Experiencing the Overwatch League for the first time and why you should too

Experiencing the Overwatch League for the first time and why you should too

The Philadelphia Fusion finally played in front of a home crowd for the first time Saturday at the Met. It’s been a long time coming but with a near sold out venue, it was clear that the city was ready for the league to make it’s way there during their regular season. 

And after the 2019 Overwatch League sold out Wells Fargo Center in September, I finally realized it may be time to pay attention to something that was taking over the nation … I just wasn’t sure how. 

Fast forward to this weekend of events. Still knowing nothing about the league, Overwatch in general or really what to expect at something like this … I decided to go. I wanted to see what it was like, essentially as an outsider, to see how things go. Here’s what I took away from the day:

First impressions

I arrived about a half hour before the initial start time and it was packed. Between the lobby, merchandise tables and gaming stations, the atmosphere was electric. It almost seemed like a mini ComicCon, or in this case BlizzCon — with fans in jerseys representing their favorite players, cos-plays of characters in the game and even a fake Gritty (the real Gritty was there too, but we’ll get to that later).

How does it differ?

One of the biggest questions I had heading into things was how different would this be from a regular sporting event? Turns out — it’s not. Two teams of six compete on three separate maps, with three games within them. It’s highly competitive and very intense. 

The crowd was also as Philly as it gets. The entire event went on for nearly four hours and the energy never died down. The first match of the Mayhem and the Outlaws had an interesting dynamic, where fans cheered for both teams. Everyone was just there appreciating the game and the atmosphere, but boy did it take a shift as soon as the Fusion and Justice took the stage. 

It was loud. I mean loud. From booing the Justice from the moment they stepped on the stage, to cheering on the home team for the very first time. It was the same energy you’d see from Flyers, Sixers, Phillies and Eagles fans. 

Not to mention, there was even an E-A-G-L-E-S chant that broke out, so it’s safe to say the Fusion were officially initiated into the Philly sports world. 

What I took away

I’m familiar with Blizzard Entertainment, having played World of Warcraft since my middle school days, but before this weekend I had held off to being open-minded to any other games they put out. If I had a better understanding to Overwatch overall, the way I do with WoW, chances are I’d probably become pretty invested into this. To be a player and to be able to watch some of the best in the game is a pretty cool concept. 

Not to mention, an appearance from Gritty is an automatic win in my book. 

Is it worth attending?

 If you’re open to trying new things, I’d suggest giving it a shot. Since this was the first time I was there and was still pretty much unaware of everything going on for the first few hours, two matches seemed lengthy. Luckily, if you wanted, you could’ve gone for just the Fusion that was set to start two hours into the event. 

The gaming community continues to evolve. If you’re a fan of Twitch — an online streaming site for players, this may be something to look into. It’s basically the live version of it but with the addition of a live sporting event atmosphere. 

I rather enjoyed my time there and look forward to the next time the Fusion are home (May 23-24). Now that I know what I’m going into, it’ll be exciting to be back with a new perspective. 

A year in review for the Fusion

Blizzard Entertainment/Robert Paul

A year in review for the Fusion

The Philadelphia Fusion’s playoff run ended before it even began in the first round of the Overwatch League postseason play-in tournament, as they fell 2-4 to the Shanghai Dragons. For many, however, the result was not unexpected.

Despite having reached the grand finals of the OWL last year where they lost to champions London Spitfire, Philadelphia had struggled all year with consistency in the new year’s metas.

Both the Spitfire and Fusion had been tipped to maintain their strong performance from the playoffs into the new season but failed to adjust adequately to the new triple tank, triple support, or GOATS meta. In hindsight, both the Spitfire and Fusion received a lot of their strength from their DPS players both in the playoffs and previous stages, with Philadelphia’s Jae-hyeok “Carpe” Lee and Josue “Eqo” Corona putting in stellar performances on Widowmaker and Hanzo respectively. However, the new meta meant that teamwork and synergy were prized above all, while the individual brilliance of Philadelphia’s DPS could not shine through amidst the maelstrom of shields and support ultimates.

The problem was further compounded when it came to figuring out which hero each player should be playing. The team’s best Zarya player by far was Gael “Poko” Gouzerch, but he also happened to be the team’s only D.Va player, and both heroes were absolutely necessary for the new meta.

Neither Carpe nor Eqo seemed comfortable on Zarya, and there was a period of swapping back and forth before it was finally decided Carpe would be the team’s starting Zarya, while Eqo would play Brigitte. Both players put in decent, but never outstanding performances, always far behind the likes of Jay “Sinatraa” Won of the San Francisco Shock or Hyo-jong “Haksal” Kim of the Vancouver Titans.

Another area of weakness was the main Tank Su-min “Sado” Kim, who was far more amenable to the prospect of playing Winston rather than Reinhardt, a mainstay in the GOATS meta. This preference meant Philadelphia’s willingness to run Winston GOATS was often exploited by other teams as Reinhardt dealt far more damage, and Sado never quite looked comfortable on the Rein v Rein matchup.

The season had started brightly, with the Fusion finishing tied for 3rd in Stage 1 with a 5-2 win-loss record and making the Stage 1 playoffs, where they were knocked out immediately by a surging Atlanta Reign led by the now-retired popular streamer Daniel “Dafran” Francesca. In Stage 2, we began to get a clearer idea of the truly strong GOATS teams, as strength of schedule had played a large part in the standings after Stage 1, and Philadelphia found themselves in 11th for the stage and with an 8-6 record heading into the midseason break – not exactly ideal, especially when compared to the 14-0 Vancouver Titans or 11-3 San Francisco Shock.

