The Washington Justice was prepared to play its first full season from the District this year. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
D.C.’s professional Overwatch League esports team drew thousands of fans to The Anthem back in February as it hosted its first homestand weekend. Over two days, six matches took place at the music venue and auditorium in the District Wharf area. This was a big deal for the Justice, as the team kicked off 2019’s season from Blizzard Arena in Burbank, California, and played from various locations throughout last year.
But due to the pandemic, the team had to cancel its last three homestand events of 2020, and players have been playing from their practice facility in Virginia, Grant Paranjape, the team’s VP of esports business, told Technical.ly. The team had booked the maximum number of homestands this season and had already sold out twice. The 2020 season would have been its first full season playing in front of fans here at home.
“It was the right decision to cancel the remaining homestands, but it was difficult for the players who had been having so much fun competing and being in front of an incredible crowd,” Paranjape said.
As soon as social distancing orders went into place, the team began limiting player and staff travel to only the practice facility and individual homes. But unlike other sports, Overwatch League matches have been able to continue online for this year’s season.
“Given the inherent digital nature of esports, as well as the hard work by the Overwatch League, we have been able to shift to continuing our league remotely,” Paranjape said. “Our fans and fans of the Overwatch League have been incredibly supportive of this transition, and we’re honored to be the ‘only sport in town’ at the moment.”
Though the team expected the game schedule to continue as planned when homestands were canceled, Washington Justice Assistant Manager Aaron Heckman said the season has still changed significantly: Due to the need for many teams to move or change facilities, the previously scheduled Overwatch League season “has been a bit up in the air,” he said.
The Justice is going into Week 16 of the season with a record of 3-9. Though the Overwatch League has shared an updated schedule of the 2020 season, there aren’t any scheduled matches listed past this weekend. One factor the league has had to consider when rescheduling matches is timing, as there are some international teams.
Above all, Heckman said the team is looking forward to the tournament beginning this weekend.
“Initially we thought the schedule would continue as planned but just be playing from home,” Heckman said about the restructured game schedule. “This was a great change to anchor some competitive expectations for the league, let everyone level-set midseason and reignite everyone’s passion for the game.”
With esports already being a widely virtual industry, Paranjape said seeing that Justice fans are still able to support the team, even remotely for now, has been incredibly motivating. The team has been actively keeping up with its fans on a daily basis via its social media channels, including running Q&A chats and games on Instagram Live Monday through Friday with a player or team staffer. To stay connected internally, the team also hosts virtual chats every morning with its players and staff.
“Knowing that fans have also been in quarantine and that the games or streams we produce can help people get through these tough times has definitely helped, but we’re being forced to find creative ways to keep the players motivated,” said Heckman. The players, “while being introverts, are very much in this industry to provide entertainment to people that love what they do.”