They were standing, they were happy, they spoke and they jumped. Turns out, e-sports fans in New York are not much different from their traditional sports counterparts. Packing the nearly 2,000-seat venue across the street from Madison Square Garden, those supporters validated the theory behind the Overwatch League’s ambitious global vision.

“This event is everything we could have hoped for,” said John Spector, vice president of the competitive video game circuit.

OWL Its third season opened last week with matches hosted by franchises in New York and Dallas, and everything about the sold-out show seemed like a payoff at its stake that a world-wide, city-based structure made it to the top. May be a blooming industry.

Those celebrations were the first of 52 scheduled events on the home and away calendars, which would bring competitions for 20 arenas spread across Europe, North America and Asia. No professional league – e-sports or otherwise – has taken on such a regular regular season.

While many fans are concerned about the welfare of the players – some still teenagers – the league believes its 6 vs. 6, appropriate action has been taken to prevent burnout for the stars of the first-person shooter computer game, which The average earns over $ 100,000 per season.

Of course, OWL still readily accepts this globe-trotting adventure, an ongoing experiment.

“All 52’s wouldn’t be right,” Spector said.

At the Hammerstein Ballroom in Midtown Manhattan, the reversal of the effort was apparent. Fans spent more than $ 100 for a two-day pass and came out for doublehead matches on Saturday and Sunday. Four teams – New York, Boston, London and Paris – made a strong comeback, and fans also had an almost full venue for undercards.

It felt like a typical, rowdy sports crowd – kicked out in team gear from an on-site merchandise stand, waiting in a queue of pizza and beer while Lori in action, and rivals Boston Rebellion at every opportunity. Was beating mercilessly.

“The audience has always been here,” said Farzam Kamel, co-founder and president of Endbox, which manages the New York Excelsior.

Blizzard Entertainment Hopefully, when it seeks to give a geographic twist to the global e-sports phenomenon. While other e-sports, such as the decade old League of Legends The Pro Circuit, endowed with rootless franchises, feels the Blizzard-backed OWL includes a live event for invested parties throughout the year in the industry’s future.

After hosting all its matches in seasons 1 and 2 at a facility near Los Angeles, Blizzard is starting its city-based experiment in earnest this year. Each franchise is set to host between two and five weekends of the competition during the 26-week regular season, which runs in early August.

This is coming in time for a league behind competitors in total viewers. According to Nielsen, the OWL grand final averaged 1.12 million viewers globally in 2019, far behind the 21.8 million average viewers for the League of Legends World Championship. By comparison, Game 7 of last year’s World Series averaged 23.2 million viewers in the US and 112.7 million to the Super Bowl.

OWL fans have recently expressed concerns about the signs that the league’s pace is slowing down, including an exodus by its popular on-air talent. Most disturbing was the speculation that the trip plan might require players to log in almost twice as much as traditional American sports athletes, leaving fans worried about the plan’s viability.

The league strongly disputed those calculations and believes it was too strategic about its schedule to keep players fresh.

Instead of forcing teams to ping-pong around the world, the OWL piled the schedule by region. For example, Paris Eastern will open on the US East Coast with about two months, saving for weekends in Houston. They would split in between seasons in most of Europe, then out with a four-week trip through China. Those legs will be applied with a bye week, especially before and after the longest trips.

“Travel is inherently a part of a global league, as we designed it,” said commissioner Pete Vestelica. “We have done a lot of work to ensure that the burden of travel is kept to a minimum.”

The total gain is not as extreme as fans fear. The league gave the Paris team 52,000 miles, compared to about 40,000 miles per season for the NBA franchise. But it is more time on the road.

There were reports of players for team accommodation in Paris in mid-January in Paris, and would use it as a base for the early part of the season. They will achieve similar setup during swings through Europe and Asia.

“It reduces travel time,” said Paris VP of e-sports Derrick Trong. This enables us to practice longer than other teams coming from far away. “

The league had already lost players to burnout last season, when Homescience was an issue for its massive international player pool, but the travel was not sluggish. Players are expected to be tested this year.

“There are things like jet leg and travel; It’s physically tough, “said Taihoon” Fuze “Kim, a player for London, who is also starting the season in New Jersey. But because traveling and experiencing other cities are all fun for me, I really don’t mind it. “

There has also been a large complex wrinkle already. Early season matches in four Chinese cities of the OWL had to be postponed due to a coronovirus outbreak. Makeup dates and locations have not yet been announced.

Blizzard is concurrently launching a similar global schedule with its First-Year Call of Duty League, and it is expected to learn a lot between the two circuits.

If it works, it can have a powerful effect well beyond e-sports. The big four professional sports leagues in North America have hosted all sports abroad in recent years, and a full-time expansion into Europe or Asia will certainly appeal to many owners and international fans. If gamers can show it, leagues like the NFL, NBA and others can borrow from their playbook as they follow suit.

For all of this jet setting, the OWL will certainly not be missed for trendsetting.

“I’m saying it’s like a starting line for us,” Vestelica said. “This is the year we’re going to do the thing we’ve designed.”