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Vegas-based esports team gets fired up for the community

Dozens of people could be seen last week wearing baseball-style jerseys customized with the name “Las Vegas Inferno,” inside the esports lounge at Velocity Esports in Town Square.

The name would likely be unrecognizable to those not tapped into the local esports community. But in two years, the esports team Las Vegas Inferno has grown to 56 members, and as it celebrates its third anniversary in January, it’s creating new ways to monetize the sport and further its connections within the Las Vegas community.

Jairo Urcuyo founded Las Vegas Inferno in January 2020 to create a local esports team. It soon became the official team for the city through a June 2021 declaration from Mayor Carolyn Goodman, who dubbed the organization’s founding day of Jan. 6 as “Las Vegas Inferno Day.”

“When we first started, we didn’t even know what it meant to be the official team,” Urcuyo said. “There were so many other esports teams in the past and smaller esports teams here in Vegas, but we wanted to be much more. We wanted to give back to the community.”

The team is made up of professional gamers, content creators and support staff, including a fitness trainer. Members compete in esports tournaments, create gaming and lifestyle content for social media platforms and partner with Southern Nevada charities. Most are based in Las Vegas, though some represent the team from other parts of the world.

When there was a Rocket League tournament in February, Inferno picked up a professional team from South America to represent them for the video game that’s played like soccer but with players controlling rocket-boosted cars.

“People were wondering, how is Las Vegas in South America?” Urcuyo said. “Well, we’re not, obviously. But the beautiful thing is that you can take a player from any part of the globe and put them under one banner, just like how you would with a traditional team. Maybe a hockey player is from Canada, but you want to put them on the Golden Knights. You can trade for him or draft him.”

Others with the Inferno view the team as a collective with a common goal.

Las Vegas native Frank Satterfield Jr. is the team’s fitness trainer — a unique position. He pitched it to team management about a year ago, after spotting the team on Twitter. A former semiprofessional football player and lifelong gamer, Satterfield saw the organization as a chance to promote gaming alongside a healthy lifestyle.

“One thing I like about the Inferno is that not everyone is the same,” Satterfield said. “It’s like a huge melting pot of different people. But one thing that melts us together is the common denominator that we’re all gamers, and we’re passionate about what we do.”

Using a player’s brand value

Most esports teams aim to bring in revenue by competing in tournaments to win prize money. Inferno’s approach is slightly different.

Urcuyo positions Inferno as a competitive gaming, sports and lifestyle brand. While its professional players may win tournament prize money, Urcuyo wants to monetize the audience watching those tournaments.

“A lot of esports teams are focused on winning the tournament, and they want to get a percentage of it. We did the opposite of that,” Urcuyo said. “We don’t see value in getting that prize pool. We see value in that player — to market that player. If someone’s a fan of that player, they’ll most likely buy merchandise from that player.”

To that point, Inferno has partnerships with gaming chair maker Zipchair Gaming, custom controller company Gamenetics and meal delivery service Icon Meals. The organization is also working with Woodland Hills, California-based sports media company Torq Sports to combine traditional sports and livestreaming opportunities.

Inferno’s gamers and content creators will regularly promote the companies, while the partners sell Inferno-branded chairs and controllers. However, creators aren’t required to only use its sponsored products.

Zachary Holcomb, a streamer known as DreamerLV_, said he started creating content on his own about six years ago but was able to capitalize on his followers more efficiently with Inferno’s support and connections. He primarily uses the platform Twitch to stream himself playing Call of Duty.

“It’s fairly difficult to do yourself, if you don’t know the right people to talk to,” Holcomb said. “The management of the Inferno is amazing. Honestly, they’ve brought me more opportunities in the last year than I could find in the last five.”

Community involvement

While Inferno supports its professional players in tournaments for games like Rocket League, Madden NFL and NBA 2K, it also helps players take on community outreach services.

The team chooses a local charity to fundraise for each quarter, and it has raised about $10,000 since 2020. It also partners with local restaurants for events and marketing, and finds opportunities to educate youth on careers in the video gaming industry.

It’s those efforts that Briana Mercado, a content creator on the team known online as Breezy_official1, likes most.

She and her mother, Bonnie, connected with Inferno two years ago through their own livestreaming channels, and now regularly support the community outreach and volunteer efforts.

The pair was drawn to its commitment to helping the Las Vegas Valley, they said. Some of their best memories revolve around donation drives and event partnerships with local restaurants.

The Mercados see the team as a brand that wants to support the city and its future.

“The main thing of being an influencer is knowing that you’re influencing someone’s real life, and you make an impact on somebody’s life,” Briana Mercado said. “So you really have to make sure about what kind of content you’re pushing out and really living that brand.”

McKenna Ross is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Contact her at mross@reviewjournal.com. Follow @mckenna_ross on Twitter.

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