Today, the Dallas Fuel will hold the first live North American Overwatch League match since March of last year.
When the Overwatch League began in 2018, the plan was to hold live matches in one centralized location and eventually work toward holding live matches (dubbed ‘Homestands’) in each of the 20 teams’ home-markets. 2020 was planned to be the year that the League converted from its Burbank, California soundstage and into locations like Dallas, Paris, and Shanghai. For the first five weeks of the 2020 season, OWL realized that dream. It held matches in New York, Philly, Houston, and Washington before concerns around the quickly growing out-of-control pandemic forced the League to pivot to remote matches.
In 2021, the Dallas Fuel was the first North American team to host a live Overwatch match in over a year. It wasn’t your typical live Overwatch experience. For starters, Dallas’ opponents, the Houston Outlaws, weren’t there. Instead, the team took the stage at the Esports Stadium Arlington, in front of a live crowd but played an online match against their Texan rivals.
It’s poetic that Dallas hosted the first North American Homestand in 2021. In 2019, the Fuel hosted OWL’s first ever Homestand at the Allen Arena. It was the first time the Overwatch League community got to see the idea of the Homestand conceptualized, and it ended up being a a great example of their potential to engage fans. At that time, neither Dallas nor Houston were particularly good, but because of the crowd’s infectious energy, that didn’t matter. Here’s a video retelling the story of Overwatch’s first Homestand.
Though Dallas is the first North American team to host a live event, the Overwatch League Homestand revival actually took place in China in June. The Hangzhou Spark put on the first live Homestand since the pandemic shut them down the previous season. It was the first live Overwatch League event in Asia since last year’s pandemic put a stop to Homestands before an Asian team was due to host.
The return of live(ish) events marks the return of a kind of energy that has been missing from OWL matches. Live events allow teams to flex their creative muscles in the music and media packages they use. Yesterday, my Shanghai Dragons had their first Homestand which included an absolutely fabulous walkout video that I must share here.
Even though Dallas’ Homestand was a weird lopsided event, I cannot deny the smile on my face seeing the players walkout to the roar of the crowd. Being able to hear the crowd erupt with every Dallas kill made what wasn’t a very competitive match (Dallas beat Houston 3-0) more engaging.
As more people get vaccinated and states resume pre-pandemic operations, (perhaps unwisely given the prevalence of a new covid variant) the Overwatch League has been slowly working its way back to LAN-based competition. Announced this year, Project Aloha has qualified North American teams flying to Hawai’i to compete against Asian teams to take advantage of Hawai’i’s low latency connection to Asian servers. There is no word yet on if other North American teams will also resume hosting Homestands.