Blizzard Arena has closed its doors as the official home of the Overwatch League, leaving fans to look towards the horizon. Teams started rolling out tickets for the 2020 season in late August, revealing team lineups and venues for their homestand weekends. Geolocation has kept the community buzzing with discussion since the league first announced that they would take that route. Now that only Grand Finals remain, the future of the Overwatch League feels far more real.
With about five months between now and the beginning of season three, plenty of details are still up in the air. What’s obvious already, however, is the fact that plenty of teams have exciting homecomings ahead of them. Between the venues they’ve chosen and the esports communities waiting for them there, several cities will likely be especially welcoming when the Overwatch League comes to town. But which teams will have the easiest time adjusting to geolocation? Here’s a bit of speculation.
The most concrete benefit of the Justice coming to Washington lies in the pair of venues they’ve decided on. The Anthem, a concert hall first opened in 2017, quickly became well-loved among the DC music community. It boasts a waterfront view and a wide variety of guests ranging from Bob Dylan to Pentatonix. The Entertainment and Sports Arena, meanwhile, primarily serves as an arena for Washington’s women’s and minor league basketball teams. Like The Anthem, it’s a new arrival to the area, having opened in late 2018. With two fresh venues run by experienced events operators (I.M.P. and Events DC, respectively), the Justice can expect their homestands to go off without a hitch.
Additionally, the DC metro area hosts a growing community of esports aficionados. The region is home to Overwatch League-specific fan groups such as Vice & Virtue, who hosted community watch parties throughout the 2019 season. In-person clubs such as the Game Gym also indicate the growing interest in and legitimacy of gaming in Washington. Esports has certainly found a foothold in DC, and as it continues to grow, the Justice will fit right in.
When looking at regions in the United States that have really embraced esports, it’s hard to ignore Pennsylvania. Collegiate esports in particular have taken off there, with countless universities either fielding varsity programs or putting more resources into esports clubs. Philadelphia itself has made strides towards becoming an esports hub, with the presence of esports network N3rd Street Gamers and their LAN center, Localhost, both providing an environment for fans to interact in. As indicated by the Fusion’s past successes hosting events in the area, Philadelphia already bustles with esports activity and a fanbase ready to welcome their team back home.
The Fusion also have funding and organization to make their transition smooth. Their parent company, Comcast Spectacor, has a sizable grip on the city’s sports ventures, as they also own Philadelphia’s hockey and lacrosse franchises. The company has already put its money where its mouth is regarding the Fusion by committing $50 million to the construction of a devoted esports arena in Philadelphia. Fusion Arena is expected to hold 3,500 people and begin hosting esports events in 2021. Between a thriving esports community and a parent company that sees the venture as worth the investment, the Fusion should have little trouble settling in when they reach Philadelphia.
Among the several Chinese cities looking to become their nation’s esports destination, Hangzhou has provided perhaps the flashiest examples. In 2018, the city opened its ‘esports town,’ a $280 million complex designed specifically for esports events and development. The city hopes to continue working on 14 more esports projects, including a themed amusement park and a hospital specializing in esports injuries. Living in a city clearly convinced of the value esports can bring will undoubtedly allow the Spark to thrive. As Hangzhou continues to invest in its esports scene, teams that make their home there will be able to grow in a setting uniquely designed for their success.
All four Chinese teams have also done a solid job building up their home city fanbases during the 2019 season. Official watch parties in Hangzhou have enjoyed especially booming attendances. Between a home city that’s proven supportive of esports so far and an enthusiastic fanbase waiting for them there, the Spark will have an especially smooth time settling in.
Los Angeles Valiant
Both the Valiant and the Gladiators enjoy the benefit of not needing to travel far once geolocation takes hold. Though neither team will remain in Blizzard Arena, both Los Angeles representatives get to remain in the city that they’ve become used to playing in. They get to dodge the adjustment period that every other team in the league will face, and can start off season three with minimal growing pains and the same renowned Los Angeles fanbases.
The Valiant, however, have the additional edge of experience with the homestand model. After hosting the Kit Kat Rivalry Weekend to close out Stage 4, they got an early taste of what works and what doesn’t. For the 2020 season, they’ll return to The Novo at LA Live. Assuming they treat their 2019 homestand as a test run and learn from it, they’ll have even less trouble adjusting, since they enjoyed an early introduction to their new home.
On the other hand, few teams will find the trip home more appealing than the Chengdu Hunters. Playing in the Pacific East division means that the Hunters’ all-Chinese roster both returns to their home country and spends most of their time there. When discussing his rationale for picking members of this year’s Chinese World Cup squad, head coach Xingrui “RUI” Wang mentioned that several Chengdu players were tempted to retire this season due to the burnout of living so far from home. For these players, returning to China gives them a chance to return to their comfort zones, which in turn allows them to focus more on the game. Add that to the enthusiastic local fanbases that the Chinese teams have built this season, and the Hunters have a real chance to thrive in their home city.
The shift to geolocation marks a major step in the future of the Overwatch League, and one with many unknowns. With how much remains to be seen, one can only hope that supportive home cities will make many players’ transitions into the new model that much easier.
Follow Darby on Twitter @soundchecck! She is happy to talk about anything she’s written! You can also get in touch with her on Discord (soundchecck#7242).
Featured image courtesy of Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment.
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