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Volume 25 No. 111
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Overwatch League Draws Well For Finale At Barclays Center

The crowd helped create a raucous atmosphere for the conclusion of the league's first year
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

The London Spitfire swept the Philadelphia Fusion to win the inaugural Overwatch League championship at Barclays Center, marking the "end of a seven-month season," according to Terrin Waack of the AP (7/28). In DC, Rick Maese noted fans at the arena Saturday "were on their feet cheering, hoisting their smart phones to record the moment: the first championship of the Overwatch League." The event was an "important mile-marker for a first-year league that began play in January with designs on revolutionizing the way esports is played, structured and consumed." The confetti, the costumed fans and the raucous atmosphere were "as much part of the OWL dream as it was the league’s blueprint." While the upstart league has "touted it as a huge success, it was only a step." The "looming transition to the local markets will ultimately define the success of not just the league but also whether its ambitious model can truly reshape the esports landscape." OWL Commissioner Nate Nanzer said, "The city-based format has really taken off in a faster and in a bigger way than I had expected, and, frankly, like I knew it would work -- for all the reasons that work in traditional sports. I just thought it would maybe take more time." The Boston Uprising is owned by the Kraft Group, and company President Jonathan Kraft said, "It is still a long-term play. One year in a sports league is immaterial. We did this with an eye towards building long-term asset value." While all of the teams in OWL were located in Burbank, Calif., for the league's first season, owners are "hopeful that in Year 3 -- 2020 -- the teams will relocate to their actual cities, which will open up new revenue streams" (WASHINGTON POST, 7/29).

FEELS CROWDED: Maese noted the Barclays crowd "certainly knew what they were watching." They "waved signs, cheered on their favorite players and were treated to an exciting finale." More than 310,000 "were viewing the final minutes on Twitch, and the crowd inside the Brooklyn arena showered the Korean-built, London-based champions with praise." Nanzer said, "It's given us a great foundation to build off of in 2019" (WASHINGTON POST, 7/29). Sports Business Journal's Ben Fischer tweeted the "total two-day attendance" for the grand finals was 22,434 (TWITTER.com, 7/28). ESPN.com's Noah Waltzer noted despite the end of the OWL season, professional "Overwatch" "still goes on." The first Overwatch World Cup group stage "begins on Aug. 16" and the OWL All-Star weekend "will kick off" on Aug. 25 (ESPN.com, 7/28).

UP TO THE TASK: In DC, Sam Fortier noted two hours after the first round of the OWL Grand Finals was over on Friday night, the "near-capacity crowd of 11,000" in Barclays Center was "still buzzed." There had been "trepidation in scheduling the championship at Barclays Center because all the teams had played the entire season in the 450-seat Blizzard Arena" in Burbank. Fortier: "Could they really sell 20,000-plus tickets over the course of the two-day finals in New York, what one executive called 'the capital of the universe?'" The crowd "may not have been at capacity with some empty seats in the back of the floor level and in the upper deck, but volume helped bridge the difference" (WASHINGTON POST, 7/28).

LOCAL APPEAL: OWL team N.Y. Excelsior said that 800 fans "lined up outside" of a 7,330-square-foot vacant retail building in Brooklyn during the finals for a "pop-up shop with limited edition merchandise." ESPN.com's Jacob Wolf noted merchandise included a "Levi chain-stitched jacket and Undefeated Excelsior special edition jersey." Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick's vision is to make esports "just like the traditional ones: local." The Excelsior have "jumped on board with that vision." In the Financial District in Manhattan at the Waypoint Cafe, a fan group called 5 Deadly Venoms has "hosted regular New York Excelsior viewing parties and was part of the popup event." Excelsior players who made a "three-hour appearance for autographs at the popup shop commanded attention from fans" of all OWL teams (ESPN.com, 7/28).

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