Although Blizzard Arena Los Angeles is designated as neutral ground, the league's two LA-based teams have an undeniable home advantage. The way the crowd turns into a sea of green-and-yellow or purple whenever the Valiant or Gladiators take the stage is always exciting to witness, and the arena bursts to life in a way that it rarely does with any other team.
When the Valiant traveled to the Dallas Homestand in April, they experienced for the first time what it was like to be the “away” team. Dallas fans came out in full force by the thousands to cheer on their hometown heroes, a spectacle unlike anything the Overwatch League had ever seen before.
If there's anything we learned from the Dallas Homestand, it's that the morale boost of having a local fanbase behind you is second to none. With the league looking towards localization in 2020 and the inclusion of various homestands during this year's regular season, the connection between players and their local fans is more important than ever.
Some teams have a leg up on the competition. The Seoul Dynasty and Paris Eternal both comprise a substantial amount of local talent, while the Washington Justice and Guangzhou Charge field key players who are actually from the regions they represent. Four of these players shared their thoughts on what makes their local fanbase special, but no matter what the future holds, they all ultimately agree on one thing: they're excited to go home.
Seung-Soo “Jecse” Lee, Seoul Dynasty
Jecse was born and raised in Seoul and plays main support for the only fully Korean roster in the league to actually be based in South Korea.
"I am very proud to represent my city," he said. "And because we're the only team from Korea, I feel like I'm not only representing Seoul, but also Korea itself. Sometimes there's some pressure, but at the same time it's a lot of fun."
Jecse previously played in Overwatch Contenders Korea when it was a LAN tournament held in Seoul, and the strength of the local fanbase he witnessed there bodes well for the future.
Jecse's favorite restaurant in Seoul
Kyochon Chicken, which can also be found in Los Angeles, and which the Dynasty visited following our interview.
"Though we have other fans cheering for us all around the world, our fans in Korea are the most passionate," he said. "They come to cheer and support us and do everything for us. I think it's definitely a good direction that the league is going in."
The Dynasty were one of eight teams that traveled to Dallas in April for the Homestand weekend. They didn't have to play against the home team, but Jecse expressed his awe at the size of the crowd as well as the energy they brought.
"It was amazing," he recalled. "I was actually jealous because the way that Dallas fans love Dallas Fuel and cheer for them is just amazing. I think Korean fans have the same passion to be able to cheer for us like that."
Yiliang “Eileen” Ou, Guangzhou Charge
Most Mandarin speakers will immediately take note of Eileen’s distinctly Cantonese accent. It’s one of the oldest and most widely spoken Chinese dialects, with roots in Guangzhou—the city that Eileen now represents in the Overwatch League.
"My hometown is Zhajiang, which is also in Guangdong province but is a little far away from Guangzhou," Eileen explained. "Since I'm from the same province and I'm able to speak Cantonese, I'm very happy to represent Guangzhou."
Eileen's favorite restaurant in Guangzhou
"I don't really have one, as I don't usually go out to eat, but my favorite Guangdong food is the steamed pork ribs you get at dim sum."
Eileen began competing in the Overwatch Premier Series in 2017, which was held in Shanghai and drew enthusiastic crowds for every game. The fan culture there made a lasting impression on Eileen, who looks forward to playing in Guangzhou next year.
"Chinese fans are very supportive—they'd often fill the whole venue," he said. "Then after every match, they'd wait for the players to come out to take pictures and sign autographs. I'm excited to go back to Guangzhou to play matches next year."
The Guangzhou Charge often hold local watch parties that boast incredible turnouts, and there are no doubts that the team will have all the support in the world on their side next year whenever they play at home.
Terence “Soon” Tarlier, Paris Eternal
The Eternal, one of Europe's two representatives, is made up of a fully European roster, and Soon is one of the team's four French players. Though he was born and raised in Amiens, a city north of Paris, Soon is no stranger to competing in front of a Parisian crowd.
"At the beginning of my esports career, when I was playing a different game, we played in an event in Paris," he said. "After that, every year I'd go back to Paris to play. I feel like I already know Paris very well."
Soon's favorite restaurant in Paris
Bouillon Chartier, a famous French restaurant known for its décor.
Soon has represented France in the Overwatch World Cup for the past two years, and in 2018, the team hosted the Paris Group Stage. There, the rousing French crowd quickly made a name for itself as the "loudest, strongest esports crowd in the world."
"The energy of the venue at the World Cup qualifier was kind of insane," Soon said. "It's really nice to see that kind of audience. We don't have many North American fans supporting us [at Blizzard Arena], but playing in Paris is going to be huge because it gives us more opportunity to meet French fans, and I'm really excited for that."
Ethan “Stratus” Yankel, Washington Justice
Despite the number of North American teams in the league, the number of North American players representing their home territories is fairly low. Stratus was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a four-hour drive away from Washington, DC, where he lived briefly during his time playing in Contenders.
"I never went to Washington as a kid, but I lived there when I was in NRG [Esports]," Stratus said. "The food there was really good. Recently, when we were back in DC, I remember two areas—the wharf and this area next to Georgetown—were really good shopping and food places. I liked those a lot."
The Washington Justice have a good number of fans in the Los Angeles crowd, but after visiting DC with the team, Stratus believes that localization is more than just a way to meet local fans—it's the lifeblood of the team.
Stratus' favorite restaurant in DC
"Ah, there was this really good Chinese place, but I can't remember the name of it, so... I guess I'll have to go with the Cheesecake Factory."
"I think Washington Justice is a team that relies on is home fanbase a lot," he explained. "Some of the Western teams have more of a global fanbase, but Justice is very focused on the people who actually live in Washington, DC, and they're very passionate. I think it'll help our performance to play in front of a home crowd. I think it'll be a refreshing change of pace."
He smiled at the thought of local fans, whom he appreciates for the support they give—both for the team and for him as an individual.
"The best part of having local fans is that I get to go up in interviews and tell stupid jokes and people will still laugh," Stratus said. "It doesn't matter how badly I mess up. They'll like me anyway!"