A look back at that first foray into OWL’s promised model.

19:30, 11 Apr 2021

It’s been a little over a year since the Overwatch League had to make the decision to cancel the remaining homestands for its 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After only five weeks in five different cities, the homestand model that was supposed to usher in the new era of Overwatch esports was cut short, and all live events for the remainder of the year were cancelled as the league transitioned online. 

Even though it’s been a year, a new Overwatch League season is on the horizon, and we’re supposed to have moved on, it still hurts to think about all the possibilities we lost in 2020. Especially since, for such a brief period, we got a taste of what the Overwatch League could be, what that homestand model was able to offer for fans of the game, and how it really could’ve been the next step for Overwatch esports. 

Whether it’s missing the actual home games, or just the idea of being at a live event within itself, looking back at the Overwatch League’s initial homestands, you begin to realise they were absolutely something special. Never before had the game’s competitive scene been so available to the communities and local fanbases of these franchises, how each event was able to bring its own unique flavour based on where the games were hosted, and ultimately how exciting it was to see all of these players and teams play their hearts out on stage for their fans.

Even though for now they’re just distant memories of a bygone era, let’s take the time to remember everything those first few homestands had to offer, and what made them so special, and that we’ll continue to remember them no matter how long it’s been. 

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ONLY THE FRIENDLIEST CROWDS

Overwatch has never been known to have a hardcore fanbase, meaning they’ve never really been the kind to respond well to trash talk, negativity, or unabashed showmanship. Compared to a fanbase like Call of Duty, who eat up trash talk and personal beef like hotcakes, Overwatch’s fans as a whole have never been the type to be very receptive to that kind of raunchy behaviour. Especially since almost every match up until 2020 had been played on virtually neutral ground at the Blizzard Arena, it’s hard to even build those type of rivalries when the crowd was almost always a mesh of fans from every team. 

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That seems kind of bland, doesn’t it? No, animosity, no rivalries, that doesn’t sound like it’s going to be all that fun to be a part of…

Oh, well, it looks like Overwatch League fans do have a little bit of spice that they can dish out! At every homestand, the crowd always made sure to let the away team know exactly what they thought of them, and that led to an all the more electric viewing experience. No shame, no concern for feelings, just a good old-fashioned boo and heckle for anybody who dared to step into their ring. Are you a team full of nothing but fresh-faced rookies, respected Overwatch League veterans, or a down-on-your-luck squad looking to make a comeback? You’ll find no love with the home crowd at these homestands, and really what else could you expect?

The crowds loved to jeer and make themselves just as much a part of the show as anyone else. Even the players got into it, edging the crowd on, and using it as their own motivation. In fact, it’s a probable certainty that the London Spitfire used it as a motivator in one of their three series against a home team, the most of any of the homestand teams. It was a great way to start off the match of the day, and really gave you the feel of being a part of a home game. 

HYPE BECAME HYPER 

On the flip side, obviously, a lot of the hype going into the 2020 homestands, was surrounding the home-field advantage. Teams who were confined to playing in Los Angeles at the Blizzard Arena for one or two years only got the chance to maybe have a handful of fans show up to support them in Anaheim.

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Now that teams had the opportunity to play at home, it was time to see what these fanbases could bring. Which homestand was going to be the loudest, who could bring the most thunder, and which city could fill up the venue so that the entire audience is washed in a home team’s colours? 

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Well, it turns out all of them did. Win or lose, every city had an impressive showing of fans at each venue, some of them even being sold out to the brim. For the marquee matchups, the crowds would throw all of their support behind every advantage, every team fight wins, and every clutch moment, to make watching the games at home that much sweeter. Never had such a wide array of teams get this much vocal support and fervour aimed at them from the crowd.

Each week as the Overwatch League travelled, it was just a new group of fans looking for those plays, looking to be left breathless. The excitement and pure passion from the crowd bled through every time; whether you were on-site or watching online, you could feel just how special this match was for the hometown. 

LOVE FOR THE TEAM, LOVE FOR THE SPORT

One of the best things about those few homestands was just how it felt like the sky was the limit, and every hosting franchise did everything to make that glamour and prestige apparent throughout the event. Whether it was through the flashy stage production, the finely crafted player introductions, or just the silly skits that called back to a team’s home city, there were multiple things that just came together to truly give the feel that a homestand was the definitive place to be. 

The best moments came with an air of excitement, passion, or levity, and they were the cherry on top of an already stellar experience. 

It’s really the personal touch that really made the homestands the special experience that are such a joy to remember. Really who in their right mind thought they were going to get a minute and a half long aerial ring dancer performance at the Washington Homestand or have Grittwald “Gritty” Grittington be the Philadelphia representative that escorts the Fusion’s players onto the stage.

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Whatever a team planned out for their players and fans, no matter if it turned out cheesy or a little lame, it was still a gesture that was widely appreciated by the attendees. It did help build that connection with the audience, and it was a key part of attending a home game. Any time the league or teams set out to do something for the fans, a silly skit, a detailed player intro, it just made the experience all the more memorable. 

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The homestands are, for now, just a distant memory of what could’ve been. However, one day, live events will return, and these Overwatch League franchises can finally participate in a full season that allows them to live out that promise of a fully global league. Until then, let’s look forward to what OWL 2021 has to offer, and get excited at another year full of exciting Overwatch and compelling storylines, even if there aren’t any crowds to make the most of them. 

 

Images via Blizzard Entertainment

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