Home is where the heart is. But what does it take to stray from your homeland and put your faith elsewhere? With Blizzcon approaching, I interviewed fans from across the globe who have broken with the idea that home means instant support: fans who are primarily supporting teams other than their home country in the Overwatch World Cup. I wanted to find out why. Treason, after all, is a crime punishable by jail time.
Team France is my favorite team going into Blizzcon, despite the fact that I’m an American citizen. While I’m unperturbed by being called a “baguette enthusiast” for not throwing my support behind Team USA, I wondered about other fans’ motivations for doing the same. What draws someone to another place? What inspires them to support another country: donning flags, painting faces, traveling across oceans? What sparks this process, this fire in their hearts?
Love, it turns out, is the root of all treason.
Everyone Loves an Underdog
Reba Robinson is a common sight at the Blizzard Arena. At most games, she’s worn Houston Outlaws gear, lime green and black, cheering from the front row. But at the Los Angeles World Cup Qualifiers, she wore the opposite color scheme: red and white, maple leaves sprinkled in. Considering her two favorite players are Muma and Bani, she was torn in picking a favorite team for the World Cup. But something about the Great North ultimately swayed her, and Team Canada it was.
“When it came down to choosing [between Team USA or Team Canada] I chose to stick with Bani and Team Canada for a couple reasons,” she said. “Canada would be looked at as an underdog, a weaker link even…So I decided I wanted to be the voice of Canada’s fans.” Robinson built an outfit based on an artist’s rendition of a Team Canada mascot, and aimed to stand up to the overwhelming (and usually male) all-out fans at the qualifiers. Her zeal paid off, as she and fellow fans built up a repartee that thoroughly entertained the crowd. “It was nice to have that respect also,” she said of the experience, “as a woman who has been somewhat degraded in the past for being so boisterous and involved for her teams.”
The tale of the underdog has similarly ensnared many other fans, even if the matchup that created it seems much more one-sided. Savannah Rose, a US resident, is a die-hard NYXL fan who expected to love South Korea going into the Incheon Qualifiers. However, Rose was won over by Finland’s wild plays in their match versus South Korea. “I was so impressed with Finland, I had so much adrenaline at like 3 or 4 AM from watching them,” she says. Finland did not take the win that day. However, they did drag South Korea to a map 5 – something unheard of in qualifiers. “Finland lost in the end, but I still was like, ‘Yeah, okay, THESE are my GUYS. I want them to win this year.’”
But Then There’s South Korea
On the other hand, standout performances can rope in even the most reluctant of fans. Take Lauryn Strom, a US resident who decided to watch a pro game one boring, cold winter day. “I remember turning [the Overwatch League] on and actually saying, ‘these nerds are so passionate about Overwatch’ out loud,” she says. Luckily, that game was Pine’s debut on Ilios, in which the “Big Boss” took out the entirety of the Houston Outlaws as McCree. That display of skill, along with the coordination shown by his team, sold Strom on NYXL – and she became one of those passionate nerds. Since the majority of the South Korean roster at this year’s World Cup is made up of NYXL players, her transition to supporting them was obvious.
Strom’s dedication to South Korea stems from her appreciation of the raw mechanical skill players like JJonak, Carpe, and Fury display on the stage, as well as the friendships they develop off of it. People are, quite simply, drawn to personalities. Many fans I interviewed echoed Strom’s initial gravitation towards certain players that then developed into whole-team appreciation. Fans of Sweden began with Reinforce, a staple player in the Overwatch scene since competition began. Fans of USA began with Muma, inspired by his honesty. It’s as though some players are “gateway drugs” into appreciating an entire team.
China Number One
But, sometimes, it doesn’t take showy performances to put someone on the road to supporting a team. One of the sweeter stories I heard was from Tim, a US resident with a surprising reason for supporting Team China. “My brother and sister are both adopted from China, and ever since I traveled there as a child I’ve come to love the country as a whole,” he said. Tim’s brother is, as he describes, a South Korea “bandwagoner,” but is coming around to Team China after their impressive performance at the Bangkok Qualifiers this year. Tim’s ultimate reason for continuing to cheer for Guxue and the rest of the team is, quite possibly, the sweetest I’ve heard yet:
“I cheer for team China because I love anything that represents the country I love so dearly.”
Sweden: Out Of Blizzcon, Not Out Of Love
Team pride remains even when your team isn’t going to Blizzcon. Some of the most passionate fans I spoke to supported Team Sweden, which lost to China and Australia in the Bangkok Qualifiers. Nicole N. Suryadi is a fan from Indonesia who fell for Sweden and Denmark at the Bangkok stage. Like many others, her love stemmed from individual player support that grew to become something more. “I wanted to support team Sweden because I saw that a bunch of players that I enjoyed watching play were on the team, like Chipshajen and Manneten,” she explains. “Then I started getting really into the whole team.”
