Now that the 2019 season is over, teams have started to reveal their plans for 2020. Next season, to facilitate travel and logistics, teams will be broken into two conferences—Atlantic and Pacific—and further divided into regional divisions within those conferences. Each team will host between two and five homestand events.
In other words, the 20 teams are scattering to cities in North America, Asia, and Europe. Gone are the days of weekly matches held at Blizzard Arena Los Angeles; next year, teams will make new homes in arenas across the globe, from Vancouver to Florida, Chengdu to Paris.
Here's what to expect from four of the Overwatch League’s teams when the lights turn on next February.
San Francisco Shock: “IRL fun”
The San Francisco Shock, owned and operated by the organization NRG Esports, have been preparing for the team’s return home since the beginning. David Swartz, NRG Esports’ chief content officer, said that the team has tried to hold “more watch parties and events than any other team,” and it’s worked: San Francisco has a dedicated fan base—called the Shockwaves—that come out in droves to support their team. A partnership with the University of California, Berkeley also helped create that fan community, which is based out of the new gaming center on campus and sponsored by the university’s esports organization.
The Shock will hold their events in two different venues in 2020: the Cow Palace and the San Jose Civic Center. The former is located just outside San Francisco and offers “a large festival-style event,” Swartz said, while the latter is “a smaller, more intimate event at a venue in the heart of Silicon Valley.”
The reason? They wanted to create two very distinct experiences between the two homestand weekends, which are scheduled for March 28–29 and July 18–19. At the Cow Palace, Swartz said the event will be centered around the Overwatch League, but will include other stuff that Overwatch fans will enjoy: “general gaming experiences, IRL fun, ‘Best of the Bay’ activations, music, and more."
(Fittingly, the Cow Palace was named for the livestock expositions that used to find their home there in the early 1900s. The space officially became the Cow Palace in 1941, and has hosted plenty of rodeos and livestock shows throughout the years. But has it seen esports? Not yet!)
The second, more intimate event at the San Jose Civic Center—which isn’t necessarily a small space—will focus on tech-driven activations from local companies, Swartz said. Although the team will be traveling frequently throughout the year, they’ll spend their downtime at a team house in San Francisco and practice at a nearby training facility.
THE COUNTDOWN TO PRE-SALE ON WEDNESDAY 8/28 BEGINS NOW…— San Francisco Shock (@SFShock) August 20, 2019
First Arrival: March 28-29 at the Historic Cow Palace
Silicon Valley Showdown: July 18-19 at the San Jose Civic Center
To be eligible for pre-sale tickets go to https://t.co/sNXXgPZDZL pic.twitter.com/eJkL3gtOOg
Toronto Defiant: “An experience authentic to the fan community”
First it was home to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Now it’ll host the Toronto Defiant’s home matches. The Overwatch League is set to take over Roy Thomson Hall, a gleaming building in Toronto’s entertainment district, the organization announced last week. Their two homestand events will be held April 18–19 and Aug. 8–9 next season.
“It’s one of Toronto’s premier venues,” OverActive Media CEO Chris Overholt said. “It’s been the home of some of the greatest events that have happened in the city over many years.”
Overholt said that one of the main factors in choosing the venue was its convenience for fans: Roy Thomson Hall is located in the heart of the city, easily accessible by public transportation. Toronto is already a popular destination for travelers not only in Canada and North America, but from all over the world. But the Overwatch League operation has the potential to bring in a number of new tourists—people who want to see the city from an esports perspective.
And they'll be able to. “We’re starting to talk to different travel companies that can help us build incentive programs and have people come into the city,” Overholt said.
Toronto is a world-leading city, he added. “There are a number of things that go into that: a sports perspective, the broadness of the audience, the youth of the city and the way they’re engaged. When we first started talking to Activision Blizzard about bringing a franchise here, we clearly knew this was going to be a great market opportunity.”
As for Roy Thomson Hall itself, Overholt said that Toronto wants to transform the place. “We want to transport fans into an experience unique to the Toronto Defiant,” he said. “We want to make sure the experience is totally authentic to the fan community. We’ve been doing some work in getting feedback from the fans in the fan club.”
