Silence falls over the hushed crowd. This is the moment. The moment where it all changes. All of a sudden the silence is broken by the roar of hundreds of like-minded fans. The play is made, the timer runs out and legends are born. The crowd leaps to their feet, tears of joy washing over their faces having just witnessed the birth of a new star in the professional Overwatch scene. This is the LAN Experience in T2 Overwatch.
Now imagine that same scenario but without the crowd of fans together in person. The impact is lessened. Instead of people cheering and hugging and crying together there is the endless void of a comment section. The emotion can still be strong but the lack of a shared in-person experience robs it of being truly memorable. The energy that the crowd can give to the players on stage is immeasurable.
This has been an important factor in not just professional Overwatch, but in all forms of professional competition. A prime example for this writer is Baseball. Watching from home can still be enjoyable. Seeing big plays and appreciating the skill it takes to compete at such a level. Yet it is lacking. It feels hollow to a certain degree. Yet when you attend a game in person it is a wildly different experience. One can not help but get caught up in all the love and hype that fills a stadium. Fans taking part in the amazing shared experience of live competition. It can completely change how one views the nature of the sport.
That same feeling is now not available during life in a time of the pandemic. Not without complete justification. Health and Safety comes first. When it is safe to do so though, the professional Overwatch scene would be wise to make it a staple of the T2 level.
The Roar of the Crowd
When the decision was made to shift Overwatch Contenders to be primarily online, players and fans were undeniably heartbroken. How could they not be? From the glory days of APEX to the pre and early OWL days the competition being on LAN increased engagement tenfold. It was here where the rise of legends such as Jehong “Ryujehong” Ryu and the entirety of team Runaway became engrained in the hearts of Overwatch fans forever. Fans were able to meet, make lifelong friends, and wildly cheer for their favorite players as they achieved their dreams. Seeing the emotions of the players in person as they experienced unrivaled highs and devastating lows. Fans truly got to know the players and thus increased their level of interest in their stories. Benefiting the entire community when they do finally make it to the OWL level.
It allows narratives to be born organically as these players grow before fans’ very eyes. Putting a face to a name is something that is lost when it moves to an online format where a large portion of the games is not even streamed. At least on LAN, these T2 players, who are the future of the scene can get a taste of what it really is all about. That feeling of unbridled support from a rabid fan cheering you on. Chanting your name. Trying to compare that to being simply tweeted at is a fool’s gambit. When the fans feel they know a player they care all the more about them making to OWL. It benefits not only the fans but also the league as a whole. Showcasing an embrace of the future rather than indifference.
Give The People What They Want
South Korea is a prime example of how to run an Esports event right. Looking at the quality of production that has come out of this country, particularly with APEX and early Contenders days it is clear why in the hearts and minds of many, this is what peak Overwatch is. They treat T2 with the same level of reverence of OWL, as it should be. Without T2 there is no OWL. The incredible production shown in the times of APEX and in the recent show match between old Runaway and Lunatic-Hai shows the impact that high-quality production can have on the scene.
It allows for creativity, imagination, and the chance to write the story of the next great player. Doing this primarily online is not a desirable task. They can become just a name. Not a person with a dream.
Take for example the now legendary story of Runaway. The Scrappy team that could. The family that reached for the stars and never gave up. This story would be without some of its most inspiring moments if it all took place from a lightly glowing computer screen. One would not have seen Dae-Hoon “Runner” Yoon knock a ceiling tile off when he leaped to his feet in the trawls of victory. One would have missed the crowd of fans chanting “FIGHTING!” before a game. One would not see the purest form of joy when they, at last, took home the title of champions. Fans would not have been able to experience all this the same way. In the room with all their closest friends. Instead one would have seen a just glimpse into this celebration on a screen. The experience is not the same. LAN and T2 belong together.
Make it the Norm
This level of commitment needs to be brought back for T2 to truly thrive. On a more regular basis, LAN events should be occurring. Even by investing in a place of moderate size per region to have LAN return once it is safe to do so would do a lot to increase awareness and excitement for what should be a thriving scene. There are a lot of details that would need to be worked out of course, yet it would be tremendous.
It has been done before and should be the norm. Korea has in fact already done this with their current games being played on Lan without an audience. The audience not being there of course is unfortunate as it is the main component of what makes the LAN experience special. Yet even being able to see the players play together on a stage makes a world of difference. Putting a face to what was once just a name. Other regions, once it is safe, should follow suit.
It is important to learn lessons from the past to make the future better. Learn from APEX. In NA, EU, PAC, AUS, SA a similar experience should be of the utmost importance. It is not necessary to be a complete copy, but doing something unique in the same vein would make fan engagement in T2 more than just hollow words. In addition, it would allow another avenue for teams to independently generate revenue.
The LAN experience should be a vital part of the path to pro. It has been lacking for some time. With events like 2019’s Gauntlet being far less frequent than needed. In an ideal world, each Contenders game would be played on LAN. It’s good for the fans, the players, and the life of the scene. Esports thrives on LAN. The LAN Experience in T2 is important. Make it the norm.
Follow Ethan on Twitter @EthanButler for all your Vancouver Titans, Overwatch League, Valorant and Esports needs.
If you would like to see more, don’t forget to visit TheGameHaus.com