Dallas' hometown team in the Overwatch League, the Dallas Fuel, opened the 2020 competitive season with a two-day festival at the Esports Stadium Arlington. After a less-than-stellar 10-18 season in 2019, capped by a disappointing 12-loss streak, the Fuel hoped to clinch a pair of wins at home as the first chapter in a redemption story.
Though such a tale wasn't meant to be — the Fuel lost to both the Los Angeles Valiant and 2019's champions, the San Francisco Shock — the fans packing the stadium and watching from home witnessed a much-improved Dallas lineup sweating their opponents for every inch.
What changed? For starters, the team and their staff finally came home.
Avid esports viewers might remember the Fuel's first Homestand Weekend, as they're officially called, held last April at the Allen Event Center. The Overwatch League had asked a number of teams, Dallas among them, to test the efficacy and popularity of matches held in their respective hometowns as opposed to Blizzard Arena in Burbank, California.
Those successes spurred the league into a long-planned phase whereby every Overwatch team would host a number of games on their home turf, giving fans who couldn't afford to fly out to California a chance to cheer in person. The one wrinkle there was that many of the teams in the league had yet to actually relocate, Dallas among them.
Mike Rufail, owner of the Dallas Fuel and former esports competitor, said the team and staff only settled into their new downtown space last month.
"We built out our new headquarters, and the atmosphere inside the clubhouse is fantastic," Rufail said. Housed above Victory Park, the team is about as close to Dallas and a certain shade of its lifestyle as you can be.
"Around 80% of our coaches and staff live very close to our uptown offices in Victory Park," he said. "There's a lot of culture there, and it's been an incredible place to train. I don't think many other teams can rival having their headquarters in a place like that."
Members of the Fuel hail from France, Canada, Australia, Spain and South Korea. The latter have been spending time in Carrollton's vibrant ecosystem of Korean shops and restaurants, Rufail said. But everyone who made the move is experiencing shades of North Texas since relocating (psst: the Observer does a damn good job of covering that North Texas culture).
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"I think it's important for our players to live Texas lives and Dallas lives," Rufail said. "That can help our players relate to our fans a little bit more — help them understand who they're playing for."
The fans filling the stadium last weekend certainly weren't shy in showing their support. Despite being the smallest venue on the Fuel's 2020 schedule, the crowd never let the enthusiasm fall below a dull roar. Every shift in momentum and clutch, nail-biting play was punctuated by cheers and shouts from a dark blue sea. And if you were watching from home, the commentators battled to be heard over a near constant string of chants and songs.
Such energy was exactly what Rufail and the rest of the Dallas management hoped to see. They're now focused on delivering wins to such a dedicated fan base.
"So far, they have, far and away, been the best fans in the Overwatch League. Losing is tough and streaks of losing is even more difficult to deal with," Rufail said. "The team has a long road ahead to mesh really well and reach full potential, so we're just excited to watch them develop over the course of the season."