Weekends like this, the fog lifts and the vision starts to materialize. The dream of a localized Overwatch League becomes more than a dream—you can see it, hear it, touch it. Over two days, in front of an impassioned, insatiable crowd of 4,500 in the northern suburbs of Dallas, we got a front-row seat to the future. It was both intensely local and global: there was many a yeehaw and the birth of a big ol’ Texas rivalry, but there were also raucous cheers for a budding South Korean superstar who is very far from home, and jerseys representing every corner of the Overwatch world.
For Fuel COO Geoff Moore, the league’s first-ever homestand was better than the organization could’ve hoped for.
“You work with the league, you plan the event, you sell the tickets, but what you always hope for, and you’re lucky to ever get, is magic—and tonight was magical, this weekend was magical,” he told me shortly after the festivities. “You can do all the organization, but it’s the fans’ energy and the excitement they bring that creates the magic, and that’s what happened this weekend.”
Over two days, the Fuel staked out their territory, forging a bond between the team, a place, and the people who love both. In doing so, they proved that you can go big, and you can go home.
1. There’s always a chance for the headliners to flop, especially when all three opening acts were so mind-blowingly good, but Dallas and Houston put on a capital-letter Show worthy of Texas on Sunday evening. It started with the walkout, a big-league production complete with pyrotechnics, Dallas Stars mascot Victor E. Green, and main tank Min-Seok “OGE” Son bearing what looked like an at-scale Reinhardt hammer down an aisle lined with adoring fans.
Dylan “Akm” Bignet called it an emotional moment, one that made him feel proud: “Our whole life, the hard work, in this walkout right now, it’s pretty much paying off.”
The match itself didn’t disappoint, either. The heavyweight tank matchup between OGE and Austin “Muma” Wilmot lived up to its billing. The Outlaws came out with a vintage treehouse defense on Anubis Point A, featuring Jake “Jake” Lyon’s Junkrat and Jiri “Linkzr” Masalin’s Widowmaker, then swapped to a decidedly experimental Junkrat-Mei setup on Point B to help secure the map win. There was an expression of open, wonderous joy on Linkzr’s face after he took off his headset and heard how the Houston fans were hollering.
We could get into infinitesimal detail: the finesse Ana plays from Benjamin “Unkoe” Chevasson, the beautiful ult efficiency of the Fuel’s King’s Row defense, Houston scrapping it out on Gibraltar like few teams have done before. The pandemonium of the final moments, which was summed up by flex-tank Lucas “Note” Meissner after the match:
“I’ve never seen six players call ‘Lúcio’ so hard in my life. Literally everybody in that exact moment in time was suddenly screaming ‘Lúcio,’ and he just disappeared off the map.”
You can’t blame the Fuel for celebrating as if they had just won a stage title—that moment will be an unforgettable one for players and fans alike.
2. While the capacity crowd in Dallas was only about half that of last season’s Grand Finals, you could make a convincing argument that it’s the largest partisan crowd we’ve ever seen in the Overwatch League, one that rivals the local turnout for the Incheon and Paris stops of the Overwatch World Cup last summer.
For the Fuel, those heady roars of approval must have felt something like the extra armor from Brigitte’s Rally, and the seven other teams left with heightened anticipation for a home crowd of their own.
Even the Valiant, who already know the advantages of being the home team, walked away impressed. “It’s amazing to see 5,000 people support any team, and the Overwatch League in general,” Indy “Space” Halpern said. “To play in front of this audience is insane.”
Linkzr added, “Having a home place for our fans and being able to connect with fans on a local level is something I’m really excited about. For our team and our players, it’s one of those things that they’re going to remember forever—that they played on the Houston stage.”
It’s never too early to brew up a rivalry between fanbases, though. I admittedly baited this one out from Paris main tank Benjamin “BenBest” Dieulafait, but he was happy enough to play along, chuckling before telling me: “Nothing beats the crowd in Paris.”
3. For veterans of large-scale LAN events like the World Cup or last summer’s Grand Finals, that experience was invaluable on a weekend like this, with consequential matches being played in an unfamiliar setting. Jae-Hui “Gesture” Hong was quick to reassure the media that London had no trouble adjusting to the big stage, while Seoul—a mixed roster of veterans and new faces—had to help each other through it.
“For me, it was the first time I’ve been on this big of a stage, and I was really nervous,” Min-Seo “Marve1” Hwang said. “Our headphones were soundproof, but we could hear the fans shouting and we feel the vibrations.”
It was up to Je-Hong “Ryujehong” Ryu and Jin-Mo “Tobi” Yang to calm the rest of the team down, as Ryujehong explained to insider Danny Lim after the team’s 3-2 victory over the Valiant on Sunday: “We told the kids that the stage is going to rumble and shake, but to not get nervous, that they should just enjoy it[…] I told them, ‘Even if we hear booing, let’s try and make those boos into cheers. Let’s do well.’”
