Almost halfway through a grueling season, the Dallas Fuel put on a show for their hometown crowd. What many fans at the sold out Allen Event Center didn’t realize is that such a showing – with its dominant performances and flashy plays – couldn’t have been possible without an immense amount of work from all hands involved.
The greatest example of this growth can be found in Dylan “aKm” Bignet. After what can only be described as a rough 2018, he’s soldiered on and become one of the best flex players in the league. Not many players can claim to have flipped from being an object of ridicule to having a stadium chant their name.
“It feels great. At first I took that meme way too hard. I was really frustrated, I was feeling down, but after awhile I just embraced it. I took it upon myself to use that to become a better player, and a better teammate. And that’s what I did. I worked hard this off-season to be a better teammate, and a better player, and being able to show that on stage in front of our home crowd was an amazing experience for me.”
[Related: A Pre-Season Dallas Fuel Round Table with aKm and Head Coach Aero]
Despite this amazing experience, the Fuel had one last major hurdle to face this stage: getting back home. With three games within the space of the week, and a healthy amount of travel between them, the team knew they’d face some tough logistical challenges – and no shortage of whiplash.
“I feel really down, honestly,” aKm admitted. “Going from 4500 people back to the Blizzard Arena crowd (which isn’t always cheering for us) is going to be… really different. We were feeling a bit down this week, but we’re professionals, right? We’re gonna have to refocus and go on to the next match. But yeah, we definitely feel sad when it’s the next match and we won’t get to see our [hometown] fans anymore.”
You Know What That Is? Growth
The first Homestand Weekend served as a great opportunity to gauge the strength of OWL’s future prospects. The players were aware of this, too – one of their biggest points in discussions over the weekend was the impact those days would bring.
ZachaREEE: I think [this weekend was] really important. Going into this, there had never really been a home game… this is the first time a team can bring its home fanbase into play. There were so many interactive elements – fan meets, signings, cosplay, that race with the Reinhardts – it means a lot to build in the local fanbase that way, and it shows people that this can be as interesting and engaging as a regular sport. It’s about selling it to regular media outlets, too – that can lead to esports becoming even bigger than it already is. This being really good shows that next season of Overwatch League isn’t going to be a complete flop, too.
AKm: I think the big factor is that this sold out. 4500 people for both days this weekend is amazing (and props to the Dallas Fuel and Envy staff that have come up with all the amazing ideas and things we’ve done to make that happen, by the way.) That, to me, is the most important factor. It’s crazy. We can’t know for sure yet, but obviously we want Dallas to be THE big esports city in the USA. It’s not really our job to do that, of course – our job is to just focus on playing.
Zach: In my opinion, most esports stuff in the US has been in LA or Vegas, but I personally am not a big fan of LA. I’m from Florida, where it’s all green and open – and Texas is like that too. Plus, I have family that lives in Ft. Worth, so I really want us to have a cool stadium, and for Dallas to be a real hub for esports. It definitely can be.
Beyond the impact the weekend had from a greater perspective, the players were quick to point out the impact the game had on their own experiences.
AKm: For me, when everyone is looking at you and cheering for you, it’s very emotional. For all of us. We’ve pretty much spent our whole lives working hard for this exact sort of moment. It’s paying off, and that experience is pretty emotional. We were feeling really proud of ourselves.
Zach: I also think it’s nice seeing a new face every time. It’s like, “Hi! Hi! Hey! Hi! Hi!” It’s nice to high-five all of these people before and say, “Hey, I’ve never seen you before. Hi! What’s up?” It’s pretty fun.
Aero: I’m very hopeful that people come back for more after this. It was definitely an unforgettable weekend, and I’m sure anyone in the crowd would agree. I think this was a very bright showing for what the future can be like in the League.
Yee (And I Can Not Stress This Enough) Haw
The Fuel weren’t the only Texas team getting support this past weekend, but that hardly phased the boys in blue.
ZachaREEE: Whenever we did something good, the crowd was really loud, like this [Zach raises his hand over his head], and whenever Houston did something good, it was like, eh.. [Zach lowers his hand near the table] so, I kinda felt like we won in the fan game, just a little bit. Wait, no, not really. We super won the fan game, I’d say. I didn’t really notice much noise when Houston was winning fights.
AKm: I mean, Houston got booed on their entrance. We could hear our fans overtaking them.
Zach: Yeah, even through our headphones we could hear them getting booed.
The Outlaws have often billed themselves as a team that could handle some heat, but the thunderous jeers from the Allen Event Center certainly seemed to shake them a bit. The Fuel made sure to twist the knife where they could – mostly via some… tactical crouches. To the Fuel, this rivalry is one worth celebrating – one of the best in the league, even.
[Related: The Outlaws Want in on this Trash Talk!: An Interview with Jake, Rawkus, Danteh, and Flame]
Zach: I generally think when you’re teabagging someone, you’re doing it to get in their head and get them annoyed. I teabagged Jake once, and he spent the rest of the match trying to teabag me back. At that point I said to myself, “Okay, my mission is complete! Jake’s not thinking.” It’s the same with other people, too. I’m just doing it to annoy the other person, to get in their head and make them upset. I think it’s pretty funny, too. I usually don’t do it much, but, you know, this is an historic type of match, so… you kinda need it a little bit.
AKm: Not to mention, I mean, the only way they won a map is by cheesing, so…
Zach: I was gonna say, yeah – I’ve played better GOATS teams on East Coast ranked.
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Featured Image Courtesy of Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment.