David “Rownplb” Long made the trek up I-95 on Saturday to try his hand at Fusion University’s Hometown Heroes Showcase at LocalHost, a LAN center in Northern Liberties. The 16-year-old had to convince his parents that trying out for a professional eSports team was a good idea.
“My dad doesn’t really know how eSports work,” he said. “So I spent time explaining how the system worked. He and my mom gave me a shot to try it out.”
Long wanted some competitive experience at the 16-team Overwatch tournament. And as a bonus, maybe even rub shoulders with Fusion University’s roster of young, well-known pro gamers.
By Thursday, he was one of them.
“I was expecting to compete, have fun and maybe get a little bit better,” said Long, who was hand-selected out of 96 local competitive Overwatch players to sign a contract with Fusion University. “I didn’t expect to make the team.
“I’m pretty excited.”
In front of a 200-person capacity crowd, the 16-year-old junior from Havertown, Pennsylvania, survived 12 hours and 95 of the area’s best with an aggressive performance as an off-tank D.Va main.
“Toward the end, I was really tense,” Long said. “But once you start, you barely feel it.”
When the dust settled, after days of deliberation by the Fusion University staff, Long was contacted by coach Aaron Atkins, who offered the youngster an opportunity to join the Fusion’s academy team.
“We love Philadelphia and we want to connect with the community as much as we can,” said Atkins, who is managing Fusion University's inaugural season. “Having a player from Philly will help us achieve that even more. There’s a connection you get when you have a player from your hometown on your hometown team. That connection is what we’re looking for.”
But the Delaware County kid isn’t in the bigs quite yet. Fusion University is an academy team for the Fusion. Both teams are owned by Comcast Spectacor and will work in tandem, with Fusion University developing prospects and potentially feeding into the Fusion’s first-team roster — similar to the partnership between the Flyers and Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
The difference is that the Fusion, who are approaching the midpoint of their season, currently play in Overwatch League, while Fusion University will compete in Overwatch Contenders North America, beginning on March 11.
In other words, Long is going from playground ball to the college game, with the pros within sight.
“It will be very different,” Atkins said. “Structured competitive play is very different than any type of online matchmaking. He will see how the macro game works from the top down and that’s the first thing I’m going to work with them on because it’s so different how everything is structured and play. The first few months will be a lot of learning.”
And luckily for Long, his parents are OK with that.
“I had to explain that I could still focus on my schoolwork but also play Contenders,” Long said. “I’ll have to balance it out.”