With about 2 months to go until the inaugural season (or preseason, at the very least) of the Overwatch League, two cities are now able to lay claim to their own personal teams: the Shanghai Dragons, which coincided last week with the San Francisco area’s roster reveal, and now, the newly announced “Dallas Fuel.” The Dallas slot was acquired in late September by prominent esports organization EnVyUs; EnVy, which also boasts of an impressive array of rosters in Overwatch (duh), Counter Strike: Global Offensive, Call of Duty, and other major esports, was given a $35 million investment from Texas-based oil baron Ken Hersh, owner of Hersh Interactive, earlier that month. The team’s name, following along the oil-based theme of their sponsor, is intended to pay homage to the vast amount of the lucrative natural resource so often associated with the state of Texas; in addition to the logo, being a flame symbolizing “…the galvanizing spark that the franchise is looking to ignite among esports fans in Dallas…” (per the official Overwatch League website), the color blue was selected as the team’s primary identification, thus sticking to EnVy’s roots by choosing a hue which has historically represented the organization. Mike “hastr0” Rufail, owner of Team EnVyUs’ vast esports empire, was also quick to the draw in terms of celebration, tweeting out that he was excited for the introduction of the fledgling franchise to the League.
Prior to any indication on the group’s entry into the League, EnVy’s Overwatch squad garnered widespread acclaim for its prowess in the scene, including earning a victory in the largest independently-run tournament (as in, Blizzard did not create the tourney) played in the scene thus far: MLG Vegas 2016. The team’s incredible talent was proven by their unblemished record in Contenders Season 1. Currently, EnVy’s lineup consists of DPS stars Timo “Taimou” Kettunen and Kim “Effect” Hyeon, Tanks Christian “Cocco” Jonsson and Pongphop “Mickie” Rattanasangchod, and Supports Sebastian “chipshajen” Widlund and Jonathan “HarryHook” Tejedor Rua; community superstar Brandon “Seagull” Larned was also added to the powerhouse team last month. While there has been no official announcement of any signings in regards to the regular roster, one could easily assume that the same team that will be taking the stage at the Overwatch Contenders LAN playoffs at Blizzard Arena on October 7th will appear in the Overwatch League.
In addition to the Dallas Fuel, it would appear that the Los Angeles-based, Kroenke-backed team will be named the “Gladiators”; a trademark for such a name was first reported on the “High Noon Podcast.” The same group which currently owns the Los Angeles Rams, owned by the Kroenke family, also purchased a slot in Los Angeles for the upcoming season (a move which saw a second team enter L.A., alongside the Immortals Esports franchise). Slingshot Esports also claimed that Phoenix1, an esports organization previously uninvolved in the Overwatch scene, would take a managerial position in regards to running the team. Neither the Kroenke family nor Phoenix1 has yet validated these claims.
These announcements (or leaks, in the case of the Los Angeles team) come at a rough time for the Overwatch community. Viewership, which had peaked during 2016 to the point of surpassing League of Legends for a brief period, has dropped tremendously in the past few months; after peaking at an average of nearly 50,000 concurrent viewers during November of 2016 on popular streaming medium Twitch, the most recent figures coming from October of this year only appear to show an average of only around 20,000 live viewers at a time, a 60% decrease from the former statistic. An overwhelming subset of both casual and competitive believe that the stale and stagnated competitive meta, induced by the extravagant and unnecessary buffs to certain heroes, has caused this steep decline; the lack of enjoyment in the mere mechanics of the game has stemmed to a highly toxic competitive experience, thus further persuading players to avoid the game. Recent attempts by the Overwatch development group, spearheaded by Jeff Kaplan, have helped clear up some of this smog of unhappiness, though: it has been confirmed that permanent competitive bans will be issued to players with three seasonal bans, or to players who commit some otherwise insoluble offense; new hero changes on the game’s Public Test Realm, or PTR for short, have assuaged the fan base’s rage in regards to apparent inactivity on Blizzard’s behalf; and beneficial tweaks to the amount of competitive points gained and lost have been instituted. Furthermore, prominent streamers/professional players, such as the aforementioned Taimou, have launched silly yet effective campaigns preaching “Positive Mental Attitude” (PMA) in order to help solve the crisis of toxicity. However, Overwatch still has a long ways to go before it can regain dominance over viewership once again.
Despite the somewhat dire circumstances in which competitive Overwatch finds itself, Activision-Blizzard hopes that their inexorable and ambitious power move to transition esports into the primetime spotlight will rekindle fans’ love for the game. The official preseason for the Overwatch League begins on December 6th; the regular season is slated to launch at some time in January.