The sunset was slowly painting the skies above Seoul like a watercolor painting. Bright, deep orange streaked above the horizon as planes hovered overhead in a line, waiting to land. Beneath them, ambling along a highway that weaved between green hills in the twilight, was a bus. In that bus was Jake “Jake” Lyon, Jiri “LiNkzr” Masalin, Benjamin “BigGoose” Isohanni, Stanislav “Mistakes” Danilov, Malik Forté, and me. They talked excitedly despite fading into fatigue as the bus awkwardly jerked us toward the hotel.
“I need a shower. I am so gross,” I moaned as I picked up my room key.
“Hard retweet,” Jake nodded sagely.
ON THE WORLD STAGE
The 2018 Overwatch World Cup is a lot of things. It’s the best competition in the Overwatch League’s offseason. It’s a chance for old teammates to get back together and click heads like they used to. It’s an opportunity for fans around the world to watch their idols play in person. It’s a spotlight for up-and-coming talent that could springboard them into the Overwatch League. And it’s a chance to make new friends.
Find out which player from each team impressed us the most at the Group Stage in South Korea.
Days before the Incheon Group Stage started, players from South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, Finland, Russia and Chinese Taipei milled around the hotel. At a café next door, South Korea’s Yeon-Jun “Ark” Hong sat across from Team Japan’s Takahiro “Claire” Watanabe, sipping drinks and checking out stuff on their phones under the neon Hangul lights.
Later, as players gathered to take photo portraits for the broadcast, commentators spoke with each team to get to know them better. Team Hong Kong admitted they were nervous to play on stage, as most of the them had never experienced anything like the World Cup.
“The World Cup was my first LAN as well,” said Jake kindly.
When Team Japan is interviewed, the talent asks them which Overwatch League team they’d like to play for—if they get the opportunity. Sean “ta1yo” Henderson translates the question into Japanese for his teammates, and Claire responds rapidly, gripping the sides of his chair.
“He says he would play for any team, in any role they like,” Ta1yo says, as Claire points to Jake then himself, nodding enthusiastically.
For three days, hundreds of fans filled Studio Paradise to watch the matches. It wasn’t just a lot of women, it was mostly women. The women—many dressed in Overwatch League jerseys—were incredibly organized, armed with high-quality homemade signs and bags of gifts for their favorite players. This was their chance to see their idols in the flesh, and they clearly didn’t waste the opportunity.
From making coffee to representing his nation, Saebyeolbe’s road to stardom includes two stops at the Overwatch World Cup.
The intensity ramped up when the local fans got to root for Team South Korea on the stage. They employed a coordinated system of chanting at the beginning of games. As the final seconds ticked off before a map, a leader counted down from three to one in Korean, as loud as she could. And when she finished the count, the crowd yelled—what translates to—“South Korea fighting!”
There was, of course, a bias towards the home team, but the crowd in Incheon was still incredibly polite towards all the competitors. Before all their matches, Team Finland would huddle onstage, breaking the gathering with a yell of “Torille!” The crowd immediately embraced the tradition, screaming and clapping their thundersticks in appreciation.
The fans remained active throughout the event. They would continually wave their thundersticks in the air, back and forth silently, as commentators talked between maps. They cheered for all eliminations. And they cheered when a losing team would depart the stage, tilting their thundersticks towards them—as if thanking them for their efforts.
We trace Taimou’s Overwatch path from turning pro to playing for Team Finland and then joining the Dallas Fuel.
The exuberance of the fans extended on and off stage. Players couldn’t walk anywhere without being mobbed. Some fans waited by side doors for players to leave the venue, then they would text their friends to let them know. Large lines of waiting fans would form, snaking against the walls of the lobby.
As Team Finland walked offstage after the last match of the Incheon Group Stage, BigGoose was lagging behind a little, wrapping up his keyboard’s cord. As he stepped down to head backstage, a group of female fans standing in the front row started shouting “BigGoose! BigGoose!”
As he turned to face them, they started waving, saying “Fighting!” He smiled at them, a kind of disbelief sliding across his face.
That’s the great thing about esports, Overwatch, and the Overwatch World Cup—we all love it, no matter where we are in the world. And part of the fun is discovering how different fans show that love.
The Overwatch World Cup resumes on Friday, September 7, when Blizzard Arena hosts the Los Angeles Group Stage for Austria, Brazil, Canada, Norway, Switzerland, and the USA.