The Overwatch League stepped outside the Blizzard Arena this season. It also marked the first time a professional esports league took their games to different cities each week. This move not only exposes fans to OWL in different cities, but it also expands esports outside California. In the long term, this progression in esports is going to have a net positive.
Examples include future esports leagues implementing city-based teams, different types of esports arenas with unique identities, and gives opportunities for organizations to sell exclusive, limited products like 100 Thieves and New York Excelsior.
Inven Global's Chris Cuevo spoke with hardcore NYXL fans, Alex (AKA Ghostless), Mike "The Reindeer" McGrath, and Thomas “Crow_Se7en” Moy, at the NYXL homestand on their thoughts of OWL going on the road and other topics like how they became esports fans.
A new generation of esports fans
Some fans were into esports a decade ago with StarCraft: Brood War, Quake, and Counter-Strike 1.6. Some fans are starting to get into esports these days with Rocket League, Rainbow 6 Siege, and Fortnite. At the NYXL homestand, two of these three fans started getting into esports because of Overwatch and Overwatch League.
"Funny enough, when I heard they were starting the league, my first reaction was, "If there's going to be a New York team, they already have my money," said Ghostless, "I'm a huge sports fan. I'm a Mets and Giants fan. I enjoy watching the Knicks when they're actually good. When they announced New York, I was set."
The Reindeer added, "It's the game that got me into competitive esports and I love it to death. I've been playing it since it was first released. All my friends got me into it and I was always down with playing multiplayer games as long as I had people to play with."
"When the league came out with these city-based teams, I was never into esports beforehand because it was just random teams and random players. I had no real connection to it," Reindeer also commented on how OWL changed his views on esports, "Having the connection of New York City and so many people locally to meet up with, it definitely made me fall in love with esports. I'm friends with a lot of fans who are into traditional sports as well. Having something like that in video games is two of my worlds colliding. I just love it so much."
A different journey
For Crow_Se7en, his journey was different than Ghostless and The Reindeer. Overwatch was not the first esports he watched. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive exposed him to esports:
"CSGO was the first esports I got into. How did I get into CSGO and esports stuff? I was on the winter break after the college fall semester was over. My friend sent the messages in the group chat. He told us to watch CSGO on TBS channel or Twitch. I was completely noob and didn’t know about the esports stuff. There were so many CSGO teams and I didn’t know which team I should root. So, I asked my friend which team he picked and he replied, “Cloud9 because it’s an American team with so many diverse players who come from the different countries.” That’s how I decided to root Cloud9, my first favorite esports team since 2016."
He added his thoughts about OWL's take on city-based teams:
"I thought OWL was really cool because of the city-based teams. It’s just like the NFL, NHL, MLB, or any sports that people like to watch and root their favorite city-based teams. When OWL revealed the list of city-based teams and I saw the New York team, obviously I knew which team I would support. New York is my second home."
I love New York
New York Excelsior is a perennial top-tier team in the Overwatch League since the beginning. Being a top-tier team has its perks: recognition, respect, and a lot of fans. Different people have different reasons why they support a specific esports team, whether it is in OWL or not. You can like an organization for its brand, players, or fan engagement.
Ghostless and The Reindeer shared similar thoughts on why they love NYXL. Aside from NYXL's winning ways, both feel they are part of the NYXL family:
"What I love about NYXL the most is the fact that they embraced New York. Like a lot of teams that I notice only embrace the fans or whatever, but it's almost like, they're acting like players. While New York is like, for example, Mano posted a selfie of him holding his pizza and it was a hole-in-the-wall pizza shop. I was proud of him. It's stuff like that where they're actually going out of their way to try to fit in New York. I appreciate that. It's more than just being players, they're New Yorkers now," said Ghostless.
"The players are so friendly and happy. Both them and the organization really show that they care about the fans. They want to grow both the team and the fanbase," added The Reindeer, "It makes it feel like we're a part of NYXL. Being able to watch all the fan groups and circles alongside with the team and the league, makes it feel like we're one big family."
Crow_Se7en had a creative reason why he loves NYXL. Unlike the other two fans who appreciated the players and the organization, Crow_Se7en had a different intention in mind. After all, New York's team name was an inspiration for his persona, Spider-XL:
"Just one other thing... there are so many good things about NYXL. I thought New York “Excelsior” was the perfect name because the famous guy who usually said his favorite word, “Excelsior!” His name is Stan Lee and he was the one who created the characters from Marvel especially the Spider-Man, his favorite superhero. When I saw so many news about Stan Lee passed away. The gif popped up in my news feed and Stan Lee said, “Excelsior!”
It took me a while to think like I have seen that word before... Oh right! New York EXCELSIOR! I had the huge light bulb and decided to create the character for NYXL that actually makes sense. Spider-Man + NYXL = Spider-XL. Spider-Man’s hometown is NYC. Stan’s favorite hero was Spiderman. Now, we know what Stan Lee’s favorite word is. I thought Spider-XL was perfect and fitting this team well. That’s how Spider-XL was created.
Expanding regions is the new wave
Speaking of city-based teams, now that New York experienced how OWL is like in person, fans have a different perspective on homestands. Before this season, some fans were skeptical of the idea for OWL to move away from Southern California.
These fans, however, found a newfound rejuvenation with OWL:
"Anytime that any esports has a league and has a New York team, I'll be involved right away. If they did something in League of Legends that's similar to this, I would be more into the game," said Ghostless.
He was well assured that OWL's adoption of an esports league is going to work, "I think people really underestimate how big it is for us to cheer a team on and having New York across our chest. I think people doubted that the localization was going to work and you could easily see that is not the case. It was sold out yesterday. We had a 2-minute plus standing ovation chanting MVP for JJoNak."
The Reindeer's enthusiasm shot up from watching OWL in front of his computer to attending the NYXL homestand, "We were only getting to watch all the games out in LA for the first two seasons. It's hard to go across the country, especially from New York. I was so jealous. Now that they're coming around and seeing fans, it definitely revitalized my love and made me more excited about it than it already was."
He had the same thoughts as Ghostless regarding seeing more esports league adopting OWL's model, "It would be nice to see more esports put that anchored city franchise. It definitely gives that connection not a lot of people might not have if they closely follow certain players or teams. It's like defending your home turf.
If you look at sports around the world, you don't need to know who's participating, but seeing the name and logo of your city, state, or country brings a hometown vibe to the fans and a bonding factor."
Start spreading the news
Exposing esports to different regions around the world means a positive experience for live and online viewing. Watching esports live is a vastly different experience than watching online. You feel chills all over your body from the roar surrounding you to your favorite team making huge plays.
Additionally, attending events like OWL can convince esports skeptics about the future of video games. Esports does not have an identical experience of traditional sports like football or baseball. Still, it has a similar feeling that they can respect after watching esports live if New York fans can enjoy esports as much as their west coast counterparts, who knows how other cities will react. This is just the start of things to come in esports.