On Sunday, the Overwatch League Grand Finals were held at the Wells Fargo Centre in Philadelphia, pitting the Vancouver Titans against the San Francisco Shock to compete for the 2019 title.
After months of competition, the two best teams in the league had made it through a gruelling playoff to meet in Philadelphia with the right to be called champion on the line.
For any fan of Overwatch, the Grand Finals proved a must-see event, providing a thrilling in-arena experience for those in attendance on par with what you might see at an NBA or NHL game.
Speaking with fans, it became clear that the community of Overwatch and the Overwatch League is diverse in age, race, and fandom, capable of bringing people together from around the world to celebrate the game they love.
Here’s what it was like to be in attendance.
Before the event began, fans were greeted by a festival atmosphere outside the Wells Fargo Centre in Philadelphia.
There were tons of interactive activities for fans, such as getting their picture diving across the Overwatch logo into a foam pit.
The Bud Knight was also in attendance.
The Philadelphia 76ers drumline put on a show in the middle of the festivities. When the arena doors opened, led fans on a march from the tailgate to the stadium.
The line to get into the sold-out show stretched down the block on both sides of the Wells Fargo Centre.
A fan dressed as Gritty and flying a Philadelphia Fusion flag was one of the highlights of the wait posing for quite a few pictures.
Once inside, fans were greeted with plenty more to do before the event began, roaming the concourse for pictures, interacting with their fellow fans, and making signs to support their favourite team or player.
Seeing the stage for the first time was legitimately jaw-dropping.
There were countless fans sporting their best looks for the Grand Finals.
Tom Morris, who cosplays as Zarya, loved the energy that the Grand Finals brought out in fans. “It feels like you at just another sporting event. Like you’re at a Sixers or Flyers game.”
Fans I spoke with talked highly of the community surrounding both the game and the league. “I get the most excitement out of the Overwatch community. I’ve met a lot of people through both the game and the league,” said Nicole Brown, who cosplayed as Brigitte.
Madi McCulley, who was at the event as Tracer, shared a similar sentiment. “The Overwatch community is one of the most welcoming gaming communities I’ve been a part of — people are so friendly, so nice, and so diverse. It’s just awesome.”
“It’s a loving community. It can be a little intense, but when it comes to sports, you’re supposed to be passionate about it,” said Raquel Warmoth, cosplaying as Mercy. “We share that same passion.”
In the arena concourse, fans could get a glimpse at the Grand Finals trophy that the Shock and Titans would soon be fighting to win.
Fans could also get close to the broadcast team, who were filming live from the concourse. Spectators in the front rows held up signs to get them on the air.
The scene felt like something out of ESPN’s “College Gameday,” with the crowd going nuts behind their favourite commentators.
Like any sport, OWL has its die-hard fans. Maggie Butner and Kyle Bellmay were attending the Grand Finals for the second straight year, taking in the event from the front row. “The fan experience is on par with anything you’d see in the NHL or NBA,” Kyle said.
“Since I’m not a traditional sports fan, I’ve kind of learned some things here — rivalries, people not liking other teams because of geographical locations,” Maggie added. “At first, I didn’t understand it, but after one season, I totally understand.”
The Rakauskas siblings, who came down for the Grand Finals from Boston, agreed that their love of other sports had translated over to OWL, beginning with their support of Boston Uprising. “It’s genetic. If you’re from Boston, you like Boston teams.”
Their father, Dave Rakauskas, felt the same way. Though he said his understanding of the game was likely a “3.5 out of 10,” the excitement surrounding the game kept him interested. “The energy is tremendous, the amount of people here, everyone wearing the jerseys — it’s like a Bruins game.”
Throughout the night, countless moments would have felt familiar to any sports fan that enjoys the in-arena experience, from a “Thunderstick Rally,” to giveaways dropping from the ceiling, and a flex cam on the big screen.
When asked to make some noise, fans were happy to oblige.
Entire sections of fans were even pitted against each other in a race to unfurl Overwatch banners — a competition similar to what you might find at an NBA game.
Just before the Grand Finals were set to begin, Zedd took the stage to open the show. The music got the crowd on its feet.
Throughout the performance, bracelets given to attendees lit up in sequence, creating a stunning effect throughout the crowd. The bracelets would be used through the competition, as well.
The wild light show gave the crowd a preview of was was to come.
After Zedd, it was time for player introductions.
Each player got their moment, with the announcer listing their role and accomplishments in what felt like a combination of the start of a basketball game and boxing match.
And with that, the Grand Finals began.
It was a sold-out show, with an estimated crowd of 12,000 in attendance.
Compared to playing on my monitor at home, seeing the best Overwatch players in the world competing on the big screen was awe-inspiring.
Led by league MVP Sinatraa, the San Francisco Shock dominated the Titans from the very first map.
After the hot start, Shock supporters seemed confident their side would pull out the victory, with one fan brandishing a sign that read “4 maps and a handshake,” implying the Shock would win in a sweep.
Still, the match was thrilling, with the Titans clawing back on the second map to nearly tie things up, only to get rolled on the final point by yet another brilliant run from the Shock.
Several big moments got huge reactions from the crowd, with Sinatraa’s play as Doomfist and Mei particularly captivating.
The wildest highlight of the night came from Architect, who as Bastion jumped onto the chandelier during the Shock’s final push on Eichenwalde to tear through the Titans defences.
Some fans were supporting the Shock or the Titans. However, the majority of fans seemed to be there for the love of the game. They got out of their seats and cheered for big plays by either side.
In the end, the Shock won the match 4-0. When the final map was secured, pyro erupted from the stage. A new champion was crowned.
Fans seemed thrilled with the result. The Shock had been the most dominant team in the league all season, and felt like rightful champions.
After “4 maps and a handshake,” the Shock gathered to lift the trophy.
The San Francisco Shock were officially 2019 OWL Grand Finals champions.
After going to the Grand Finals, speaking with fans, and finally watching the confetti fall, I was left with the overwhelming feeling that the Overwatch League undoubtedly has a place in the future of sports.