Britt, a fan from Australia, also understands that descent into loving a team. “I became a lot more emotionally invested than I thought I would, honestly,” she explains. She started rooting for Sweden after following support player Luddee’s journey to become a part of the roster. Social media for the other players created a story of their hard work and dedication. Woven from emotional posts and streams, this story lasted all the way to the Thailand stages.
Britt flew to Thailand to show her support and create her own story, meeting up with other Team Sweden fans and cheering from the front row. It doesn’t mean she’s forsaken her homeland, though. “I still root for Australia and I even cheered for them at the Thailand stage but when it comes down to it Sweden really stole my heart for support.”
I Would Walk 500 Miles And I Would Fly 500 More
Sometimes, supporting a team crosses boundaries, ignores country lines, and uses a lot of airline miles. “I actually flew all the way to Thailand from Indonesia for OWWC, skipped 3 tests, [and] stayed up late on the morning of the flight trying to make a sign for Team Sweden,” says Suryadi. Like Britt, she flew across an ocean just to support her favorite team. If that isn’t another level of dedication, I’m not sure what is. And meanwhile, Robinson and Rose, supporting Canada and Finland respectively, will be attending Blizzcon to hype up their team.
Travel isn’t in everyone’s budget, but that hasn’t stopped many fans from joining the crowd in other ways. Many fans I talked to have purchased jerseys or created outfits based on their team. They’ve created art, spread memes on Twitter, and promised support to Overwatch League franchises that sign their team’s stars. Strom runs multiple Discord servers that bring fans together to cheer for both OWL and World Cup games. Robinson, an art student, will be handing out Team Canada materials at Blizzcon to help others cheer.
However, Rose reminds us of the most important support for any team. “I don’t have the skills as an artist, but I do have some pretty powerful lungs.”
Will Home Have You Back?
One important question I asked every fan I interviewed was whether they still supported their home team. Even as a fan of Team France, I support Team USA because I appreciate the players, and wish them nothing but success. Most US-based fans echoed this sentiment…with a few exceptions. Robinson, Tim, and Strom stated they support Team USA only if USA isn’t directly playing their favorite team. It was a difficult decision to make, but they’ve gone with their hearts and not their history. As Rose says, “I’m not attached to the idea that I should root for the US simply because I was born here.”
I was also lucky to hear from fans whose home countries were not represented at all in the World Cup. Suryadi is from Indonesia, which has no World Cup presence; another fan, Nirmal, is from Sri Lanka and cheering on Canada. María, whose home country is Uruguay, is rooting for Team USA. She considered rooting for Team Brazil, the country closest to her own, but found a middle ground in Hydration: the LA Gladiators’ DPS has dual citizenship. Some in Brazil consider him a traitor (as could be said about many fans in this article), but sometimes, that’s the best part. “I found the beef between him and the Brazilian team made the match even more fun,” María explains.
While brainstorming this article, I expected I’d be most affected by the wild travel stories and epic feats from fans. Those stories impressed me, but above all else, what struck me the most were the memories each fan had of supporting their favorite teams. There’s a common assumption that selecting a team to support, to bolster, and to love is about statistics and ability to win matches. These stories are concrete proof that that isn’t always the case.
Rose remembers seeing her dedication returned to her after a difficult Outlaws match. Linkzr, Finland’s star DPS, came out after a losing match to meet with fans. “He took the time to say hi, take some pictures and sign a few things and chat a bit with us,” she recalls. “That kind of thing is hard to do after a loss, you know? They didn’t have to do any of that, they’re not obligated to, but they still did.”
Britt and Suryadi, meanwhile, found their group of Sweden fans at the Thailand Stage, front and center. “My sister and I had gotten front row seats specifically for the Sweden games and some other people came up and joined us in cheering,” Britt says. “It was so amazing, getting to meet people like that in one of the last places you might expect. [To] be able to stay friends with those people was incredible.” Suryadi screamed for the team and received tiny hand hearts in return. She’s had trouble explaining how much esports means to her to friends and family, but now she puts it simply in a way I’ve felt and truly understand myself. “OWWC really put me in the best mood I’ve been in the past 3 months.”
Support for a team, being willing to cross oceans and borders and countries for them, comes from love. Whether it started with a player, a map win, or something deeper, love was the common thread in all the answers I was given. The push to commit “treason” and root against your home country, it seems, never comes from something malicious. It grows from a feeling. It grows from joy – just joy found elsewhere. Sometimes it’s big, like attending an event with thousands of people. But often, it’s small but wildly important.
When asked what made rooting for Team China worth it, Tim explained it simply. “Seeing my brother’s face light up when they dominated their group stage has been the best moment by far.” Perhaps it isn’t wild plays or years-long winning streaks that bring us to support a country or a team. Perhaps it’s the idea that maybe, just maybe, we’re rooting for something bigger than ourselves.