Washington hosted six matches for a homestand weekend in Activision Blizzard’s Overwatch League, a 20-team, city-based esports league built around the team-based shooter. This is the first time Justice fans have been able to cheer on their team at home, and for the league, it’s the first homestand this season in a city that has never had a live Overwatch event.
Despite the fanfare of the debut, Washington fell to the Paris Eternal, 3-1. Paris had key performances from Jung “Xzi” Ki-hyo as Widowmaker and Brice “FDGod” Monsçavoir as Lucio.
In a news conference after the match, Nicolas “NiCOgdh” Moret of the Eternal said the team won because it kept the tempo through the series. The only surprise was during the second map, when Washington’s main DPS Corey “Corey” Nigra switched to Torbjorn, a hero rarely seen in competitive play.
Ethan “Stratus” Yankel, a flex DPS player for the Justice, said after the match that the team is going to play a lot more aggressively. It knows the Torbjorn move, which threw Paris off, worked. Yankel named it the “Corebjorn."
“You can expect to see a little more dumber stuff from us,” Yankel said. “I think that’s going to be the play.”
On Sunday, the Justice lost its second match of the weekend to the London Spitfire, 3-2.
At the start of the weekend series Saturday, the Philadelphia Fusion beat the New York Excelsior, 3-1, with Sumin “Sado” Kim leading the charge as Reinhardt and JaeHyeok “Carpe” Lee racking up 70 eliminations as McCree. And then in the longest Overwatch League match ever, the Houston Outlaws almost came back in a reverse sweep across seven maps. The Boston Uprising shut it down with a 3-2 win. In Sunday’s other matches, New York beat Houston, 3-0, and Philadelphia beat the Toronto Defiant, 3-2.
Rob Flanagan, a die-hard Fusion fan, drove down from Philadelphia on Saturday, bringing with him a homemade “Fusion” Gritty costume — in honor of the crazed, furry Philadelphia Flyers mascot. Flanagan said he has tickets to go to every homestand match for the Philadelphia Fusion, and he might go to more along the East Coast.
Players are already commenting after matches about the home-field advantage emerging in Season 3. Yankel said it felt amazing to play in front of a home crowd, adding he could feel the Anthem rumble when the cheers picked up.
“There’s some part of me that just comes to life whenever I get onstage,” Yankel said. “It just feels good to be able to interact with all the people who are there to watch us.”
The feeling is mutual. Standing in line before the doors opened Saturday, one OWL fan, Joey Carusone, said Yankel and players like him add “a lot of hype” to matches by reacting to the cheers or jeers from the crowd. Carusone and his high school friends flew in from Dayton, Ohio, and got in line two hours early just to make it to their first Overwatch homestand.
Washington will host five homestands this season, tied for the most in the league. The team is betting big on the home events, with three matches scheduled at the Anthem and another two across the Anacostia River at Entertainment and Sports Arena. Washington’s principal owner, Mark Ein, said there’s always a lot of pressure whenever live events such as this are launched, adding it’s a bit like “Field of Dreams.”
“Build it and you hope they will come,” Ein said at a news conference Saturday afternoon. “It’s never been done before. … Until you see if it’s going to get filled, you just don’t know.”
So far, the bet appears to be paying off. Blake Lindsey, another fan, started playing Overwatch two weeks ago. Now, he owns a Washington Justice jersey. Lindsey said he’s “a D.C. nerd” and was at the debut of the DC Defenders’ XFL game this month.
“It’s been great fun for me,” Lindsey said. “It took a little time just to know some of the basics, but … I’ve been able to follow it.”