The History of UK Overwatch Esports

overwatch league grand finals spitfire win


In this special series of in-depth articles, Esports News UK, in collaboration with the betting partner GGBET UK, delves into the stories, moments, and personalities that have left a lasting impression on the past, present, and future of the UK esports scene.
Whilst Overwatch is a multi-national even multi-continental game, the UK has a long-standing history with it at every level of competitive play. In the last eight years since the game’s release, many players from the UK have reached the highest level of their scenes whether that be in the Overwatch League (OWL), Contenders or even a national LAN event. In this article, Joshua ‘Jace’ Sharp aims to honour, reflect on and remember the history of Overwatch esports in the UK.

Pre-Overwatch League (Tier 1) – Early UK Players and Tournaments

Before the dawn of the Tier 1 Overwatch League and Tier 2 Contenders, many UK players were scattered in organisations across Europe competing in weekly cups. This period of history is one almost lost to time itself, as the majority of active players around this era are long retired.

One particular team I must mention is EUnited with Kruise and Boombox, finishing first in the ‘Contenders Season Zero’ back in 2017. With the announcement of the Overwatch League, Contenders was formed as an ecosystem underneath it to nurture and develop talent.

So going into the inaugural season there was only one UK player in the 12 initial teams, and that was Boombox. The Philadelphia Fusion signed him alongside Hayes, likely off the recommendation from their new coach. 

A year later, ChrisTFer was signed as an assistant to the same team.

For many European fans in season one, Fusion became their pseudo-representative, as Cloud9’s London Spitfire team had an all-South Korean roster. Philly’s roster consisted of Shadowburn, Poko, Neptuno and the UK’s Boombox. These four were all part of the original 12 that mixed international talent from all over the world.

The first memorable representation for the UK came at the third Overwatch World Cup, in 2018. An historic 3-1 upset victory against the USA in the quarter-finals shocked many fans across the globe and shone a spotlight on some mostly unknown UK talent.

The majority of this 7Lions roster made their way into the highest tier of competitive play in later years, one way or another. It featured MikeyA, KSP, Kruise, Smex, Fusions, Boombox and KYB.

7Lions 2023 Team UK Overwatch

Going back even further, let’s not forget some of the early UK Overwatch tournaments and activities.

The first ESL UK Overwatch cup was won by GLB, with UK casters Ceirnan ‘Excoundrel’ Lowe and Tom ‘Tridd’ Underwood a part of the broadcast.

The UK also got behind the first wave of other competitive Overwatch tournaments.

Around this time, UK content creators like Stylosa and Valkia really started to make a name for themselves in the Overwatch community, too.

And ESL also ran a $100,000 Overwatch tournament at Gamescom 2016, featuring UK caster Leigh ‘Deman’ Smith among others.

The Overwatch League Era

Originally the London Spitfire consisted of Kongdoo Panthera, an ‘always the bridesmaid, never the bride’ Overwatch org that competed in OGN Apex. Fittingly it was THE apex of Overwatch esports at the time. After the miraculous run of GC Busan to win season 4, they were signed alongside Kongdoo, completing the historic ‘Royal Road’ straight to the Overwatch League.

Even through the inconsistent form that the London Spitfire went through in season one they still managed to win the whole thing. We later learnt it was the overall meshing of the two rosters that had an impact on the players individually. These issues bled over into season two. With the oncoming of goats meta (with three tanks and three healers), they were amplified.

Gesture couldn’t play reinhardt, Birdring’s bubbles were mistimed. Their best Zarya was also their best D.VA. That roster wasn’t built for a triple tank meta. London ended the second season after losing to the eventual winners San Francisco Shock in the lower brack finishing 7-8th.  

Looking back, it almost felt like the London Spitfire won the first season DESPITE everything and not through it all. For many of their fans, that roster was one of blind attachment and devout devotion. I was absolutely one of those people. Profit, Fury and Gesture are my three favourite pro players ever. Personally, I will always have fond memories of that original Spitfire roster. I just wanted to see those players succeed.

After the second season concluded, Cloud9 decided to sell the majority of their roster to various OWL teams with Profit and Gesture being picked up by the Seoul Dynasty, where they played out the rest of their careers. It was never clarified why Cloud9 made the decision to break this roster apart. I can only guess a mix of cost, team chemistry and waning overall interest in Overwatch esports at the time effectively forced them into it. 

birdring lifted overwatch league spitfire 2017
Birdring raised up high, pictured with the rest of Cloud9 and London Spitfire as they celebrate their OWL Championship

Before the start of the fourth season, Cloud9 announced that Izzy ‘Noukky’ Müller would be stepping into a key management role and helping oversee a new European-focused roster. This at the time was a great decision, but in hindsight it was just genius. Noukky deserves her flowers for so much work behind the scenes that many will never hear about.

