Last weekend was the start of a new season of the Overwatch League. Unlike past seasons, however, this season is a little different. The Blizzard Arena is a relic of the past as it is time to move on to bigger things. Instead of games taking place at the venue located in Burbank, California, the Overwatch League is on the road every week this season. What’s good is that every fan gets to see Overwatch League and esports come to their respective cities. What’s worse is that teams, players, and the media will have to travel as well. After going to New York for the New York Excelsior Homestand last week, the environment of the arena, the atmosphere of the crowd, and the exciting matches are unlike the previous two seasons.
The city that never sleeps
Firstly, New York, as a city, is unlike anything like Los Angeles. When people say New York is the “city that never sleeps,” it is very accurate. The city lives and breathes from the people and life that surround it. A location for an Overwatch League team like NYXL is perfect for New York, a city that yearns for more esports aside from the occasional League of Legends LCS finals or CS:GO major. For an esports team that ties itself to New York, the fans went all out as if the New York Yankees were playing.
Upon entering the Hammerstein Ballroom, the location of the NYXL Homestand, it was dimly lit with NYXL’s branding all over it. It is nothing like the Blizzard Arena, where the first thing you see is merchandise from all Overwatch League teams. The attending fans felt electric as if it were a playoff game. I do not blame them — it is the first time NYXL is going to play in their home city in front of a crowd. They had a chance of performing in front of their hometown in the inaugural season; however, they did not make it into the grand finals. A missing NYXL team in the grand finals left a hole in their fan’s hearts, but it did add to the electric atmosphere of the Hammerstein Ballroom.
Roar of a crowd
When the festivities started, the crowd’s hype peaked. You could hear screams echo throughout the ballroom. It was unlike anything I heard at the Blizzard Arena in the previous two seasons. Sure, the weekly Burbank crowd had its moments, but this New York crowd took it to another level. Chants of “NYXL!”, “Let’s go, New York!” and “Go New York go New York go!” were things unheard before at the Blizzard Arena. New York showed that they were not here to play. They were here to support NYXL; they were here to support Overwatch League.
When the first game of the third season started, the environment of the ballroom did not die one bit. Whenever Lane "Surefour" Roberts and Brady "Agilities" Girardi made huge plays against Paris Eternal, the crowd made sure Surefour and Agilities could hear their cheers. After the Toronto Defiant dispatched the Eternal in the first match, the ballroom filled with more excitement. The crowd noise was loud enough that they could have cracked the roof of the hall. Then, it was time for NYXL to make their entrance.
The anticipation of New York’s home team grew more substantial. When NYXL made their grand entrance into the ballroom with Do-hyeon "Pine" Kim leading the way waving around the NYXL flag, this crowd stood up with fists in the air, shouting “Let’s go, New York!” It was unlike anything I heard before since “Shields Up!” and “Wings Out!” rang out at the Blizzard Arena. It was this type of excitement that was missing from the Overwatch League and esports for a long time.
During NYXL’s match against the London Spitfire, NYXL’s fans welcomed their newest players, Hong-joon "HOTBA" Choi and Seung-jun "WhoRU" Lee, to a massive roar whenever significant plays happened. The roars for HOTBA, who had a great showing with D.Va against the Spitfire, boomed throughout. Whenever HOTBA unleashed a D.Va bomb to the Spitfire and made a 2K or 3K, the fans chanted “HOT-BA! HOT-BA! HOT-BA!” Every D.Va bomb after another felt bigger than the last. The fan’s cheers helped NYXL defeat the Spitfire as the ballroom closes Day 1.
The next day begins
Day 2 came, and it was as big as the last. The fans wanted to see more of their team, and they showed up. On this day, NYXL played a geographic rival in the Boston Uprising. For those unfamiliar, New York and Boston have a long-standing rivalry in traditional sports, famously with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox from MLB.
This New York crowd let the Boston Uprising know that this rivalry trickled to the Overwatch League. Chants of “Boston Sucks!” rang out in the Hammerstein Ballroom. Some of the Uprising players were unfazed by the chants. However, Kelsey "Colourhex" Birse and Gabriel "Swimmer" Levy from the Uprising acknowledged the chants and played along. Even the New York crowd let a singular Boston Uprising fan, decked out in an Uprising scarf and Cameron "Fusions" Bosworth jersey, know whose house he was in by chanting, “Shame on you!” It was all in good fun, though, as all parties were laughing and hugging afterward.
There was a moment during the Boston/New York match that riled the crowd up. At Temple of Anubis, Colourhex was popping off on Hanzo and did the unthinkable. He teabagged Taesung "Anamo" Jung right after, leading to boos and "Boston sucks" chants. Colourhex acknowledged the boos, leading to louder boos. The broadcast did not portray how loud those boos were, but they were almost deafening. Eventually, NYXL swept Boston to a 2-0 start to the season. If this match were at the Blizzard Arena, there would be cheers favored to NYXL, which is a small percentage of the crowd. The fans made a massive impression for NYXL and what it means to have homestands this season.
The start of a historic season
The past two seasons at the Blizzard Arena have its novelty and history for the Overwatch League. The fans who attended games at the Blizzard Arena are some of Overwatch League's biggest fans. They witnessed historical events like NYXL's commanding run in the inaugural season, San Francisco Shock dominating last season, and Vancouver Titans being an unstoppable force since coming into the league. This season, fans around the world get to experience what fans experienced in the Blizzard Arena for the past two seasons. Each homestand will have its' own experience and identity. New York had a ruckus crowd, and Dallas had southern hospitality. If the Overwatch League can make things happen in New York, they can make it happen anywhere.
Follow me on Twitter @itsjustchris for more coverage on Overwatch League and various games