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Of the three Overwatch League teams to host a homestand weekend in 2019, the Atlanta Reign was the only expansion team in the set. That means that while the Dallas Fuel and Los Angeles Valiant had an entire additional season to build a fanbase and establish roots in their respective home markets, the Reign had gone from zero to homestand in a matter of months.
“I thought it was a total success,” Atlanta Reign President and CEO Paul Hamilton told The Esports Observer about the homestand. “It was pretty neat from a team-building standpoint, to put together a brand and then a team as an expansion team, and then in under a year to host a home event and have it sell out both days.”
Hamilton called the event “loud and rowdy,” and said that the atmosphere at Atlanta’s Cobb Energy Center was significantly different than being at Blizzard Arena in Burbank, California. That’s where all regular-season matches have been held aside from this season’s three homestand weekends, and while the wraparound screens make the venue look sizable on streams, it’s comparatively compact given the 3,000 fans filling the Cobb Energy Center each day of July’s two-day homestand.
“Most of these guys had no idea they had that many fans,” Hamilton said of his players. “The Burbank studio isn’t very big, and because they show four matches a day, they sell one ticket and people come for their match. There might be 5-10 Atlanta fans in Burbank at any one time, so coming and having 3,000 of them each day was enlightening for them.”
Given that only a few months had passed since the Reign first competed in the Overwatch League, Hamilton himself was also surprised to see the size and energy of the local Atlanta fanbase. It wasn’t just a matter of people coming out; they were also wearing Reign jerseys and apparel and cheering wildly for the team. Hamilton believes that it helped kickstart momentum that eventually led the Reign into the playoffs.
“One of the things that caught me off-guard was the amount of Atlanta Reign jerseys and merch that people were wearing,” he said. “I knew we were having it as a homestand, but we had seven other teams there and we were a new team, so people who were fans of Overwatch weren’t necessarily an Atlanta fan. And it was like 95% Atlanta Reign jerseys and fans. It totally blew me away.
“Fan engagement was the other surprise,” he continued. “In the theater, it was amazingly loud. You got that true home-and-away vibe when the Reign played; when the Reign came out versus whoever they were playing. It had that really neat us-vs-everyone vibe, and it really played out as far as crowd noise and then how the teams played. We literally had a five-game losing streak, I want to say, leading into our homestand, and it started a 10-game winning streak for us.”
Every Overwatch League team will host homestand weekends in its home market in 2020, and the Reign will have two such events in Atlanta. The first, on March 21-22, will take place at the Coca-Cola Roxy, a 3,600-capacity concert venue, while the second homestand on June 13-14 has yet to be officially placed. It will be in a different venue than the Roxy, however.
Hamilton said that potential areas of improvement from the 2019 homestand were “nuance items,” and were more about putting increased focus and experience into successful elements rather than fixing any major issues. “What I thought we did really well, I actually think we can do better,” he said. “It was something we did so well that I saw the value of it, and I think it’s something where we will do additional things as far as activating for fans. Both before and after the event, as well, as far as activating—but also during it.”
He added that activations are key for those longer homestands, in which the Reign had four matches each day, to help keep attendees engaged and entertained. “There’s four matches—that’s a long time to sit,” he said. “When you have four matches in one place like that, I think it’s important to have additional activations there for people to have fun.”
The 2019 homestand had big brands such as Coca-Cola and Bud Light activating onsite in a dedicated area, which also had team merchandise for sale and the ability to interact with casters between matches. Hamilton said the team is engaged with those brands and others that supported the Reign’s previous homestand, as well as potential new sponsors for the 2020 events.
“We’re going to have two different locations this year, so we’re going to try something out that has a little more of an outdoors activation feel to it. We’re going to continue to try to learn,” he said. “I think one of the ways that will be bigger and better automatically is that the whole team will be living in Atlanta. Our ability to activate before, during, and after the event—and really engage the fans all year round—becomes totally different now that all of the teams will be going to live where they play.”
Not having the team in-market last season significantly limited the Reign’s ability to activate sponsors and build local interest in the team, said Hamilton. However, flying the team out of Los Angeles for more than just the weekend could’ve had an impact on the Reign’s competitive routine and performance. “There were a lot of things that we wanted to do, but we couldn’t pull the players off of their matches prior, so it sort of made it tough,” he said.
Ultimately, Hamilton believes that interactivity is key for Overwatch League activations, and getting the players involved is just one potential way to design an effective campaign. Just popping a logo in the venue or on a broadcast isn’t enough, he said.
“If you just come and put a sign up, it’s a waste of time. I think if you come in with an idea… we’ve been fortunate because our sponsors understand Overwatch League and are really very into it,” said Hamilton. “Doing activations that let the fans get involved is the key. If you do a sponsorship where you just sort of have a booth and a sign, then I don’t think you’re getting what you could get out of it.
“If you have something that allows them to interact with each other or with you, whether it’s pictures, sampling stuff, or content—there’s a litany of ways to do it, and we looked at a bunch of them,” he continued. “That’s part of the reason that having them all in-state next year will make a big difference. We could have done a lot more for the sponsors if we had the players on the ground leading up to it.”
Check back all week as we share insights from both the Dallas Fuel and LA Valiant about their respective 2019 homestand experiences and plans for 2020, as well as perspective from all three teams about how those lessons will affect their Call of Duty Global League initiatives.
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