In its first two years, the Overwatch League has taken the esports world by storm, pioneering global location-based franchising and setting a high bar for fan experiences by showcasing highlight-reel plays and filling world-class venues with screaming supporters.
Now, it’s taking the show on the road. And it’s going to be a packed house in Texas.
The league has partnered with the Dallas Fuel for the first of three Homestand Weekends this season. Eight teams will participate in the April 27–28 event in Dallas, which will feature the first regular-season matches played outside of Blizzard Arena Los Angeles. It’s a momentous step for both the Fuel and the Overwatch League, one that’s been a long time coming, and it’s just the first of many—two more Homestand Weekends are planned this season, in Atlanta and Los Angeles, with plans to host all regular-season games in teams’ home markets in 2020.
“This is the vision; this is the fulfilment of the promise of Overwatch League,” explained Frank LaSpina, the global broadcast director for Overwatch. “It will be in your city and you’ll get to see your team where they are. That’s really important to us, and we see such strong allegiance to these teams already. [The Dallas Homestand Weekend] will be an atmosphere we haven’t ever seen before; even the Grand Finals was in a neutral venue. It’s a true home match. It’s a pull-out-all-the-stops, burn-blue weekend. It’s going to be a really entertaining broadcast and really special experience for the fans at the venue.”
The anticipation around the event has reached a fever pitch. The Fuel sold out the 4,500-seat Allen Event Center, and all eyes will be on the organization as they try to pioneer ways to bring the Overwatch League experience home to Dallas.
The challenges are myriad. From broadcast-related issues like cameras, cables, and crew to the logistical difficulties of hosting the first-ever Overwatch League home event, both league officials and the Fuel have had their work cut out for them.
Fuel CEO Mike Rufail wouldn’t have it any other way.
“This is absolute history for us and for esports,” he said. “This is the only time an organization has been tasked with putting on a home match, and when you are tasked with making history, it’s a big endeavor. When the opportunity came up, we saw it as upholding our commitment as a franchise in the league, but also we knew the fans in Dallas would love this kind of event to be a part of that history. We raised our hand immediately and were confident in raising our hand because we feel we have the best fans.”
Those fans have certainly upheld their end of the bargain. They’ve formed long lines for player signings. They’ve packed bars for watch parties. They even formed their own fan club, Fahrenheit 214, that organizes meetups outside of official events.
The fans have shown up, and now they’re being rewarded. To that end, the Fuel have pulled out all the stops for the sold-out crowd. The event will feature EDM musician Karma Fields, a cosplay contest, Overwatch-themed photobooths, and more.
“We really thank the fans for showing up in such a big way and proving to everyone out there that the Overwatch League can be successful in home markets,” Rufail said. “This weekend we want to learn as much as possible about how to make our home events better, and the team is beyond excited to see what it’s going to be like when they get to be here full-time.”
Win or lose for the Fuel this weekend—though they’ll be hoping for a victory when they cap off the Homestand festivities with a match against in-state rival the Houston Outlaws—the first-ever home match of the Overwatch League has players, fans, and executives alike elated to see the game break new ground.
“The weekend is designed as a festival: fans can expect a cross between a sports event, a concert, and ComicCon,” explained Fuel COO Geoff Moore. “It’s a learning experience. We promoted the event, sold tickets, attracted sponsors, and hired event production groups. We get to spend the weekend entertaining the fans and then talking to them about it afterwards to see what we can do better in 2020, [when] everything gets bigger and more urgent. We need to super-serve the core fans and attract thousands more. We are proud of what has been done so far, but we are just at the very beginning.
“This is going to be epic.”