As I prepared to leave Toronto to travel for Los Angeles to the Overwatch League, I noticed some fellow travelers heading through security with me. These Toronto born boys were all grown, strapping dudes carrying bags and chatting excitedly about their trip to LA—a normal sight at the airport. What drew my interest was the fact that all four of them were wearing polished leather cowboy hats, each perched proudly upon their heads. That is an unusual thing to see, and I leaned in to catch their conversation. They were heading to the Overwatch League opening week as well, and they wanted to cheer for Houston in style.
Early days of Outlaws
OpTiC Gaming originally entered the Overwatch League in the shadow of the Dallas Fuel and their Team Envy pedigree, but as the Overwatch League continues on, they’re finding their own niche. Not only are they bringing in their #GreenWall fans, but the cocksure attitude of the modern day cowboy is a strong allure. I had the opportunity to sit down with Ryan Musselman, the President of OpTic Gaming, about what it takes to wrangle a band of Outlaws and put them to work in the wild west of the Overwatch League.
The Outlaws entered the Overwatch League with a slick brand and twenty million dollar investment, but there was a humble history leading up to that commitment. Musselman explains the organization’s early days as a simple, humble time: “We started out as that grassroots, friends getting together, playing in a living room, working up to the main stage. Our initial concept of everything was no different than when you have a couple friends who get home from work and want nothing more than to play Call of Duty together, play video games together, whether that’s on Xbox Live, PC, PS4, you name it. It was primarily Xbox at the time, and we’d rush home, text each other, and stay up late playing video games into the night.”
Musselman compares the experience to intermural sports and community games at local centers; an organic experience based on friendship and joy of the game over any real business ambition. Instead of meeting in person at the local YMCA, the early days of OpTic gathered on forums and in groups. Eventually, the group realized that they had everything they did need to make a business and do it for a living: administrators, web developers, and then the YouTube game took off.
OpTic started out producing content before entering the esports scene. It was that base of passion, sheer love of play, that would lead them the Overwatch League.
New game, new name
The first time Musselman thought about Overwatch was when the rest of the world witnessed the reveal cinematic. “I was working at Google at the time, in 2014, and we went to BlizzCon.” It was his first time at BlizzCon, as part of YouTube’s presence at the con. “The cinematic was on screen, everyone was roaring in excitement, and I was going with some of my coworkers at the time through the line [to play Overwatch], heading out, going back into line, again and again, like your favorite ride at Disney.”
The game wouldn’t be released for two more years; there had been no announcements about the esports scene. Applications immediately started flooding in to OpTic from fans who wanted to represent the organization. Musselman waited patiently, and when the game’s popularity sustained and the Overwatch League began to form, he knew it would be “a good fit.”
Of course, there was one hurdle that the new team would have to pass: the new branding requirements. They could not be OpTic, even if that was the org backing the team up.
“We spent a lot of time ideating and saying that the Houston Outlaws are going to be a natural extension of the Green Wall,” the name for the vast fanbase of OpTic, “Which represents unity, strength, and togetherness. We want to perpetuate that kind of unity, strength in numbers message [into Overwatch].”
Ironically, it was the character of McCree and his independence that brought it all together. “He’s a free spirited individual, on his way to redemption—but he’s attached to something, standing up for something greater than [himself].”
The opportunity to stand for something while still maintaining a cool sense of independence? With that revelation, the Outlaws were born. The two revolvers in the logo are connected—the Outlaws aren’t anti-authoritarian, they “want people to understand, if you stack the bricks together, you get unity. You get something greater.”
The Outlaws is meant to be “inclusive”, a “community”—Musselman isn’t content to coast on the massive Green Wall fanbase, but he wants to bring in the Overwatch fans who are just getting used to the black green.
Building a town big enough
According to Musselman, teams were looking for strong, full rosters who had competed (and won) in the pre-League days of Overwatch, or for a collection of all-stars who would bring both name recognition and individual skill to the team. Instead, the Outlaws looked to collect players with chemistry, who could unify and play well each other.
So far, that approach seems to be paying off. The Outlaws have won their last twelve maps in a row, and have won fans due to scrappy, inventive play. That doesn’t mean Musselman doesn’t have an eye on the future, especially with the debate about women in gaming currently raging on.
“I love that we’re seeing more and more people come into the space [with Overwatch].” Notes that women “I think we’re going to see [female] professional gamers come into this space, and that’s really cool. What I’d like to see from us and from other teams is to figure out we foster and identify that talent. I know those professional players are out there, and I bet you anything that they’re going to be fierce.”
Add in the infrastructure, including General Manager Matt “flame” Rodriguez, and the Outlaws have built the foundation that will carry them through the inaugural Overwatch League season.
“When you’re put in the public eye, you can’t help but pause for a second and think about what actions could or could not influence others. From our perspective, whether or not that’s what someone does or doesn’t want.” That means the Outlaws are working with their players to make sure that they are, if not role models, keenly aware of the public eye on them and how that can backfire.
As for his goals for the rest of the season, Musselman thinks that the Outlaws can be both a top team and show off the big personalities on the roster in a way that grows the Green Wall. If one thing is certain so far this season, it’s that there are plenty of surprises left in store. The Outlaws, however, seem well equipped for anything. They may be on the lam, but the Outlaws have their game plan locked down and their heads held high heading into their next match against the Los Angeles Gladiators.