While specific details surrounding exact 2020 plans are still being worked out, Overholt also said that OverActive Media is building a global headquarters in Toronto, where the Defiant—and visiting teams—will be able to practice when they’re in town.
JUST ANNOUNCED! Our first ever home games are coming in 2020!— Toronto Defiant (@TorontoDefiant) August 20, 2019
Join us for the #SpringSiege & #SummerStorm
Tickets go on sale for Homestand #1 on August 28! Sign up for early access to tickets now https://t.co/BS0DDEoU0b#RiseTogether pic.twitter.com/n3HR9aODzA
Guangzhou Charge: “We have to bring something extra”
Overwatch League fans in Guangzhou are about to have a wealth of home games to choose from, as the Charge are set to host five homestands at two separate venues in the region—Tianhe Gymnasium and Foshan International Sports and Cultural Center, both homes of Chinese Basketball Association team Guangzhou Loong Lions. (The Loong Lions and Guangzhou Charge are both owned by Nenking Group.)
The company has an exclusive operating lease with the Tianhe arena, but the Foshan center is owned by Nenking. “One of the key reasons our ownership decided to invest in the Overwatch League was because we had these venues,” Guangzhou Charge chief operating officer Eddy Meng said. “We wanted to fill them, [and] localizing next year has always been the goal.”
Meng said that the Tianhe Gymnasium is an older stadium, opened in 2001 with around 10,000 seats, and located right in Guangzhou—“by shopping malls, hotels, restaurants, with lots of foot traffic,” he said. It’s the perfect location for fans in the city. But the second stadium, in nearby Foshan, is brand new; it opened in 2018 and seats nearly 15,000.
Meng added that the space in Foshan is about to be optimized for esports, too, as Nenking is breaking ground on an esports facility that’ll be attached to the center. “It’s going to have training rooms not just for us, but for visiting teams as well,” he added. He added that there will be multiple rooms available, as well as nearby lodging, for teams to use during their home games.
“The big thing is that in our region—in southern China—there hasn’t been a lot of esports [events] despite it being a great market for gamers,” Meng said. “There’s a lot of Overwatch players in the area, but [it’s] never had elite-level Overwatch matches before.” That’ll change next year, with five homestands.
At Guangzhou’s homestands, fans can expect a multi-faceted experience that’ll encompass more than just Overwatch matches. Nenking has plenty of experience in these kinds of events, from concerts to sports matches in basketball and mixed martial arts, among others.
“We don’t have the concept locked down, but we have to bring something extra,” Meng said. “Not just for fans to enjoy our Overwatch matches, but to enjoy something a bit more. We want to do everything we can to create a great destination for entertainment, whether it’s sports, esports, [or] concerts. We know we have to put on a great show, so that’s our philosophy going in.”
New York Excelsior: “A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity”
Manhattan Center’s Hammerstein Ballroom has hosted opera singers. Professional wrestlers. Award-winning singers. Tech announcements. In 2014, vocaloid singer Hatsune Miku performed there. The legendary theater has seen a lot since it was built in 1906. Now it’ll add something else to the list: an esports team.
The New York Excelsior will use the Hammerstein Ballroom as their home arena for the 2020 season. The venue is located centrally in Manhattan, with 2,000 seats for New York-based fans—and according to Andbox (which owns and operates NYXL) co-founder Scott Wilpon, it was always on the team’s shortlist.
“Not only is the venue convenient to every kind of public transportation within the city, including Penn Station and Port Authority, but it is also a historic venue synonymous with New York culture,” Wilpon said. “Hammerstein Ballroom has hosted concerts from major musical acts, huge brand reveals like Sony’s launch of the PS4, and memorable gaming events like Play-NYC.”
New York Excelsior’s kick-off event, which will be held Feb. 8–9, is the first Overwatch League match of the season. Bringing the action to NYC has always been a priority for the team—and, in the Overwatch League, something that’s been promised since the beginning—but New York is one of the teams that has already made huge progress in harnessing the local fan base.
“Hosting a sports franchise’s first match in its home market is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and as a native New Yorker, I could not be more excited,” Wilpon said. “NYXL already has an established group of enthusiastic fans who have come out in droves to our NYXL watch parties and community events.” And next year, they’ll have an arena to call home.