The U.K.’s only Overwatch League team now has a name: The London Spitfire. Esports organization Cloud9 owns the squad, which is one of 12 that will be competing in Blizzard Entertainment’s inaugural Overwatch League for its hugely popular team shooter. The Spitfire roster will be announced sometime in early November.
Cloud9 recently raised $25 million in a Series A and it’s one of the most popular esports organizations in North America according to a recent Nielsen report. Its teams compete across a variety of games, such as League of Legends, Rocket League, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Hearthstone, and Vainglory.
It was a collective effort to come up with the Overwatch League team name. Cloud9 president Daniel Fiden says that they brainstormed internally, as did the team at Blizzard. Once they came up with a few options, they asked fans to submit suggestions and also vote. Spitfire was an overwhelming favorite, and it has a bit of history to it too. It’s the name of a 1940s aircraft in the British Royal Air Force, which has the added bonus of being relevant to character Lena “Tracer” Oxton’s in-game backstory. The Spitfire also has personal significance to the Cloud9 team.
Fiden says that the name was internally suggested by a colleague.
“I asked him, ‘How did you think of this? What made you think of this idea?'” said Fiden. “He shared a story about his grandfather, who was a Spitfire pilot in World War II and something of a war hero. It was such an inspiring and cool story. The fact that it had a personal connection with somebody on our team really made it not just, from a purely marketing and branding perspective, feel like a strong choice, but it gave it that personal grounding for us that I think is important in having an emotional connection with the name.”
Because its home base is in Los Angeles, Fiden says that a lot of people think of Cloud9 as a North American team. However, he says that its fanbase is international, which partly contributed to its decision to purchase the Overwatch League team in London.
“Our decision to invest in London and in England is a reflection of all the great work that the people in the esports industry over there have already done,” said Fiden in a phone call with GamesBeat. “Over the course of my time over there, talking to all of those people and others about partnerships, it’s really made all of us at Cloud9 excited to become a deeper part of that community.”
Fiden cites folks like commentator Paul “Redeye” Chaloner; Overwatch player Stylosa; and esports organization Fnatic founder Sam Mathews as having creating a vibrant community. Cloud9 has also received a warm welcome from the mayor of London and the U.K. government, which Fiden says has offered logistical support in getting the London Spitfire set up.
“They’ve offered us everything from helping us navigate the immigration process for players to understanding how best to set up our business to operate in the U.K. and ensure that we’re thinking through the various legalities and tax implications and everything,” said Fiden.
The first order of business is to build a facility that will act as home and training grounds for the Spitfire team, as well as the local Cloud9 staff. But Fiden says that they have bigger plans than that — including an internet cafe, an esports bar and restaurant, and a retail store.
“The idea being that fans, 365 days a year, can go to this space,” said Fiden. “They can watch games on the big screens if there isn’t an event happening live there. Or they can go and see a live event – not just our Overwatch team, but potentially other games and other kinds of esports competition.”
It will be a fan-focused location where anyone can play competitively, and perhaps even join a youth team in the future. The idea won’t be a reality any time soon, but Fiden says that Cloud9 co-founder and CEO Jack Etienne is passionate about creating a space where young people can play esports in an organized manner, like joining a sports club. San Francisco Giants outfielder Hunter Pence, one of Cloud9’s investors who also recently joined as a board observer, is also excited about that idea.
“[Youth sports] helps kids learn how to be coached, learn how to win, and learn how to lose,” said Fiden. “Really just foundational character-building stuff. I think that esports should play the same role. And I also think that it is already playing the same role online. I just think that having an in-person kind of element to it would be an improvement.”
The idea of youth esports is another example of the kind of cross-pollination from traditional sports, which has organizations like Little League Baseball that offer that opportunity. Fiden says that the esports industry is still figuring a lot of things out and has lessons to learn from traditional sports. But the same is also true in reverse. Specifically, he points to how esports athletes and teams engage with fans.
“I’m not quite sure that traditional sports, most traditional sports businesses and franchises, have figured out how to provide that same level of directness and intimacy for their fanbases,” said Fiden. “But in order to effectively engage the millennial and younger audiences that I’m talking about, they’re going to need to learn how to do that over the next few years. I think that’s one of the fundamental things they’re interested in about esports.”