The Overwatch League faced its toughest task over the weekend: selling out a major Big Apple venue.
The esports league’s inaugural championship series, featuring Blizzard’s six-on-six, first-person shooter video game “Overwatch,” drew an announced 22,434 fans total over Friday and Saturday at Barclays Center. For comparison, the two-day average isn’t far behind the single-game average the Islanders attracted at the arena (12,004), but the league’s Grand Finals in Brooklyn represents a sellout.
“If you were to ask me 10 years ago if we’d have a big event like this here in New York City, I would say ‘no way,’ ” Queens resident Jonathan Perez said. “I walked in there and saw the big screen and was like, ‘Wow, this is insane.’ ”
Fans who came to see the London Spitfire win the championship — and accompanying $1 million prize — wore jerseys from the around the league and lined up outside of the pop-up store at 472 Atlantic Ave. to buy gear. The scene inside was as electric as a DJ Khaled concert, who also performed before the second match on Saturday.
“I feel like it made the whole scene bigger,” Perez said at the finals. “Culture wise, it shows we can hold a big event in the city.”
“I think esports has always been a thing inside peoples’ hearts,” said Josue “EQO” Corona of the Philadelphia Fusion, which was swept by London in the best-of-three series. “I think the more we expose esports to everyone else, they’re going to feel more comfortable, they’re going to feel more passionate and they’ll support it more. The match was the first step to the future.”
While esports’ skeptics remain, the competition carries similar traits to traditional sports. The finals also aired live on ESPN’s family of networks, which its primary channel airing Friday’s matchup in prime time.
“At the end of the day, it’s about strategy and skill,” said Seth Titley, a fan from Brooklyn who attended the finals. “There’s skills that are applicable and everything kind of matches up in terms of strategy.”