The Overwatch League is Real, and It’s Fantastic

I approached Barclay’s Center to absorb Saturday’s Overwatch League Grand Final match alongside a gaggle of prototypical eSports followers: nerds of their late teenagers. One woman on this group was relaying to her buddies the rumor that a new player-character can be introduced at this, the conclusion of Overwatch League’s (OWL) wildly profitable first season.

That’s when a 40-something mother rotated and confidently corrected the younger lady: they wouldn’t be introducing a brand new character, however new “skins” for present ones.  My shock doubled when one of many younger males responded “Maybe they’ll have DJ Khaled make the announcement—We got a new skin! And another one! Another one! Another one!” That’s how I found that DJ Khaled was the warm-up act for that afternoon’s stay video video games, and that I formally I had no concept what I used to be in for.

The Overwatch League is Real, and It's Fantastic

The jumbotron confirmed stay gameplay in addition to all 12 gamers’ avatars; Sam Roos/ High Times

A fast primer for readers unfamiliar with Overwatch: the sport is a first-person shooter (FPS) that includes two groups of six competing head-to-head. Each participant chooses certainly one of 28 characters, every with distinctive strengths and weaknesses, to compete in numerous forms of video games, together with king-of-the-hill and seize the flag sort contests. The fashion of the sport is brilliant and cartoonish, a family-friendly anime aesthetic, however the technique is intricate and the tempo of play blistering. The recreation is as a lot a contest of quick-twitch muscle tissues and hand-eye coordination because it is teamwork and recreation concept.

When I provided to cowl this occasion for High Times, I assumed there could be a narrative within the position marijuana has amongst Overwatch followers. Personally, I affiliate video video games with getting baked on a sofa for a pair hours of Mario Kart with buddies. Obviously, the skilled gamers aren’t excessive, however what concerning the followers? Did they play like stoners, or like professionals? This was my deliberate angle of inquiry.

The Overwatch League is Real, and It's Fantastic

Cosplayers grouped up for pre-match footage; Sam Roos/ High Times

But that line of questioning was shortly confirmed reductive. Overwatch followers are a lot too numerous to be generalized. All races appeared nicely represented amongst the gang of over 11,000 individuals. Roughly half the attendees have been feminine. Of course, there have been some younger nerds in thick glasses and anime t-shirts, however I handed a pair of their 50’s rocking Shanghai Dragons jerseys and noticed a yuppie couple nonetheless sporting their VIP lanyards at a close-by boutique grocery retailer later that day. The crowd-watching cameras stored discovering a black lady in an unimaginable gender-bending cosplay of the character Lucio, and a white man doing the identical in an elaborate Zarya costume. There have been youngsters of all ages, bros pounding craft beers, and High Times journalists sneaking hits off their vape. Truly, the OWL welcomes all types.

Before heading to my seat, I toured the venue. I chatted with a gaggle of males and ladies of their 20s whereas we waited to take pictures of the cosplayers (there have been about two dozen “serious” cosplayers in all at Barclay’s, all however one or two of them paying clients). These followers have been disenchanted that the native staff, NYXL, had fallen in need of the finals, however they have been nonetheless thrilled to be there. All of them stored coming again to the identical thought: they couldn’t consider the size of this occasion.

That sense of disbelief remained the throughline as I chatted with different followers. People have been waving indicators (there was a sign-making station within the concourse), everybody was outfitted with flashing LED wristbands, and DJ Khaled did certainly carry out a really unusual 15-minute hype set. Everyone—my neighbors, the announcers, me—stored coming again to the identical phrase: “insane.”

My seat was subsequent to a gaggle of Philadelphia Fusion followers who had pushed up from Philly to observe their eSports workforce tackle the London Spitfire staff within the finals. They have been removed from the one ones to journey. I met a household that had pushed down from Nova Scotia, and followers from Pittsburgh and Colorado have been interviewed pregame on the big LED display. They additionally interviewed the London Spitfire GM Susie “lilsusie” Kim, who, in some other sport, can be making nationwide headlines as a lady of shade operating a males’s staff, and Philadelphia coach Yann “Kirby” Luu, who wore a coat and tie that evoked a 1950s soccer coach. The gamers themselves have been maybe the least numerous group within the constructing: all of London’s gamers are South Korean males, as are half of Philadelphia’s six-person beginning lineup (though Philly’s prolonged roster additionally has gamers from England, Israel, Finland, Canada, Spain, France, Russia and Sweden). The lack of feminine gamers (the league has none) is maybe the one a part of the OWL that would aspire to diversify additional.

Once the match lastly started, any lingering ideas that this crowd was any much less passionate or educated than a mean skilled sports activities crowd went out the window. It was among the many loudest sporting occasions I’ve ever attended (rivaled solely by my visits to the Golden State Warriors’  Oracle Arena and the Seattle Seahawks Centurylink Field, notoriously two of the loudest buildings in sports activities). Fans screamed for some gamers and booed others, gasped as they noticed performs creating the best way you typically hear in soccer matches, and rose to their ft routinely to have fun superior play. Watching the gameplay by way of the huge Jumbotron was truly wonderful; in contrast to in basketball or hockey, the place the motion is typically far out of your seat or at a nasty angle on your view, everybody within the constructing noticed precisely the identical factor.

The Overwatch League is Real, and It's Fantastic

The champions London Spitfire accepting their trophy; Sam Roos/ High Times

The solely failing of the occasion was that it was over too shortly. London had gained the primary match in a best-of-three collection the night time earlier than, and on Saturday they made brief work of Philadelphia, profitable the primary and solely match of the day Three-Zero. As London crept nearer to their victory, you can really feel the constructing rooting for Philly to rally, to provide us a present. And whereas the Fusion fell brief, they did make an unbelievable extra time comeback on the third map that had all 11,000 of us on our ft screaming. That second proved to me that this league, and eSports typically, have a professional future within the skilled sports activities panorama. Say what you’ll about video video games’ worthiness of the time period “sport”— from my seat, the expertise was indistinguishable from a reside NBA, NHL, NFL or MLB expertise. We did the wave. They had five-dollar scorching canine. Celebrities have been featured on the crowd-cam. It was sports activities.

Ultimately, I discovered little or no about marijuana within the Overwatch group. The Philly followers subsequent to me wish to typically get stoned and watch, however once they play, they keep sober. The six-man staff on the opposite aspect of me recognized with the best way I typically mix video video games and pot, however had a strict rule that they solely obtained baked earlier than informal gaming, by no means earlier than ranked play as a staff. I’m positive a correct survey of the gang would have turned again wildly totally different solutions on all areas of that spectrum as a result of this isn’t a distinct segment curiosity anymore. This is mainstream leisure, and we’re solely going to see extra of it.


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