A little more than two years ago, on the morning after my son was born in a hospital in Lower Manhattan, I stepped out of the maternity ward to take a call from a Blizzard recruiter. The job was for an esports editorial position, and the then-nascent Overwatch League would be a big part of the role. The recruiter knew my new-family situation, and probably thought I was crazy for taking a call so soon after the arrival of our firstborn. But I was already kind of mad for the job, and I told her as much.
A few days later, my wife and I brought our son home from the hospital. Paternity leave ensued, and I found myself juggling a newborn, playing a lot of a newly released open-world game, and continuing the interview process with Blizzard. Less than a month after our son’s birth, I boarded a plane to Irvine, California, and met many of the still-small group who were building the Overwatch League.
On our son’s three-month birthday, I boarded a plane yet again—this time a one-way ticket, with my wife and son alongside me. (Pro tip for new parents: do not wear clothing you have very much attachment to on a cross-continental flight with a three-month-old.) We landed in Long Beach in the early evening, and together first tasted the silken heat of a SoCal summer.
I joined Blizzard in the frenzied run-up to the launch of the Overwatch League. At the time, seven ownership groups and cities had been announced, and we spent the next several months announcing five more, followed by the names and colors of esports’ first major global city-based teams: the London Spitfire, the Shanghai Dragons, the Philadelphia Fusion, and nine more soon-to-be-storied franchises. #AcesHigh, #breakthrough—and, yes, #pdomjnate—were still then in the ether.
BlizzCon 2017 was a blur. We relaunched the Overwatch League website, and founding commissioner (and father of two) Nate Nanzer took the stage in a black-and-orange Overwatch League bomber jacket to officially unveil the branding of our 12 inaugural-season teams, as well as details around the launch of the league.
My son was then six months old, at home with his mom. He had no idea what the hell I was doing. My own parents had little idea either, but the city-based model made for an easy shortcut to explanation. “It’s just like sports teams, but with video games,” I told my dad. For a man who watched me grow up playing video games with my brother, or alone in my room, I’m not sure it made sense to him, but he believed in me—and, by extension, the league.
Cut to a Saturday in July 2018, during the playoffs for the inaugural season of the Overwatch League. I called my dad and said, “Hey, turn on ESPN right now.”
“OK,” he said, and I heard the sound of the TV being switched on. “Well, I’ll be damned,” he said.
There were a lot of moments like that during the inaugural season of the Overwatch League, for fathers and sons (and moms and daughters) the world over. Suddenly a thing that had been the private obsession of a younger generation was being put out into the world in a way that older generations could understand, if not fully appreciate—at least not yet. I remember a Facebook post from a friend of mine, himself a father to a young girl—and very much not a video-game guy—during a playoff match that aired on ESPN: “Overwatch League is weird but kind of addicting,” he wrote. I knew then that we were onto something.
Another big moment was our first Grand Finals, at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, where the NBA’s Nets play. I had returned to my adopted hometown, where I lived for 16 years before relocating to California, to cover the event alongside my growing team. Walking down Atlantic Avenue toward the venue behind the New York Excelsior DPS Jong-Ryeol “Saebyeolbe” Park, I marveled at the fact that the small group in front of me were excitedly whispering amongst themselves about the god-among-DPS walking in front of them with his headphones in. “That’s him! That’s Saebyeolbe!”
That first night at the venue was a revelation. I’d been to big esports events before, including IEM Katowice, and of course many late nights at Blizzard Arena Los Angeles. But this was something else. People of all ages, races, and genders had packed Barclays Center to the rafters, and were dancing in the aisles—literally!—before the match and during breaks. I’d been to a lot of big sporting events in my time, but never before had I been a part of such a diverse and enthusiastic crowd. Families, kids, friends, and fans from states or even oceans away had gathered to witness the Overwatch League’s first champions be crowned.
During a break in play, I made my way down to the arena floor to meet up with a former boss of mine who’d brought his two young sons—both confirmed Overwatch League fanatics—to the game. Little dudes were over the moon, grinning ear to ear. Another old workmate had brought his nephew. My brother and his son, who play Overwatch together (Torbjörn mains both—no hate), were tuned in together at home. My dad caught the rebroadcast of the Grand Finals on ABC the following day. The London Spitfire froze out the Philadelphia Fusion on an epic King’s Row map to close out the series, and I flew home to my wife and boy feeling like I was part of something big.
Fast-forward to Week 1 of Stage 2 this season, and I’m home on a Saturday watching the Chengdu Hunters rout the Paris Eternal 4-0 on Twitch. My son is a month shy of his second birthday, and he’s on the couch with me, watching Hammond maestro Menghan “Ameng” Ding do his Wrecking Ball thing. This happens:
My heart swells with pride.
But back to my dad. A very long while back, he and I were playing catch in a park in Little Rock, Arkansas, where I grew up, on an unseasonably warm late-winter day. For whatever reason, at the time we had a bright orange baseball, and a newspaper photographer happened by and thought it seemed like a good metaphor for the start of a new season, chucking around this sun-like ball. They printed it in the paper, and somewhere I have a laminated copy of the page that my dad made for me. In the picture I am wearing very unfortunate clothing—I seem to remember my mom, that morning, telling my dad I should no longer be allowed to wear my tattered but well-loved polo shirt in public—but the memory is all the better for it.
I look forward to seeing what Wrecking Ball theatrics get printed in the digital papers of the future for all the dads and sons bonding over Overwatch League. Happy Father’s Day!