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.”