This Philly sports team has it all: experienced coaches, devoted fans and spirited commentators detailing its every move on live broadcasts.
It’s not the Eagles. Or the Sixers. Or the Phillies, or Flyers, or Union.
It’s the Fusion — Philadelphia’s 12-person squad in the new professional Overwatch League.
Overwatch is a Blizzard Entertainment title first released in May 2016. It’s a first-person shooter multiplayer game for the PC, PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One, with a pretty simple main concept. Two teams of six fight to capture a control point and keep the other from taking it back, or defend and escort the “payload” (such as a truck carrying goods) from one side of the playfield to the other while fending off attackers.
Although the team is new — the league debuted at the start of this year — it’s already attracting fans in huge numbers. In early January, 10 million viewers tuned in to watch the first week’s matches online, and hundreds came out to cheer on the local players in person.
“You would have thought you were watching the Super Bowl,” said Sean Rinko, a manager at Wahoo’s, the University City bar that hosted the first official Fusion watch party. “The way the people were reacting, when Fusion got a kill…it was crazy.”
Since then, Wahoo’s has hosted live streams of each Philadelphia Fusion match. The bar was selected as local HQ by team president Tucker Roberts, son of Comcast CEO Brian Roberts. The team is owned by Comcast Spectacor, which also owns the Flyers — the two sports franchises even share black-and-orange uniform colors.
Unlike the Flyers, however, the Fusion does not play in Philly.
The Fusion roster is international — the team boasts four members from South Korea and one member each from Finland, Russia, Canada, Spain, France, Israel, Sweden and the U.K. And while each of the 12 OWL teams are named after different regions, and divided into Pacific and Atlantic Divisions, they all currently play at the Blizzard Esports Arena in Burbank, Calif.
However, that could soon change. According to league officials, the plan is to eventually move OWL gameplay to local home arenas.
“There are plans to move to Philly,” head coach Yann “Kirby” Luu told Billy Penn, “but the timing is dependent on so many factors.”
Luu is looking forward to the change — he’s apparently heard about Philly sports fans’ intense reputation, but never had a chance to experience them in person.
“Even though we represent the city of Philadelphia,” he said, “I’ve yet to go there myself, so really it’s the entire idea of being there, close to the local Fusion fans, that I’m excited about. Philly has the best fans in all of sports.”
Those famous Philly sports fans aren’t necessarily esports fans, but, per Wahoo’s manager Rinko, more and more people are getting into the gaming action.
“Most of the regulars, at first they were like ‘What are you watching, video games?’” Rinko recounted. But, he said, “after they watched a little bit and they found out, hey, this is Philly’s team, [their attitude] definitely changed.”
Esports isn’t really that different from traditional sports, pointed out Jun Hwuy An, a Penn sophomore who’s Overwatch liaison chair at the university’s Esports Association.
“Esports players practice, they utilize teamwork and incredible player skill to win games, and they must be examples of good citizens for their viewers,” An wrote via email. Like players of any sport, he said, they “commit a tremendous time and effort to mastering their craft and they sacrifice a bit of their wellbeing for what they love.”
Philly Fusion player Gael “Poko” Gouzerch backs up that assessment.
Originally from from Nîmes, France, Poko told Billy Penn that it takes “a lot of sacrifices and dedication” to be a pro-esports gamer.
Poko started out just by playing Overwatch with friends, he said, and then was recruited thanks to good performance in tournaments. He describes his daily life in L.A. as not that different from what it used to be, except for the dedication required. “Sometimes your friends are gonna ask you to party Sunday night,” he said, “but you have scrims [practice matches] so you can’t. You have to be able to put your friends and family on hold to be the best.”
Poko is thrilled by the growing local support for the Fusion in the city it reps on the national stage.
“We didn’t expect so much support from Philly fans,” he said. “We are very proud to represent such a beautiful city and we are gonna do our best to make them proud.”
He’s also looking forward to the eventual move east.
“It’s not up to me, but if I had to decide I would definitely go to Philly sooner,” Poko said.
“I’ve heard they have some amazing cheesesteaks, and the Eagles are the dream squad.”