By Stage 3 it was clear that Philadelphia were not one of the stronger teams in GOATS, as they received another 11th place finish for the stage and a 4-3 record, bringing their overall record to 12-9. Many expected that the impending 2-2-2 role lock for Stage 4 would allow Carpe and Eqo to showcase their DPS prowess once again after having been stuck on Zarya and Brig for the better part of a year, and tipped Philly to close out the season strongly.

Alas, the 2-2-2 role lock only brought another composition that played almost exactly like GOATS, which was called Mei-Reaper.

The composition, much like GOATS or 3-3, focused exclusively on close-quarters combat, and while there were evolutions here and there by other teams such as the Washington Justice to include a Hanzo for some long-range damage, Philly seemed determined to stick to the prevailing meta instead of changing up their strategy to allow their DPS to shine. Another stage out of the top 10 beckoned, as the Fusion finished 12th with a 3-4 record. No matter; perhaps the new patch for the playoffs, which would include new hero Sigma for the first time in professional play, would bring some favourable changes.

On August 30th, the Fusion arrived in the Blizzard Arena for their first, and possibly final, game in the play-in tournament. The OWL playoffs format had been modified for Season 2, with the overall top 6 teams for the season securing automatic qualifications for the playoffs, and the 7th-12th placed teams participating in a play-in tournament for the final 2 spots. With Philadelphia having finished the season 10th, they would go up against the 11th overall Shanghai Dragons, who had become Stage 3 champions with an unorthodox Pharah-Widowmaker combination but unexpectedly fallen off in Stage 4 in the 2-2-2 lock.

Right off the bat, Poko was making a case for himself as the best Sigma player in the tournament, with his stuns and shield management being a crucial factor in allowing Philly to win fights. However, the Fusion again proved themselves beholden to the meta, when they stayed on Reaper and Mei despite Yong-jin “Youngjin” Jin’s Doomfist running rings around them with his ability to one-shot squishy heroes in fights.

Nevertheless, the match was closely contested, and a back-and-forth match saw both teams win King’s Row after a technical issue meant Numbani could not be played, but it was the Dragons who came up on top in the end. The game capped off a decent, but not a stellar year for the team, much like their performance in GOATS which defined so much of their season.

Looking ahead to the next season, many have pointed to the burgeoning talents on the Fusion’s academy team Fusion University as catalysts for a rebuild, in particular, flex support Kyung-bo “Alarm” Kim. However, it is uncertain how exactly the team will perform if they decide to take this route.

Fusion University struggled when they moved to Contenders Korea for 2019 Season 2, with a 5th-place finish out of 8 teams, losing 3-4 record for the first time ever in their history and being knocked out in the first round of playoffs despite having lost just 1 match and won the championship every time they participated in their 4 Contenders seasons in North America.

Whatever the case, a more difficult road lies ahead for Philly as competition gets ever more intense for Season 3 of the OWL and travel for away games comes into play.

2020 Overwatch League format and structure announced

Ben Pursell/ Blizzard Entertainment

2020 Overwatch League format and structure announced

UPDATE: The Fusion will not be playing in the Fusion Arena in 2020 and the venue has not been announced yet and the team will actually have 3 Homestand events a season.

The Overwatch League has officially announced plans on how the League will operate and be structured going forward in 2020 as teams are set to play in their own home arenas. As a result, the entire Philadelphia Fusion team, along with teams around the league, will finally be returning home to their respective home cities, which for some teams, will be their first time.

Moving forward, the Pacific and Atlantic divisions have become conferences which have been split down into two divisions. The divisions have been split into the following teams:

Atlantic Conference
The Atlantic North Division will feature the Boston Uprising, the London Spitfire, New York Excelsior, Paris Eternal and finally the Toronto Defiant. Meanwhile, the Atlantic South Division will feature the Atlanta Reign, Florida Mayhem, Houston Outlaws, Philadelphia Fusion and Washington Justice.

Pacific Conference
The Pacific East Division will feature all the Asian teams in the Chengdu Hunters, the Guangzhou Charge, Hangzhou Spark, Shanghai Dragons and lastly the Seoul Dynasty. Finally, there is the Pacific West Division which is stacked with amazing teams like the Dallas Fuel, Los Angeles Valiant, Los Angeles Gladiators, San Francisco Shock and Vancouver Titans.

(Image Courtesy of the Philadelphia Fusion)

In terms of scheduling, each team will expect at least two homestands, some teams receiving three extra homestands as well for a total of 52 homestands. Ultimately, this means fans will finally be able to see the Fusion in action live at the Fusion Arena at least twice in the upcoming season. Unfortunately for local fans of the Fusion, it is unlikely for the team to receive the extra homestands, which have already gone to the Guangzhou Charge, Washington Justice (who is in the same division) and Dallas Fuel, according to Mike Hume of the Washington Post.

As a result of the addition of home games, the Overwatch League also announced that the season will no longer be split into stages because of travel and scheduling. As a result, fans can expect to see the Overwatch League in action every week and the All-Stars event to take place at the midway point of the season.

Along with the homestands, each team is expected to host three additional events for the community in its home cities. These events can range anywhere from amateur level tournaments to social events like viewing parties among other things. While most teams have already been hosting occasional events in their home cities, it will be an exciting time going forward as teams gradually get settled into their home arenas.

The schedule for the 2020 season is set to be released sometime next month with the season itself set to begin in February.