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Philadelphia Fusion fans and cosplayers on losing their esports team: ‘The rug has been pulled out from under us’

With Philly's professional Overwatch League team decamping for Seoul, some dedicated fans feel stung.

The 2019-proposed Fusion Arena was planned to host 120 events a year.

(Courtesy image)

Dec. 30 wasn’t a great day for Philly esports fans: The region’s pro Overwatch League team, the Philadelphia Fusion, announced it would be ditching its US roots in favor of Seoul, South Korea, where it’s been operating since the start of the pandemic.

The five-year-old team is taking on a new name, the Seoul Infernal, and a rebranded look. It comes after parent company Comcast Spectacor said last year plans for a 3,500-seat esports arena had changed in favor of a smaller, multi-purpose venue.

On social media, fans of the team were quick to express their frustration and disappointment for the team cutting its Philly ties. Included in the messaging were two local cosplayers who have been Fusion fans since the start.

Shannon Noelle, a South Jersey-based pharmaceutical compounding technician, cosplayer and artist, paid tribute to the team the day of the announcement.

@s_noelle_cosplay

This stung a bit to make. I wouldn’t be were I am today if is weren’t for the Philadelphia Fusion and their community 🧡🖤 #overwatchleague #overwatch #overwatchleaguegrandfinals #owl2022 #philadelphiafusion #fusion #cosplay

♬ original sound – Lukaε Lucoa

She told Technical.ly via email that while she understands the move is a business decision, it feels like “something has been ripped from a lot of us as fans.” Philly natives like her are passionate about their sports teams, and the Fusion was no exception, she said.

Shannon Noelle. (Courtesy photo)

“Losing all identity with Philadelphia is painful to see,” Noelle said. “I’ve talked to plenty of fellow Philly fans who say they are done or are cutting back with the Overwatch League because of this decision.”

Those who still want to support a team are left to pick another city. Noelle got into cosplaying Overwatch — a team-based, multiplayer game — in 2016, and shortly after took a serious interest in the Overwatch League. Noelle and her partner have been honored by the league in 2019 and in 2022, and were invited as guests for the Grand Finals.

“Naturally I wanted to make cosplays for my favorite team to represent both online and at games/watch parties,” she said. “It started with Widowmaker, then a Reaper cosplay for my significant other. I’ve also cosplayed D.Va and was going to make Fusion Kiriko for the new season, which is now being reworked as standard Overwatch League Kiriko skin.”

She represented the Fusion in cosplay and attended in-person events, and said she wished there were more consideration for the pre-existing Philadelphia fans with the move. She wishes the team nothing but the best, acknowledging the Seoul team might grow on her. And she’ll still be wearing her orange and black in “proud remembrance.”

“The rug has been pulled out from under us and a lot of fans feel like they have no where to go,” Noelle said. “I personally have a few teams I’ve supported besides the Fusion, including Dallas and Houston, but not on the extreme level I have for Philadelphia.”

Alison “Birbz” Jeffery, a content creator, streamer and cosplayer in South Jersey,  also expressed her sadness over the decision. She tested out Overwatch a few months before it was released in 2016 and “instantly bonded” with the characters and the game. When the league announced pro teams, she was surprised to see a Philly team.

Alison “Birbz” Jeffery. (Courtesy photo)

As she got more familiar with esports, Jeffery would gather to watch Fusion games at a friend’s house on Discord, and was eventually invited to the Grand Finals at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

“Seeing all the passionate fans repping their hometown or favorite team was inspiring,” Jeffery said. “So it was at that time I decided to make my Fusion Brigitte Cosplay.”

Jeffery was later invited to the Philadelphia Finals, the Fusion Homestand at The Met, and the most recent finals in Anaheim, California. She said in her decade of cosplaying, she bonded most with the Overwatch characters and passionate Fusion fans.

The transition of the Fusion team to Seoul further builds on Comcast Spectacor’s co-ownership of T1 Entertainment & Sports, a partnership with South Korea’s SK Telecom made in early 2019. But when the team first moved operations to South Korea soon after, it became harder to watch live, and in-person events were going away, Jeffery said. In early 2020, she had seen a lot of potential for the team, and for Philly’s esports scene.

“I think a lot of the fans, including myself, were still holding on to hope that we would eventually get back to what was supposed to be the best year in Philly esports,” Jeffery said. “Instead, we got the relocation and rebranding of our hometown team. I’m disappointed, but I think a lot of us saw this coming.”

Jeffery doesn’t know if she’ll continue supporting the team — it’s a sore spot right now.

“A lot of my cosplay career has revolved around being a Fusion cosplayer and it being my most known build, it’s upsetting to think that I can no longer represent the team I feel so passionately about,” Jeffery said. “It just feels a lot like an amazing thing was taken away from the most deserving fans.”

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