As always when I write about the Outlaws, I need to give full disclosure. Beasley Media, who owns the Houston Outlaws, are also the parent company of CheckpointXP. That said, I had the opportunity to attend their homestand over the weekend and have been asked to give my unbiased opinion. I can safely say at the end of the weekend, I understand why they would feel comfortable letting me write an unbiased opinion. The Outlaws have given the formula for esports live events to succeed moving forward.

Let’s start by establishing a fundamental fact. Esports is not going to sell out a 20,000 seat stadium on a regular basis, at least not yet. That’s not an indictment on esports by the way. That’s a growing trend in the world of sports as well. Every major sport is having more and more difficulty selling out its arenas. As the home viewership experience improves, there’s just less of a reason to go sit amongst thousands of people and watch. And it’s easy to understand why. Parking is a hassle, food is incredibly expensive, taking the family is a nightmare. And let’s be honest, you can get a better idea of what’s going on when you watch at home.

The Houston Homestand concourse looked like something you’d see at any major sporting event.

Anyone who has gotten to attend a major esports event can tell you that the experience is second to none. Being surrounded by tens of thousands of gamers cheering on their favorite players and teams is truly incredible. However, it works so well because it happens so infrequently. With only a handful of major events a year, everyone is willing to ante up (shameless Outlaws plug) for the experience. So the question becomes how to translate an event like that into a smaller format, without losing the magic. The Outlaws have managed that transition expertly.

When you think of a stellar live sports experience, what things come to mind? Excited audiences? Merch? Fan experiences? A quality product on the field? There’s a million things that can contribute to a good live experience and the key is to scale them down without removing them. As I approached the Revention Music Center in downtown Houston, the first thing I noticed was the line around the block. Excited audience, check. After taking care of my media registration, I had the opportunity to walk the concourse. Walking along, they had booths for doing temporary tattoos, decorative hair accessories, sign making and photo opportunities. Fan experiences, check.

The line to get into the Houston Homestand. Photo by Joseph Sloan.
The line to get in wrapped around the block at Houston Homestand.

I would say that merch might have been the most lacking part of the event. While they did have a good merch stand, a lot of the stuff sold out pretty quickly. In fairness, you could argue that’s a compliment to the Houston faithful as much as anything else. Which brings us to the quality of product on the field. And here-in lies to the true brilliance of the Overwatch League format. It’s a universal truth in traditional sports that, with a few exceptions, bad teams struggle to sell out arenas.
While the Outlaws got off to a rough start this season, they had no difficulty selling out every seat of the Revention Music Center. There’s a few reasons for this. Firstly, there’s only two homestand events a year, so fans are eager to see their team play. Second, many teams are in town, regardless of whether or not they’re playing the Outlaws. Don’t want to watch the Outlaws play? Tune in for Atlanta’s first game of the season. Not into Atlanta, how about the Spitfire? Expanding the appeal to more than just the home team will help sustain a healthy amount of traveling fans throughout the season.

Overall, the Outlaws Homestand weekend managed to turn a 20,000 person event into a 2,000 person event without compromising the experience. It’s an impressive feat in any sport, but doubly so in a fledgling sport like Overwatch. If any teams out there are still looking for inspiration on how to run their event, look no further than Houston. They’ve provided the formula.