NEW YORK — They stood, they cheered, they booed and they boozed. Turns out, esports fans in New York aren’t much different from their traditional sports counterparts.
Packing a nearly 2,000-seat venue across the street from Madison Square Garden, those supporters validated the theory behind the Overwatch League’s ambitious global vision.
“This event is everything we could have hoped for,” said Jon Spector, vice president of the competitive video game circuit.
The OWL opened its third season last weekend with matches hosted by franchises in New York and Dallas, and everything about the sold-out shows looked like a payoff on its wager that a worldwide, city-based structure could propel it to the top of a blossoming industry.
Those festivities were the first of 52 scheduled events on the home-and-away calendar that will bring competitions to 20 arenas spanning Europe, North America and Asia. No professional league — esports or otherwise — has taken on such an arduous regular-season schedule.
While many fans are concerned about the welfare of players — some still teenagers — the league believes it has taken appropriate actions to prevent burnout for the stars of its 6 vs. 6, first-person shooter computer game, who earn over $100,000 per season on average.
Of course, the OWL still readily admits this globe-trotting adventure is an ongoing experiment.
“All 52 won’t be perfect,” Spector said.
At the Hammerstein Ballroom in Midtown Manhattan, the endeavor’s upside was apparent. Fans spent well over $100 for two-day passes and came out in force for doubleheader matches Saturday and Sunday. Four teams — New York, Boston, London and Paris — took turns squaring off, and fans had the venue nearly filled even for the undercards.
It felt like a typical, rowdy sports crowd — decked out in team gear from the on-site merchandise stand, waiting in line for pizza and beer during lulls in the action, and ruthlessly jeering the rival Boston Uprising at every opportunity.
“The audience has always been here,” said Farzam Kamel, co-founder and president of Andbox, which manages the New York Excelsior.
Blizzard Entertainment hoped exactly that when it sought to give the global esports phenomenon a geographic twist.