After a tense seven-game back-and-forth match, the Dallas Fuel triumphed over the San Francisco Shock 4-3 and emerged as the champions of the Overwatch League. The Overwatch League is the pinnacle professional eSports league for Overwatch, a first-person-shooter game by Blizzard Entertainment. It features 20 franchised teams representing cities from all around the world, from London to Seoul. The competition was held in front of a 6,000 person crowd at the Anaheim Convention Center Arena on Friday, November 4. Dallas Fuel was the top seed entering playoffs while San Francisco Shock was the second seed.
Stakes were high entering grand finals — Dallas Fuel had yet to win a championship after years of lackluster performances while the Shock had the opportunity to earn their third championship with a roster mostly comprised of rookies. This was the first Overwatch League season played on Overwatch 2, featuring new characters, new maps and a faster-paced five-versus-five format. It was also the first in-person grand finals since the COVID-19 pandemic.
It has been a difficult few years for Overwatch — The COVID-19 pandemic shut down plans for homestand matches held at the teams’ home cities; Overwatch 2 was also hampered by release delays, poor communication and criticism by returning players for its expensive new monetization model. Parent company Activision Blizzard also faced legal suits by California and employee walkouts over toxic work environments and rampant sexual harassment.
The return of in-person finals proved to be an important milestone in the longevity of the league and the game moving forward. Returning to the Anaheim Convention Center Arena, where BlizzCon and the Overwatch World Cup was held from 2016 to 2019, symbolically marked the return of a thriving competitive community. After years of slumping viewership, the grand finals broke the Overwatch League’s online viewership records, peaking at 398,000 viewers with a total of 9.9 million hours watched.
“It feels refreshing to see the new game live, especially after years without major content updates to Overwatch,” said Joon Ho Hong, a long-time Overwatch fan and a sophomore at USC majoring in business administration. “It is also amazing to be back in person. It is just a different feeling of feeding off the energy of the crowd compared to passively watching the online stream chat.”
“It feels really invigorating,” Kim shares of her first experience at an Overwatch League event. “I have not followed the League before but seeing a team representing my hometown was amazing. You really feel all the highs and the lows and it is really amazing to see their hard work live.”
SC eSports, a student gaming club at USC, was offered complimentary tickets to catch the grand finals. “It was a great opportunity to catch the grand finals where it is for once decently close in Anaheim,” said Ashley Kim, who is also the president for SC eSports and has a minor in video game production. “We are so thankful to be able to socialize as a club and enjoy the games. It is important to get out and understand what happens in the eSports industry, beyond our computers and our classrooms,” Kim said.
“I feel so happy it is so difficult for me to talk. As a team we relied on each other and worked together towards the same goal for years. To grow together with the players that I picked out at a young age and trusted from the start, and to become champions on this great stage, I think that makes it feels even more special. I’ve always enjoyed developing a team like this, and the players are all close like family, so I love them even more because of that.”— Yun “Rush” Hee-won, head coach of the Dallas Fuel
His journey in the Overwatch League has been described by commentator Jonathan Larsson as the “greatest individual story in Overwatch League history.”
He started out in the 2018 Shanghai Dragons squad with a loss streak of 42 matches, the worst in all of professional sports. He then left the league and came back as a Tank Role Star, an award for the top 4 performances in the Tank role of the season, in 2020 and 2021. He then fell just short of winning the grand finals twice in 2020 and 2021.
“We got this win because of all of the fans,” Fearless said, holding back tears. “Every time I felt my mental slipping, I could hear the sound of the fans cheering us on, and that motivated me more to win it for them. It gave me a lot of strength.”
As the season comes to a close, Overwatch and the Overwatch League looks to build on their grand finals thriller. Dion Rogers and Alec Dawson, respectively the art director and lead hero designer for Overwatch 2, announced a new tank hero during the grand finals. Rammatra, a hulking robot with the unique ability to switch between two forms, attracted excitement and applause from fans. Overwatch League teams will now take a break after the season and refresh their rosters. Champions Dallas Fuel took the opportunity to celebrate their win at Disneyland to tie up their fairy tale season while in Anaheim.