That message was clearly heeded, as the Dynasty survived a nervy tiebreaker against LA, which featured some incredible Earthshatters from Marve1. His synergy with Seoul’s other rookies has breathed new life into the team’s current lineup, one that’s reeled off three wins in a row now.
4. That Seoul-LA match featured the second tiebreaker of the day, after the Hangzhou Spark and Paris Eternal also went the distance in a match that featured some more inventive compositions than I think people were expecting. Paris has made some adjustments this stage to maximize the potential of their skilled DPS players, and Hangzhou was happy to answer them with their own star DPS. In the end, the Spark clutched it out—with a little help from Torbjörn—and then hugged it out with a neat display of inter-region sportsmanship:
5. OGE’s parting words of “I love you” rang true, as fan appreciation was a sentiment that was expressed over and over again throughout the weekend—by players and casters and the wider community. The presence of Dallas and Houston faithful was a given, but I was also impressed by the number of people repping London or Paris or Chengdu.
In the line for the player autograph session on Saturday evening, I met a trio of Seoul fans—Yohan and Maggie from Atlanta, and Jessica from Arkansas. All three had been drawn to the Dynasty via Ryujehong’s Ana heroics, and were day-one fans who jumped at the opportunity to see their hero this weekend, even if it meant a five-and-a-half hour drive like the one Jessica had to make.
“When I went to LA [last season], there was a really great atmosphere there, but this was double or triple that,” she told me. “Maybe it’s because it’s a home game and everybody’s from Dallas, but it was just—wow, night-and-day difference.”
“I went deaf,” Yohan quipped.
Maggie added, “It reminded me a lot of soccer games, how soccer crowds are.”
Yohan said that he was surprised at how close it got to a traditional sports atmosphere: “These are people who don’t do that, stereotypically.” That being the physical outpouring of fan passion: sweaty brows, shaking limbs, voices hoarsened from yelling and cheering, that guy playing his heart out on the saxophone. And that’s another thing that made this weekend so special—for so many fans, their digital dreams manifested into something corporeal and tangible for the first time.
A posse of London Spitfire players went shopping for some authentic cowboy gear before their visit to Texas for the Dallas Fuel Homestand Weekend.
6. Part of the learning process is dealing with bumps along the road, which can happen in even the best-laid plans. London and Houston were on the same flight into Dallas that got grounded in Wichita Falls for hours due to a medical emergency, a misfortune that was documented by several Outlaws players on Twitter. And, of course, there was the brownout in Allen that caused a 45-minute delay not even a full map into Saturday’s opener between London and Paris. Luckily, the players took everything in stride.
“It was a little hectic, but it was just a new experience for us,” Seung-Tae “Bdosin” Choi said afterward. “We had fun with it while we were still onstage.” That they did—Gesture could be seen dancing to the music once power had been restored, much to the delight of the fans.
7. I was told a funny anecdote by someone from the Competition Operations team. On Saturday, when the power went out, the backup generators that IT had prepared kicked in, meaning the players’ computers onstage weren’t affected; technically, the match could have proceeded. Because the comp ops computers got disconnected, though, the owner of the game lobby for the match defaulted to Terence “Soon” Tarlier, who would have to return control via the “Promote to Leader” option once everyone got back online.
However, Soon had recently started using the Chinese-language client, and couldn’t identify the characters for “Promote to Leader” in Chinese in order to get the match back into the hands of comp ops. They quickly reached a solution: Soon simply closed the game, passing ownership to his teammate one chair over. Roni “LhCloudy” Tiihonen’s client, fortunately, was in English.
8. Once again, five wins seems to be the cutoff point for making Stage Playoffs, as we finished the week with five participants confirmed: the Los Angeles Gladiators, San Francisco Shock, and Vancouver Titans, of course, remain our three undefeated teams, while the NYXL and Spitfire are also in, the latter by virtue of their win over Paris.
Dallas, Hangzhou, and Seoul (who all went 2-0 this weekend) currently occupy the final spots, but Shanghai, Chengdu, and Philadelphia will have another chance to make their case. Keep an eye on Philly vs. SF on Thursday as well as both of the Dynasty’s matches—they face Vancouver and Hangzhou, which is not an easy run.
Week 5 kicks off on Thursday, May 2, at 5:30 p.m. PDT, when the Dallas Fuel (8-5) take on the Florida Mayhem (1-12). Watch all 2019 season matches live and on demand on overwatchleague.com, the Overwatch League app, our Twitch channel, MLG.com, and the MLG app.