In March of 2017, Atlanta United of Major League Soccer played its first game in the league. Less than six months later, the team had smashed the record for single-game attendance for the MLS with 70,425 filing into the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Over the course of a year, the Atlanta United has become the hottest ticket in the south, with the team propelling itself as title favorites in its second year as a franchise. Atlanta, known for its diverse population and love of the unique, has adopted soccer more than any American city in recent memory.
Paul Hamilton, CEO of Atlanta Esports Venture (AEV), a joint venture owned by Cox Enterprises and Province Inc., hopes to bring the same level of fervor to Atlanta with Overwatch in the 2019 Overwatch League season. The announcement coincides with Guangzhou also being awarded a team, officially bringing the total franchises in the Overwatch League to 14, with an expected four more expected to be awarded in the coming weeks around the world.
"We're going to cater to those fans in Atlanta, in and around Atlanta," said Hamilton in an interview with ESPN. "And with Cox as our partner, they're so engaged in the city from a philanthropy standpoint ... we think we're going to get that sort of [Atlanta United] engagement, and we certainly are going to be treating the fans the same way."
As a sports city, Atlanta often caters to an offbeaten path. When Atlanta was awarded an expansion hockey team in the NHL around two decades ago, it was expected to be a gigantic success. Almost a decade later, the team was on its last legs, eventually being relocated to Canada to become the Winnipeg Jets. While the Atlanta Hawks have been a perennial playoff team until recently, the team's attendance has been nothing to write home about, hovering around the bottom-ten before becoming the No. 30 team in the NBA in attendance for the 2017-2018 season.
It's a fickle market which needs a kick behind it to find success. For the Atlanta United, the franchise's marketing campaign to unite a city known for its diversity. Simply put, the United was cool, the black, red and gold color scheme intermixed with a hip-hop vibe to appeal to the younger demographic worked, and with a strong lineup fielded from day one, the city became soccer-crazed.
With esports following the upward trend of soccer in America, AEV with Cox will need to do the same. In a city that already has the United, championship-contending Falcons and the rebuilt Braves looking to rejoin the postseason, a lukewarm lineup and a slow start for the Atlanta Overwatch franchise just won't do. The team needs to win, and win early.
"I want the best players possible," said Hamilton. "If possible, I would love to engage the southeast with players that are there and up-and-coming players, and we'll certainly develop some strategies around cultivating that in our home market. That's the long-term plan, but short-term, we want to win, and we want to do that with players that fit the mantra of Cox Enterprises. We're family-owned, and we want to create an environment in Atlanta, where if all things are equal, they'd rather play for us than anyone else."
Atlanta will hope to contend the trend of successful southern Overwatch League franchises. Although neither Texas team made it to the postseason in the inaugural season, both the Dallas Fuel and Houston Outlaws so massive support from the hometown crowds, with watch parties in both cities drawing swarms of fans to watch their teams. Looking into free-agency, Atlanta will have a large group of potential talents in Contenders to pick and choose from, hoping to replicate the United's quick turnaround from novices to title-contenders in a single year.
And in regards of breaking records, could the largest attendance record for a single-match for an esports match be broken at Mercedes-Benz Stadium anytime soon for an Overwatch League final?
"We'd sure like to fill that [stadium] the same way the MLS has."