Four wins and two losses. That is the record so far for teams hosting their homestands this season. The two losses were due to the Dallas Fuel losing both homestand games to the Los Angeles Valiant and San Francisco Shock. Other than that, both New York Excelsior and Philadelphia Fusion won their homestand games. Home and away teams are a new concept to esports. In esports history, fans and players traveled to major events without the crowd being a significant factor in how they played. That all changed in OWL this year.
We have a small sample size if homestands affect the playing field in Overwatch League. Early signs, however, indicate that there is an effect on playing at home. Players from the NYXL's homestand give their input on how the NY crowd affected their play.
Comparing apples to oranges
Back when OWL was in the Blizzard Arena, there was no such thing as "crowd factor." Like the LCS, for example, teams went out to the stage and played to the best of their abilities. The players had a sense of nervousness playing in front of a large crowd initially, but that withered away as the season kept going.
When asked about playing at the Blizzard Arena in Burbank, California, NYXL support Sung-hyeon "JJoNak" Bang said, "When we were playing at LA, we felt little screams from the crowd, but now I feel it throughout my body."
"The fans put on a show today. The boos made me feel so excited," Boston Uprising's main tank Cameron "Fusions" Bosworth added, "The Blizzard Arena is fun, especially the first time you go out on stage there, but you get used to playing in the same arena. It’s a small place, so the same people come and go. A lot of people can’t get to LA all the time. I’m definitely excited for the other homestands."
Coming into this season, on top of adapting to traveling and the current meta, home crowds were not talked about. It's hard to predict, though. Esports does not have previous exposure with city-based teams and teams traveling from one city to another almost every week. Esports is coming into new and unexplored territory this year in OWL.
OWL started previewing what homestands would look like last season in Dallas, Atlanta, and Los Angeles. It was difficult to gauge how the Los Angeles crowd affected teams since the league was near Los Angeles for the previous seasons. At Dallas and Atlanta, however, the crowd was at a league of their own. The fans were into what OWL had to offer, cheered for their favorites, and made each match feel like a playoff game.
Fast forward to the first week of OWL at New York, NYXL picked up victories during that weekend. When asked about how playing in NY felt like, JJoNak said, "I felt the fans cheer during our walk up and I am really happy to play in front of all the fans." NYXL tank Dong-gyu "Mano" Kim added, "I have the same thoughts as JJoNak. Even with the headphones on, I can hear how loud the crowd is. When we lose team fights, I can feel how quiet they are."
Boston Uprising got the opportunity to play in the ruckus NY crowd. When asked about the atmosphere, Uprising's DPS Kelsey "Colourhex" Birse noted, "You can hear it loud and clear when they cheer. It’s funny, honestly. I loved it. I don’t think it takes away or adds anything. I’m curious to see if playing in front of our home crowd will add anything."
Fusions added to the discussion, "I think [there’s a home-field element], but it doesn’t impact the results a lot. It can definitely get you amped up in the clutch moments. When the NY crowd was behind their team, they can feel it going for these insane plays, and they commit to it. The crowd can give you that little edge, but in general, it’s nice to have."
Home vs. Away
Several NYXL players were asked if there was a home-field advantage playing in front of their home crowd. The feeling was unanimous among NYXL players that there was an edge to be felt. NYXL support Taesung "Anamo" Jung stated, "It's a huge advantage because every time we showed a great performance, the fans cheered. The crowds shouting does give us an advantage."
Now that NYXL experienced what it felt like to have a home-field advantage, they were asked what their thoughts were about playing away from home. JJoNak said, " I expect to hear boos, but I want to instill fear into the fans and want to silence them," NYXL's captain Jong-ryeol "Saebyeolbe" Park added, "When we go to other homestands, we’re going to turn those fans into NYXL fans."
As the season progresses, we are going to have a better understanding of how homestands affect both home and away teams. Having city-based teams with teams traveling to other cities is an excellent evolution of esports, even if it hasn't been explored much before OWL. What esports needs to progress now might be city-based teams. If OWL proves to be successful in the long term, the esports space is going to change as we know it.