This weekend's Overwatch League matches won't be the first time the highest level of Overwatch has been played in Atlanta.
The Overwatch Open could be described as an example of what Overwatch could have been without the Overwatch League: an environment with third-party tournaments in which endemic organizations competed in.
This weekend of matches in Atlanta could be what the Overwatch League will become: home matches with fans cheering on their local franchise.
It has been a long time since Atlanta has seen Overwatch competition and much has changed. Here are some of the most major changes.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
The game itself
Of course, the game itself is drastically different than it was three years ago. The heroes alone are a good indicator of that.
Ana was the only hero released post-launch at the time of the Overwatch Open. That means Sombra, Orisa, Doomfist, Moira, Brigitte, Wrecking Ball, Ashe and Baptiste were all far from being in the game.
In fact, Ana was released less than a week before the online qualifiers for the Overwatch Open began. It wasn't until near the end of the tournament that she became meta.
That wasn't the only change that occurred in the span of the tournament.
The tournament's qualifiers used stopwatch before transitioning to time bank for the main event. In stopwatch, the team with the faster attack won -- there were no extra rounds. This was used because time bank hadn't been put into the game yet at the time of the qualifiers.
Since time bank was so new, it was still being refined. There were no ticks to gain when capturing a point, meaning Misfits had to completely capture first point again to beat EnVyUs on King's Row.
That also meant Assault maps were rarely played. In fact, there wasn't a single Assault map played in the grand final despite it going to four maps. Assault maps weren't popular at the time because snowballs swayed the outcome of stopwatch games and time bank games often ended in draws.
One last major difference is that the debate at the time was around whether the game needed a one-hero limit (HL1) or not, as opposed to the current debate about whether a 2-2-2 lock is necessary.
It was a big deal when the ESL Atlantic Showdown, the last major tournament that occurred before the Overwatch Open, decided to run HL1 contrary to the game's ruleset at the time.
However, HL1 became standard and a part of Overwatch's in-game rules before the Overwatch Open began. Still, it was fairly new and the debates raged on.
The Overwatch Open was years before GOATs became the game's meta, however tank-dominated play wasn't uncommon.
Ninjas in Pyjamas preferred using triple tank and sometimes even quadruple tank compositions en route to a top four finish among the European teams (European teams played in a separate bracket from North American teams and the winners of the two brackets played each other).
However, the meta that truly dominated the Overwatch Open was called Beyblade. The key pieces to the meta were Reaper and Ana, although Reinhardt, Lúcio and Zarya were also must-picks at the time. The last hero was often Mei, although sometimes she was replaced by McCree or Tracer.
The team composition hinged on Ana's Nana Boost. At the time, her Nano Boost not only gave a damage boost and damage reduction like it does now, but also a speed boost. Reaper players could use this speed boost to cover great distances with their Death Blossom and ensure their team fight wins by nearly wiping the enemy team.
At this time, D.Va saw little to no usage in professional play. This was in large part because her Defense Matrix was on a cooldown instead of being toggleable, thus making the ability much weaker.
Without D.Va and her Defense Matrix, teams had few teams to counter the high-powered, high-speed Reaper charging into them. A well-placed Sleep Dart from Ana (such as this famous pair of Hidan Sleep Darts in the European final) could have been the difference between a team winning a fight and getting wiped. Mei's Ice Wall, Zarya's barrier and Reinhardt's shield were also important in surviving Death Blossom.
However, there are 15 other players who competed in the Overwatch Open's main event who are on Overwatch League rosters and aren't playing this weekend. There are many more who are currently in Contenders, are coaches or now work in Overwatch as managers or analysts.
At the time of the Overwatch Open, Koreans and westerners had yet to compete in any LAN tournaments together. In fact, the Overwatch Open had zero Korean players.
This doesn't mean westerners had never played against Koreans before, though. During this time, GosuGamers ran weekly online tournaments that were open for any team to join. Occasionally, Korean teams competed in these tournaments.
Koreans and westerners wouldn't compete in a LAN environment against each other until the APAC Premier 2016.
The most obvious difference in spectating between then and now is that appearance of the UI.
A moment from the grand final match of the Overwatch Open.
This shot from the match between the Philadelphia Fusion and the Atlanta Reign shows a stark difference in the spectating overlay.
However, the appearance isn't all that changed.
Spectators had fewer tools to work with back during the Overwatch Open than they do now. There wasn't a way to playback instant replays and of course the in-game replay viewer was still years away.
Most of the teams who competed in the Overwatch Open did so under organizations. Many of those organizations are now involved in the Overwatch League.
Four of the eight teams in the North American group stage and one of the eight teams in the European group stage were a part of organizations that now own Overwatch League franchises.
On the North American side, EnVyUs EnVyUs Inactive became the Dallas Fuel, Cloud9 Cloud9 Inactive became the London Spitfire, NRG Esports NRG Esports Inactive became the San Francisco Shock and Immortals Immortals Inactive became the Los Angeles Valiant. Of the European teams, only Misfits Misfits Inactive joined the Overwatch League when they became the Florida Mayhem. The Florida Mayhem are the only one of these five franchises playing in Atlanta this weekend.
Analyst and producer Reinforce was playing for European runner-ups Rogue. He was the only person on the current broadcast team who played in the Overwatch Open.
The Atlanta Homestand Weekend's master of ceremonies, Goldenboy, also worked on the broadcast team for the Overwatch Open. Another common Overwatch League host, Malik, served as a reporter during the Overwatch Open.
Two Overwatch League casters, Mr X and Semmler, made their Overwatch casting debuts with the Overwatch Open. Semmler didn't cast Overwatch again until the Overwatch League_ while Mr X casted in several different tournaments between the Overwatch Open and the start of the Overwatch League.
Not every member of the Overwatch League broadcast team who worked the Overwatch Open did so as a broadcaster, however. Overwatch League analyst Sideshow was providing news coverage of the Overwatch Open right here on over.gg.
The Overwatch Open was played within a TV studio to be broadcast on TBS. Most of the tournament was played without a live audience present. The one exception was the grand final, which was played in front of a studio audience.
A select pair of matches this weekend will be aired over ESPN's family of networks, however all the matches will be played in front of live audiences.
So while this may be the second time professional Overwatch play has come to Atlanta, it's the first time fans from Atlanta can attend local Overwatch matches.