Philadelphia Fusion

Visiting Fusion relish 1st taste of Philly sports culture

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Philadelphia Fusion

Visiting Fusion relish 1st taste of Philly sports culture

For the last seven months, the Fusion have dutifully represented Philadelphia on an international stage. What makes it unique is that prior to joining Overwatch League, few, if any of the team’s 12 players could even locate the city on a map.

“All I knew was the Flyers because I’m a hockey fan,” said Fusion main tank Joona “Fragi” Laine from the Franklin Institute’s new Game Masters exhibition Saturday. “I knew it was an East Coast city, that’s about it.”

To help solve that disconnect, the Comcast Spectacor-owned club utilized its week-long break from Overwatch League competition, leaving their Los Angeles gaming mansion to spend three days learning about the city and sports culture it is working to assimilate into.

The Fusion toured the Flyers' locker room, hit Phillies’ batting practice, shot a few jumpers at the Wells Fargo Center and even experienced an authentic Philly Wawa. All while taking photos and signing autographs with a dedicated fan base that came out in droves.

“The last couple days have been really nice,” said Laine, whose team is 18-12 in its inaugural season. “I really like downtown Philly. The architecture is really gorgeous, the pillars and old buildings, it’s more European than L.A. The fans have been really nice in Philly, it’s been great.”

Made up of six Europeans, four Koreans, an Israeli and a Canadian, the Fusion had only heard about Philly sports fans. The players watched Villanova win the NCAA Tournament and Eagles win the Super Bowl.

From the outside looking in, the Fusion have been absorbing the city's sports culture.

“Before I moved to America, I knew nothing about Philly fans,” support player Isaac “Boombox” Charles said. “But people on our staff from Philly told us the fans were passionate. And that they boo all the other teams."

Finally able to experience that unique passion was an eye-opener for the group.

“I learned that Philly people know it’s Philly against the world,” Laine said. “I appreciate that. In Europe, each country is its own thing, Philly is like that. They support their own.”

Though esports won’t crack Philadelphia’s big five sports landscape anytime soon, support is there as evidenced by the hundreds of fans and long lines at each event the team hosted. On Thursday, the club showed up at an employee event at the Comcast tower, which burned through 1,000 posters.

“When we were at the Comcast building at a closed event, we went to the cafeteria and there was a massive line,” Charles said. “They were just Comcast employees. We thought it would be 100 people max and it was massive.”

The party continued Thursday night when the team arrived at a packed house at an Xfinity Live! party hosted by the team. On Saturday, they faced down a lengthy meet and greet of rabid fans at the Franklin Institute.

They represented Philly before. Now it means something.

“We knew we had fans in Philly but being able to come here and see the support is overwhelming,” Charles said. “It will make us want to perform better and not let the fans down.”

Havertown teen earns pro eSports contract with Fusion University

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USA Today Images

Havertown teen earns pro eSports contract with Fusion University

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.”

Everything to know about Fusion, Overwatch League

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Photo: Fusion

Everything to know about Fusion, Overwatch League

The Fusion are about to make history.

When the freshly minted club takes its seat at Blizzard Arena Thursday night against the Houston Outlaws, not only will it be the first-ever Overwatch League match for the team, but it will mark the first geo-based team from Philadelphia to play in any competitive eSports league.

“Our team, players and staff are very excited for the season to underway," Fusion coach Yann "Kirby" Luu said. "It'll be our first time on stage for an official Overwatch League match, so the players are impatient to show what they can do."

After missing the preseason as a result of a delayed visa process for players, Thursday will be the first time the Fusion will be in public view and in meaningful competition. That’s also what makes the first match such a unique opportunity.

"I don't think we'll be at our peak just yet, but that most likely applies to all teams in the league," Luu said. "Our fans can expect to see our guys ready to play and hungry to compete."

What is the Overwatch League?
Overwatch League is a seasonal eSports competition based on the multi-platform video game Overwatch. Think of it like the NHL, and Overwatch, the game, as ice hockey. Overwatch League is in its inaugural season, which begins on Jan. 10 and runs through mid-June.

This season, the league is broken up into the Pacific and Atlantic Divisions, where 12 teams from around the world will compete twice on a weekly basis at Blizzard Arena in Burbank, California. Like hockey, the matches are six-on-six but played exclusively on PC in a LAN setting (they all sit in the same room using the same equipment).

There will be standings, playoffs and roster alterations, just like any other team-based sports league. And if you haven’t followed eSports and wonder how a video game league is sustainable, just look at the team ownership: Robert Kraft, Jeff Wilpon and Stan and Josh Kroenke are all well invested.

The season one Overwatch League champion will pocket $1 million.

Who are the Fusion?
The orange-and-black Fusion are an Overwatch League franchise owned by Comcast-Spectacor, which also owns the Flyers. The Fusion are the most international of any team in the league, made up of 12 players from around the world (only six can start) and a full coaching staff.

While the Fusion feature talented and well-known players like Jae-Hyeok “Carpe” Lee, Georgii “Shadowburn” Gushcha, Isaac “Boombox” Charles and Gael “Poko” Gouzerch, they are considered an unknown entity because of a visa procurement slog.

On paper, the Fusion have the required talent to compete. The spine of the club (Carpe, Shadowburn and Joe “Joemeister” Gramano, come directly from FaZe Clan, a successful club team that made the Overwatch Contenders finals last season. Managed by the same people, Contenders predates Overwatch League and will work like the AHL to Overwatch League’s NHL.

But if you were to prematurely grade this team in NBA terms, the Fusion won’t likely be the Warriors, Celtics or Cavaliers this season, but be somewhere between the Timberwolves, Sixers, Bucks and Hornets.

What to expect.
At 7 p.m. Thursday and at 2 p.m. Saturday against the Spitfires, the Fusion will kick off their season at Blizzard Arena. Each human player on the team selecting one of 26 characters with a specific set of skills. Those skills range from DPS (offense), which takes out the opposition, to tanks and support (defense), which keep teammates alive through blocking and healing.

Think of it like basketball: How a power forward, center and point guard all have unique abilities and all work in tandem toward an objective. And in Overwatch League, teams design strategies to fit their situation into the game, and their strengths.

Each match features a four-map set, all predetermined and all with unique objectives (control, escort, assault, hybrid). The team that claims the most objectives will win the map. It’s kind of like tennis, but with each game taking 20-30 minutes. 

Where to watch or see them
Unlike traditional sports, you won’t find Overwatch League on TV. But you can find all of the league’s matches for free online at OverwatchLeague.com or on Twitch at Twitch.tv/overwatchleague.

If you want an in-person experience, you can watch the Fusion’s match with other fans at Wahoo’s Fish Taco in University City Thursday at 5 p.m.

If you’re feeling really adventurous, you can catch the Fusion live from Blizzard Arena in Burbank. Tickets are on sale for about $30.