The global Overwatch League (OWL) recently announced more details about its plans to host home and away matches (similar to those implemented by traditional sports) beginning in the 2020 regular season. The OWL is the official professional esports league for Overwatch, an extremely popular and relatively new title from game developer Blizzard Entertainment. After its initial release in May 2016, Overwatch quickly became one of the world's most popular game titles for competitive team matches and, as a result, has become a major title in the world of professional and collegiate esports.
After announcing at this year's SXSW their intention to host home and away matches starting next year, the OWL has now formalized the structure for the previously teased system. This announcement means that Houston's professional Overwatch team, the Houston Outlaws, will host several "home stands" next year in or around Houston — as opposed to playing in Blizzard's esports studios in Burbank, California. The OWL, currently in its second competitive season, has been streaming most league matches from its Burbank studio arena. A system that, while logistically ideal, fails to connect with fans who would love to see their respective regional teams competing closer to home.
"Next year, there will be home games taking place in each of the 19 cities around the globe," says John Spiher, spokesman for the Houston Outlaws. "Each one will have multiple event weekends." According to Spiher, home matches will be structured around multi-day events wherein the "home" team will play matches against multiple visiting teams throughout the weekend. "It's a weekend long event with a bunch of back to back to back matches," explains Spiher.
The implication here is that the OWL is committed to growing regional footprints for each of its teams — an element of traditional sports that has been sorely missed in professional esports, with most leagues hosting games in remote studio arenas in California or overseas. This development is even more exciting considering the OWL is the only truly global and franchised esports league in the world, with teams from Asia to the United States all competing for the same championship. "We have one global league," says Spiher, "very specifically and very intentionally, there is a lot of geographical identity in each of these teams. We're not the Outlaws, we're the Houston Outlaws."
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As of this writing, no schedule or venue information has been made available, though news on the Outlaws' home venue is expected by the end of summer. Some fans may remember reports dating back as early as January 2018 which promised a soon-to-open home arena for the Outlaws.While those reports proved premature, is seems they were not entirely wrong. We know that the long awaited venue, Next Level E-sports, is soon to open in Midtown. Whether or not it will serve as the Outlaws' home-base is still unclear.
What is clear is that the OWL franchise bearing this city's name, along with a throwback Colt 45's and Texans inspired logo, will soon have a chance at earning some legitimate local bragging rights in their own backyard. With the growing global popularity of esports and Houston's expanding investment in the industry, news of the Outlaws upcoming home matches is certain to be well received by a young and enthusiastic fan base.
"We want to be important to the Houston sports culture," says Spiher — a goal that may actually be less ambitious than it seems.