UCI Esports Goes to the Blizzard Arena

by | Jan 28, 2018, 10:24PM PDT

Although fans all over the world are able to watch the inaugural season of Overwatch League online on sites like the official OWL Twitch or even on OverwatchLeague.com, UCI students are still stuck in the middle of classes and might find making the hour-long drive from Irvine to Burbank difficult. Unfortunately, streams only showcase so much of the newly refurbished Blizzard Arena, often leaving out the charm and atmosphere of the rest of the location. If you’re one of these students worried about never being able to experience the arena, don’t fret, because UCI Esports is here to give you an inside look of this world-class stage!

On December 9th, 2017, UCI Esports had the chance to attend the last day of OWL’s preseason matches. The Blizzard Arena located in Burbank, California, had been specifically fitted for OWL, and every bit of attention the company paid to detail was not overlooked.

The front stage of OWL during a match between LA Valiant and LA Gladiators from mezzanine seating. [Photo: Oshin Tudayan for UCI Esports]
Decked out with bright floor-to-ceiling LED screens, the front stage immerses the crowd almost as well as it immerses its players. Selected heroes pose in their idle animations, donning the colors of their respective teams, shifting their weight around as if they were living beings actually present in front of everyone there. (We would have said “living human beings” if not for Winston, who even erupts in rage every time his ultimate is activated!)

After being renovated for its current purposes, the untrained eye might have never realized that the Blizzard Arena used to be NBC Studios. Instead of the set for The Tonight Show, guests entering the lobby are surrounded by monuments of past Blizzard competitions and Overwatch memorabilia.

Celebratory photos of contestants winning Hearthstone and Starcraft competitions, both of which held events at past Blizzcons in nearby Anaheim, California. [Photo: Oshin Tudayan for UCI Esports]
But perhaps the most important area of the arena aside from the front stage itself is its gift shop. Not only is the shop stocked with OWL merchandise, but branded gear for all twelve teams as well. From shirts to jackets, and from keychains to hats, it’s possible you can represent your favorite team from head to toe.

Attendants helping a customer with their purchases. Behind them are various OWL keychains, hats, t-shirts, and other items.

This is the perfect pit stop in case you wanted to grab some gear for your favorite players to sign. Blizzard will be organizing and scheduling meet-and-greets so you can make that dream a reality.

An overhead shot of the gift shop, which also acts as the Blizzard Arena lobby.

As the Blizzard Arena is slated to host future esports events, the merchandising will rotate accordingly. Although there was exclusively Overwatch goods during our visit, it’s fully expected that the atmosphere will change once the arena organizes events for other Blizzard titles. In short, the gift shop is as dynamic as the games it sells for, ensuring that future visits will always have something new.

But of course, the heart of the Blizzard Arena still is its front stage. At its peak, the arena can house about 450 fans from all over the world, gathering them under one roof for a unique experience.

The same front stage screens now displaying a splash of Numbani, one of the map locations of Overwatch. [Photo: Oshin Tudayan for UCI Esports]
When not displaying the teams playing, the front stage screen take full advantage of the arena’s new technological enhancements. Before each match, the upcoming map’s geography floods the space, and in-house broadcasters project which kinds of tactics and scenarios that specific landscapes can provide.

Distinguished talent like Christopher “MonteCristo” Mykles and Erik “DoA” Lonnquist provide their expert analyses and predictions, making it difficult to not feel as equipped for the upcoming match as you are excited. And if the immersion isn’t enough, the circular light fixture on the ceiling (pictured above) is synced to the in-game control point meter. In other words, as one team successfully captures a point, the fixture will accordingly fill up with that team’s color.

Saebyeolbe, along with the rest of New York Excelsior’s starting lineup, walking to the front stage amidst cheering fans. [Photo: Oshin Tudayan for UCI Esports]
The real fun begins when the players make it to the stage. Theatrical flashing lights welcome teams as they take their seats, and the crowd grows in anticipation for the match to come. Then, every time Mccree calls out a huge High Noon, Mercy swoops in for the perfect Resurrection, or especially when Widowmaker pulls off a string of seemingly impossible headshots, everyone comes alive with whooping and hollering. Orange boom sticks provided to fans present that day further add to the energy in the arena.

These welcoming lights don’t hold a candle to the celebratory lights at the end of each match, however… Even if your favorite team hadn’t won, the display fills the room with pride and triumph as each second in this league marks another second in esports history.

Animated image of Seoul Dynasty winning a match against New York Excelsior. The screens flood with Dynasty’s signature gold color and features Ryujehong as the stage lights excitedly flash. [Photo: Ashley Gayoso for UCI Esports]
UCI Esports also had the opportunity to interview a few of the teams present that day, with the conversation primarily focusing on the pathways these players took on their way to OWL. A few players even offered advice to any students looking to follow in their footsteps to such a prestigious stage.

Dallas Fuel’s Mickie posing for the cameras after winning the team’s final preseason game. [Photo: Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment]

UCI Esports: What advice do you have for college students looking to enter the pro scene?

Dallas Fuel’s xQc receives a phone call from his mother but quickly silences the ringtone. A short debacle between Fuel teammates xQc and Mickie occurs.

MICKIE: I was in college–

XQC: So what was the path like?

MICKIE: I mean. My life is just about playing the game with my friends first, and then just doing very well, and then we made a combination. And we did it at Blizzcon. And how I became a pro player…

XQC: Yeah, so what would you recommend for someone that’s good and–

MICKIE: I would recommend them to be–

xQc’s phone rings once more.

MICKIE: STOP DOING THAT. [The whole room laughs.] Be responsible. If you’re working or you’re studying, you should focus on your main– If you’re a student in college, you can study for eight hours, and you can practice the game for eight hours. I mean, everybody has 24 hours [in a day], it’s the same. And start playing with friends, and become a good player, and… exactly. Join a combination.

CUSTA: I think playing in the amateur leagues, and the college– you know, tournaments is a good way to get your name out there. And there’s just like, practicing and balancing life, college, and y’know, gaming.

MICKIE, interjecting: Oh, wait. Another thing is, I think streaming is really important.

CUSTA: Yeah. Streaming is a really good way to get noticed.

Florida Mayhem entering the main stage as the crowd cheers. [Photo: Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment]
MANNETEN: A lot of practicing with a team as soon as possible. Instead of just playing public games all the time, try to find maybe some friends, maybe look on Reddit, try to find a team and play with them. Try to set up a schedule so you play maybe everyday or every two days– whatever time you have, and just focus on improving as a team player. I think that’s the main thing.

CWOOSH: Discord is really helpful, and there’s a lot of different channels in there for new players. People looking for teams, and et cetera. So, use discord.

ZUPPEH: Stay in school before you go pro [The room laughs]. You need a backup plan.

Seoul Dynasty seated for their press conference. [Photo: Oshin Tudayan for UCI Esports]
RYUJEHONG, translated from Korean: I want to give you this advice to everyone who wants to go into the field of esports pro. The one thing I want to say is to be patient. Be patient and catch your opportunity on the way. Also, be considerate as to which opportunity you choose. Finally, I really want to say to be patient.

New York Excelsior seated at a press conference. [Photo: Oshin Tudayan for UCI Esports]
JANUS, spoken through a Korean translator: Janus played a lot of Team Fortress 2 before going Overwatch Pro and he says you just gotta play a lot. You play a lot and you get better, and you also meet other people who are good, and you learn through them. And then, you might be their teammate or something. So yeah, just keep playing, and play as often as you can.

ARK: For me, I think conversation skills because like, it is team play.