keep fans safe from COVID-19.

“We took all the COVID precautions very seriously,” Paranjape said. “We did temperature checks, they had consent forms, they had to be vaccinated, they had to be two weeks post-vaccination, and they had to physically bring their card with them.”

For their first party, the Justice wanted to be safe and make the fans feel comfortable, so there were only 15 guests who could buy a ticket.

Proximity to players

The players are highly reachable at the player facility, since they are just a room away from where fans are watching the game on two big screen televisions. There is also a window connecting the player room to the area where fans sit.

After the matches when the Justice hosts a watch party, fans can get pictures with the team and get one item signed while they are there. Because of the pandemic, fans can’t interact with the team as closely as they once could, but fans still have a fun experience where they can speak with the players and get to see them after the match.

Photo credit: Washington Justice

Sweet digs

One of the most impressive things about the facility itself is the design of the space. The practice facility has an open design, and from the top of the staircase at the entrance, fans can see almost everything the space has to offer.

There are large murals of some of the heroes displayed on the walls, and the couches and chairs have the Justice logo on them. There are some tables for fans to set down their food or drink, and everything is organized around the two big screen TVs that broadcast the games.

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In the back of the facility are some hangers and drawers for the team to keep their personal belongings. Fans can see their jerseys hung up in the corner as well as their names on the drawers. A table sits nearby where the team eats in between scrims and during breaks.

To the left of the staircase are some desks that staff use for day-to-day operations.

Photo credit: Washington Justice

Most days there is also a ping pong table where players can add another layer of competition to their day.

“There have been some very competitive ping pong duels,” Paranjape said. As far as who dominates on the ping pong table, word on the street is that Gui-un “Decay” Jang is the best.

Player integrity and coaching

Many fans might not realize that player integrity is a huge factor in how the facility was built. In the back of the facility are a few shelving units that are filled with backup items such as mice, keyboards and headsets.

“The rule is you need to have sealed backups from the manufacturer. If a mouse dies, you pause the game, go to a Blizzard camera and open it in front of them so that they don’t think that you’re swapping your mouse for one that is modified,” Paranjape said.

There is also a cell phone charging tower where players can store their phones while they play their matches. Before the match begins, players must empty their pockets in front of a Blizzard camera, so the Justice staff set up the tower so that players have a safe place to leave their phones while they are in competition.

Photo credit: Washington Justice

Also required was a solid wall between coaches and players, and the door must remain closed for the duration of the match with the exception of breaks. To get to the player room, players must walk through the coaching room, where there is some seating, and two large monitors for coaches to watch gameplay.

There is also a small coaching suite for coaches to bring in individual players to review VODs or have one-on-one coaching sessions.

Day-to-day activities at the player facility

All is silent in the Justice player facility until about 11:30 a.m. when the players start arriving for practice. They eat their breakfast together and have three or four scrim blocks, which last for two hours each. There are 45 minutes to an hour between each match that is used for eating meals or VOD review.

Although their official day might end around 10 p.m., players generally stay in the facility until around 2 a.m. and play ranked.

Staff have the unique challenge of providing meals for the players, who all might have different appetites and dietary needs. Unsurprisingly, the fridge is consistently stocked with drinks such as Red Bull, Coke and Diet Coke, Monster, and even their signature beer, Sip of Justice.

Looking to the future

Although the staff have reconsidered the number of guests they will accommodate for each watch party, as they’d ideally like to host a party of 50 fans or more. The facility itself can host up to 150 guests, but staff are considering the safety of their fans at the moment.

Because the return of homestands is still uncertain, Justice fans are fortunate to have a place that they can visit and interact with players. They are the first team in the West Region to offer these types of watch parties.

Fans can visit the facility on the days the store is open and can keep an eye on the Justice’s Twitter account to see when tickets become available for their watch parties.

Lead photo credit: Washington Justice

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