At the Allen Event Center on the outskirts of Dallas, nearly 10,000 fans came to OWL Dallas Ultimate Weekend across the first home game. The two-day extravaganza was the first of three Weekend Homestands in Season 2 of the Overwatch League along with Atlanta, GA and Los Angeles, CA, which serve as the test run for OWL Season 3's globalization.
The weekend, while especially spectacular for fans of Dallas Fuel, featured incredible moments and entertaining play for fans of all teams, including a jersey exchange between Paris Eternal DPS Terence "SoOn" Tarlier and Hangzhou Spark Tank Quilin "Guxue" Xu and a unique addition to the highlight reel of London Spitfire Tank Hong "Gesture" Jae-hee:
Outside of the games themselves, the event had a lot to offer for avid Overwatch League fans looking to get the most out of their passionate support for their respective teams, as well as competitive Overwatch as a whole. Dallas Fuel DPS Zachary "ZachaREEE" Lombardo broke down the importance of the event's emphasis on community outside of the game as much as in:
"Even outside of the game, there was a lot of interactive stuff: fanmeets; signings; a lot of stuff with the Reinhardt cosplays - it's a lot to build in the local fanbase and actually show people Overwatch can be as interesting as a regular sport."
While the event had a ton to offer to the audience, it was also a test run for season 3 of the Overwatch League, which will be fully globalized in 2020. Perhaps more importantly, it was a taste of a travel schedule for the Overwatch League should the entirety of the regular season occur with the teams localized to their respective home stadiums. Players had a lot to weigh in on throughout the event and shared their thoughts and reflections with Inven Global throughout the weekend.
A New Battleground
The first home game in Overwatch League history took place at the Allen Event Center. Nearly 10,000 fans piled into the arena across the two-day homestand to watch eight of the twenty Overwatch League teams battle it out in week 4 of Stage 2. The confines of the Allen Center dwarfed that of Burbank's Blizzard Arena, creating a different atmosphere for competition.
London Spitfire kicked off the event with a dominant sweep of Paris Eternal. The reigning OWL champions spent the entirety of stage 2 returning to form after a sluggish stage 1, and while Paris was able to put up some resistance in the onset of the series, the dam broke and Spitfire swept the series with ease. When asked about playing in a new arena, Spitfire DPS Park "Profit" Joon-yeong explained that the atmosphere of the Allen Center took a bit of getting used to:
“Obviously the main difference is that we have a much bigger audience here than at Burbank. I was a bit nervous at first, but after I got in the groove, it was just like any other game.”
Despite finishing out of contention for stage playoffs with a record of 3-4, Seoul Dynasty thrived in the new arena, starting off a 2-0 weekend with a dominant sweep of Houston Outlaws. Rookie Tank player Hwang "Marve1" Min-seo settled right into the Allen Event Center:
"In the beginning of my career I was very nervous, especially with the large crowd full of different fans. However, I think today instead of being nervous, I had a lot more fun than usual. It's such a great opportunity for me to be here."
Seoul Dynasty triumphed over the Los Angeles Valiant the following afternoon in a 3-2 epic to finish the weekend at 2-0. While the crowd was primarily and obviously in support of Dallas Fuel, a surprising amount of Seoul Dynasty fans gathered in Texas to watch their favorite team up close and personal. While the players on Seoul Dynasty did not expect a strong level of local support from Dallas, Allen, and the surrounding areas, it was a welcoming sight for the South Korean franchise.
It was really nice to see how there were so many fans of our team here," said Seoul Dynasty Flex Support and Captain Ryu "Ryujehong" Je-hong. "It did really surprise me that I saw a lot of people wearing our jerseys."
Other teams took a bit longer to acclimate to the new environment. After losing to the Hangzhou Spark 3-1, Chengdu Hunters Support Park "iDK" Ho-jin commented on the difference in atmosphere. "Because the arena here is a lot bigger than Blizzard Arena, the energy is very different," iDK explained. "It adds a bit of a different atmosphere when compared to playing at Blizzard Arena."
