The crew needed a name, and Ng immediately thought of Five Deadly Venoms, lifted from a classic Kung-Fu movie and representing the five boroughs of NYC (with a wink and a nod to both Wu-Tang Clan and Waypoint's proximity to Chinatown).
A Toronto native who has lived in New York for about five years, Ng was familiar with the concept of supporters clubs, which are common throughout the world -- especially in big cities like New York -- for European sports. In fact, soccer teams often rely on these groups to provide grassroots, organic marketing, and Blizzard's emphasis on city-based teams made OWL a perfect fit for this model.
"Quite frankly, city squads have made eSports easier to talk about," Ng said. "The product is the same as other eSports, but there's an ease in being able to have something in common with other fans, to all unite and cheer on our city. That's the beauty of all this."
Indeed, OWL's emphasis on city squads has created fans that are more in line with those found in traditional sports. For example: New Yorkers love Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. even though neither of them hail from New York. Similarly, none of Excelsior's players are from NYC (in fact, they're all from South Korea), yet fans have a reason to cheer for them. Like traditional sports fans, they're rooting for the name on the front of the jersey, not the back, something not typically seen in eSports.
The Five Deadly Venoms routinely attract a broad, diverse group of guests, ranging from video-game veterans to pre-teens, hardcore gamers to traditional sports fans. These aren't Dota 2 or League of Legends regulars, perhaps offering proof that the nascent Overwatch League is attracting a different kind of fan to established "arena" eSports.
"This might surprise you, but I must confess: I have never played Overwatch."
Take, for example, Alex Nagler, a 29-year-old media strategist from Manhattan who proudly wore a New York Mets sweater at this past weekend's viewing party. He was quick to point out that Jeff Wilpon, the CEO of the Mets, also owns Excelsior, which is what first piqued Nagler's interest.
"This might surprise you," he told me, "but I must confess: I have never played Overwatch." Despite a lack of familiarity with the game, Nagler enjoys the excitement of watching it live with fellow fans, not to mention the Mets connection. "Every major American sport will be involved in this industry very soon," he added. "I'm just curious to watch the eSports space grow, and this is a fun environment."
Arina Wu, a graduate student at Columbia University, never expected to find a supportive, real-world community through eSports. During this past weekend's viewing party, she greeted guests at the front door, smiling ear to ear while rocking her favorite Excelsior replica jersey.
"Overwatch League has a very different kind of fan base than other eSports," she explained. "The game attracts younger fans, females, non-binary, the queer community -- it's so inclusive. And with the supporters crew, it's like I've gained a whole new family."
And then there's Johann Maldonado, one of the youngest members of the crew. Although he's only 12 years old, Maldonado has a lot in common with his fellow Excelsior fans -- and his excitement was palpable.
"I feel right at home here," he said as he enthusiastically flashed a D.Va-inspired V sign, his uncle smiling behind him. "Overwatch is my first eSport," he continued, "and I just knew I had to come here when I found out there was a New York team. We're all here showing our hometown pride."