When the complete list of the twelve franchise owners for the inaugural season of the Overwatch League was revealed, it became clear most owners could be divided into one of two categories: esport organizations with a history in Overwatch and outside organizations entering the world of esports for the first time. The exception to the rule were the owners of the Houston Outlaws, OpTic Gaming, an esports organization most known for its history in console games and who had yet to field an Overwatch team of their own.
While the organization had not previously fielded a full Overwatch team, the Overwatch League was not their first foray into Blizzard's first person shooter, according to COO of Optic Gaming Ryan "OpTicJ" Musselman. "When the game first launched back in 2016 we were in talks to explore picking up a team, but ultimately it didn't work out," he said. They decided to hold off on building their roster when it became known that Blizzard was set to make a major announcement in the latter part of the year. OpTic and the rest of the esports community would later find out the announcement was about the Overwatch League, one of the most ambitious projects in esports to date.
When it came time for building a roster for the League, OpTic and their general manager flame knew what they were looking for. "We didn't want to go after building some crazy all-star roster," Musselman said. Instead OpTic went for a squad that had chemistry together and one that they felt could compete with the League's top teams and ultimately be recognized as one of the top teams themselves.
The convergence between grassroots esports bodies and outside businesses has offered learning opportunities for those involved, says OpTicJ. While the endemic organizations bring to the table their preexisting knowledge of the scene, the traditional sports groups have long histories of growing different businesses and branding.
As an esports organization, this will be OpTic's first foray into geolocation. "For us, [franchising and geolocation] was really about growing up into new ways of doing business," he said. "It's not so much that we're changing fundamentally who we are but we're just getting better at what we're good at and trimming the fat on some of the weaknesses that maybe weren't the best for business."
OpTic is known for having one of the largest fan bases in esports, and Musselman has confidence in the Outlaws benefiting from this support. In fact, he cites the Twitter following for the Outlaws, which was the fastest growing brand new Twitter in the League, followed closely by that of the Dallas Fuel.
The organization will undoubtedly use its prior history in growing a fanbase to help spur the Outlaw's growth. The team will create content on the brands and profiles of its player, incorporating elements of their lifestyles without deviating too far from gaming (the Outlaws YouTube channel includes content that ranges from player interviews to trivia challenges the players take part in). However, OpticJ doesn't want the Houston Outlaws brand to perfectly mirror the OpTic brand. "[We're] ensuring that the Outlaws brand continues to develop with its own voice," he said.
Musselman pictures a thriving Overwatch League in five to ten years. "I think we will absolutely see more teams, we'll see some great rivalries out of it, I think we will be seeing people attend stadium events, and we'll have undiscovered new talent on the scene really shaking things up and keeping rosters fresh."
He hopes to make the Outlaws as global as the league they are a part of. "We're excited to really make the Houston Outlaws strong in their respective city but also as a global brand that people can buy into."
The team is predicted by many to finish mid-table for the inaugural season of the league, but showed promise in the preseason by taking the Dallas Fuel to a full five maps and nearly doing the same to the Seoul Dynasty, drawing on the last map for a final score of 2-1. Both teams are considered to be title favorites. Whether the team is able to compete at the same level in the regular season, and whether they can build the global fanbase they envision remains to be seen.