Chengdu Hunters managed to settle in for day two, triumphing over Spitfire 3-1 and wowing the crowd with its innovative, explosive approach to competitive Overwatch. After the victory, Chengdu Hunters Flex Tank Luo "Elsa" Wenjie expressed great apprecition for the reception from the Dallas fans.
"Honestly, I like Dallas a lot," Elsa said. "I feel like all of the fans here are very passionate and excited." When asked if he felt an entertaining, innovate team like the Hunters could grow a global fanbase in cities outside of China, Elsa took a moment to think before responding: "...I would like to say probably. I think it depends on our ourselves. If we keep getting better, I think more people will like us."
The one team who needed no questions regarding its fan support was the home team, Dallas Fuel. The home team fans dwarfed the other fanbases, expectedly, but the amount of energy conveyed throughout the arena was electric.
Dallas harnessed the energy from the stadium and ran with it, closing out day 1 of the event with a dominant sweep of the LA Valiant. Dallas Fuel DPS Dylan "aKm" Bignet, who had a stellar series on the likes of Sombra and Zarya, emphasized the importance of the crowd support, even to a veteran player like himself:
"It's great. It's great having a crowd cheering for us and supporting us. It gives us confidence and it gives us a mental boost. It's amazing for us players to be able to play in front of our home crowd. It's a great experience and I'm really looking forward to next season and coming here a bit more often.
I'm a veteran now, I've been doing this for years. That's why I tried to help my teammates stay confident, but I don't think anyone on our team was nervous. The crowd helped us stay focused in game, and that was an amazing match for us."
aKm's partner in DPS, Zachary "ZachaREEE" Lombardo, despite being eager-eyed, came away from the Fuel's first victory in Dallas with a level head.
"Regardless of when or where I'm playing, you're preparing everything you need to do to keep your focus. When you're out there, you're not trying to focus on the crowd, you're trying to keep all your focus on the game. Of course, there was a tiny bit of added pressure for us here because we wanted to win in front of our home crowd, but it wasn't really that big of a deal."
Still, the rookie admitted that the new environment came with its own set of challenges, no matter how exciting. "It was really nice when we got on the stage and everyone got really loud. We were walking out just to put our equipment on the stage, and I couldn't hear anything," ZachaREEE recalled. "We were doing setup for mic test and we couldn't even hear each other!"
The Dallas Fuel fanbase also gave a warm welcome to Flex Tank Lucas "NotE" Meissner. NotE, who came to the Fuel in a trade from the Boston Uprising in exchange for Robert "rCk" Kanerva before the start of Stage 2. NotE has been successful in bringing his flair for the dramatic and penchant for gamechanging D.Va plays to the Fuel. However, the Flex Tank has been surprised at the ease he has slotted into the Fuel starting lineup and his quick acceptance from the Fuel fans
" I think I was very much hoping for it," NotE said in reference to the outpouring of fan support in Dallas. "But I wasn't really sure if I should expect it."
"Changes like this can be big. For example, if there's a still a large portion of the fanbase who supports RCK, you don't know how they're going to react to a new person joining the team in his place. I wasn't sure if they were going to be resentful or what I was going to be expecting, but I think I was just expecting the worst. Then I came here and got all this love and support, and it made it really easy."
Fuel took the 2-0 homestand weekend momentum back with them to Blizzard Arena. In its first game back in California, Fuel faced off against Florida Mayhem in an attempt to qualify for a Stage 2 playoff spot. After a tough first half, Fuel turned on the afterburners on KING'S ROW and Rialto, defeating the Mayhem 3-1 and qualifying for the Stage 2 Playoffs.
NotE continued his impressive level of play from Dallas Ultimate Weekend, going deathless in the second half of the match against Florida Mayhem. In a post-match interview with Mica Burton, NotE was asked if he felt the team was still burning blue from the energy of the fans in Dallas from the previous weekend.“Oh yeah, absolutely. I think it really carried over for us here," said NotE. Even though we weren’t playing in front of our home crowd anymore, we still had that same energy.”
Dallas Fuel will look to take that energy into the Stage 2 Playoffs against Vancouver Titans on Friday, May 10 at 8:00pm PST.
The Future of OWL
After a week full of travel, coordination of logistics, and of course, the matches themselves, players
had varying thoughts upon reflection of The First Home Game and its role as a look forward to the future of full globalization in the Overwatch League's future.
Hangzhou Spark DPS Kim "GodsB" Kyeong-bo got a taste of the Dallas crowd in full on day 2 as the Paris Eternal took the Spark all the way to five maps. After the victory, GodsB was wide-eyed: "When I think about playing home games and think about the same energy the fans will give to us as they gave to Dallas Fuel as the home team, it makes me look forward to the future."
Despite an 0-2 week, Los Angeles Valiant Support Scott "Custa" Kennedy was unbothered by the change in environment, stating the team's struggles were independent of the location.
"The crowd being bigger here when compared to Blizzard Arena doesn't affect me much. At the end of the day, you're still playing on stream where everyone is watching, so it doesn't have as much of an influence. We struggle just as much in Blizzard Arena as we have on this stage, so, hopefully we can sort out our problems."
The Valiant fought hard to take Seoul Dynasty to map five in their second match of the homestand, but fell short in the end as Seoul took Oasis and the series. Custa commented on the unique aspects of the event that could contribute to player fatigue due to the traveling and logistical intricacy of coordinating home and away games in the Overwatch League:
"Obviously, this has been an amazing event. It's really cool to go and see new fans, and there's all these different teams here in that everyone can come see play. I'm tired, so, it'll be interesting to see how this works in an overall season format. Only time will tell."
Paris Eternal Support Harrison "Kruise" Pond had a different take, saying that regardless of the situation, it was the responsibility of the players to perform regardless of circumstance. "I think all of the players are on the same level and all had the same amount of time to prepare," Kruise explained after the Eternal's loss to the Spark in Dallas. "People need to stop complaining. Everyone is dealing with the exact same thing, and whoever deals with it better is the better professional."
In the Battle for Texas losers press conference, Houston Outlaws DPS Jacob "JAKE" Lyon emphasized the importance of Dallas Ultimate Weekend from a business perspective and its significance to the longevity of the Overwatch League:
"If you look at esports as a business, where we are going is in terms of driving viewership growth and driving the growth of the fundamental base. Esports is already incredibly successful at drawing fans, but the only thing missing from a business perspective is all of those revenue streams that traditional sports rely on: Ticket revenue, concessions revenue, bringing people into a physical space and making the experience so much richer in person than it could be online or on television.
A lot of people question if esports can make that transition and become like traditional sports, but traditional sports never had to do that. Sports was a spectator event in-person first, and that's always how it has been.
If anyone is looking for a litmus test, look at any other Overwatch League live event that has happened before this. At all of the Overwatch World Cup stops the fans were absolutely insane. They love it and eat it up because these events are really meaningful to people. Ask any fan in the building tonight if they had a good time, and if they would get their friends to come next time, and I think that's really all you need to know about the future of esports.
After winning the Battle for Texas, ZachaREEE spoke at the Dallas Fuel's press conference on how he felt that the event as a whole, not just the matches, showed the long-term capabilities of the Overwatch League and its goal of full globalization:
"I think it's really important. There's never been a 'home game' in the Overwatch League before. It's the first time a home fanbase are being brought in as a factor to competition. Even outside of the game, there was a lot of interactive stuff: fanmeets; signing; a lot of stuff with the Reinhardt cosplays— it's a lot to build in the local fanbase and actually show people Overwatch can be as interesting as a regular sport.
Part of that is selling that to mainstream media. For example, Washington Justice does stuff in DC; we do stuff with other media people here; etc. It could lead to esports being something bigger than it already is. This weekend shows that season 3 of Overwatch League is not going to be a flop."
The next Overwatch League homestand weekend will be hosted by the Atlanta Reign, which will take place during Stage 3 as the Week 5 matches from July 6th-July 7th. Joining the Atlanta Reign at the Cobb Energy Centre on their first respective homestands are Florida Mayhem, New York Excelsior, Toronto Defiant, Guangzhou Charge, Washington Justice, Philadelphia Fusion, and Shanghai Dragons.