London also owned a team in Overwatch Contenders called the British Hurricane. Playing in the European region, clearly the original idea was to nurture homegrown talent, even if it was to sell them to other Overwatch League teams.

Other teams had used their academy rosters as a way to secure the services of talent, either not quite old enough or not quite ready. Now that the British team were veering towards a European roster, however, this usual separate academy became an important piece in building their new tier 1 roster.

At this point, ChrisTfer had built a name for himself coaching in the overwatch league with the Philadelphia Fusion, so it came as no surprise when he was announced as head coach for this new roster. 

Joining Chris was CommanderX as assistant coach. CX was a vital part of a very strong British Hurricane team that were basically unbeaten for over a year in EU contenders. I was lucky to grab a quote from CommanderX during their busy schedule to reflect on some memories of their time working with the Spitfire. 

“Getting a chance to work with all the guys, to learn about how they think about the game and how they go about being an OWL player was incredibly helpful. The biggest thing, though, was how fun it was.”

CommanderX, former London Spitfire coach

Unfortunately, though, this European London Spitfire’s first season was very uninspiring to say the least, finishing with only a singular win and 15 losses. London’s struggles came largely from the environment the team were placed in. They were effectively all trapped in their home countries due to the pandemic. This had massive disadvantages mentally and in-game as they dealt with playing against some of the best in the world on high ping from their homes late into the night.

Looking back, fans, myself, everyone and even OWL desk talent, really undersold how crushing and damaging this environment was for that team. London’s performances next season were proof of that.  

The Spitfire made big changes going into the first ‘Overwatch 2 season’ releasing everyone but Shax, Hadi and SparkR. British DPS BackBone was signed straight from EU Contenders. The combination of BackBone’s signature Mei and a renewed Hadi on Reinhardt was not only fun to watch, it rattled a lot of the teams in the Western region.

This season was a breakout year for the London Spitfire. They outperformed everyone’s expectations and finished 5th-6th in Season 5.  

Hadi’s redemption arc in particular was one that should stick with many fans. Underperforming and struggling in 2021, his re-signing going into 2022 had many fans questioning why. Hadi proved them so wrong, winning a deserved role star in 2022, nominated as one of the best tanks in the league and winning the Dennis Hawelka award alongside it.  

London achieved many upsets in these two years overall, beating the LA Gladiators and the Atlanta Reign to send them home in consecutive years. To be perfectly honest, if the playoff format in season six wasn’t horrifically bad, London would probably have finished higher in their last season. London SHOULD have had the chance to play their Rush comp into the Asian region representatives, but due to the awful seeding, they ended up playing the Boston Uprising three times in their last five games.

It was a season to forget for OWL in general, but another great showing from this European roster. Landon, the team’s token American, also looked like the best baptiste in the West by the close of Overwatch League.

Anyway, this version of the Spitfire and the original season one roster were planets apart, comparatively. 

Whilst Profit and Gesture mesmerised fans with individual brilliance, this European Spitfire showcased the power of the collective hivemind, and what you could truly accomplish when all five of your players were totally coordinated.   

On a personal note, if you couldn’t tell I loved the London Spitfire, all three versions of this team had my undying support on every single map. They meant as much to so many fans as a football club has for generations of its supporters.

The core of this roster are currently competing in the new Overwatch Champions Series (OWCS) under Spacestation Gaming. Admiral is the only one who instead left for a collegiate opportunity in North America with FunnyAstro coming in to fill the vacant main support slot. They also added Seicoe, an Austrian DPS player previously playing with EX-Oblivione.

SpaceStation look better every match and should impress at the LAN events in the future. Spitfire fans should have no worries and no reasons not to support this team, as they continue their story under a new org.

This farewell🎶 is the start of our new journey🎶🎵🎤
Your 2023 London Spitfire | HERE WE GO

NUEL and NSE UK University Overwatch 

For the broadcast talent in the UK particularly, NUEL/University Esports and NSE remain perfect gateways into casting and producing. Myself, Toasty, Edgar and Spectrion have all casted at Insomnia, for the Florida Mayhem offseason events and even in Contenders, but started with NUEL.

EX-OWL caster Jack ‘Jaws’ Wright also started with casting at the university level.

I spoke to former co-owner of Ex Oblivione, Rene, who’s now playing for Oxford University across both NUEL and NSE. 

The ex-exo offtank and owner offered a detailed answer when I asked him about collegiate play in the UK. 

“NUEL is really different since even top teams only scrim every now and then,” Rene said. “I think my Oxford experience is pretty unique not only because Oxford (Overwatch) is pretty active socially. I’m housemates with one of my teammates and it’s not unusual for the team and wider Overwatch people to meet weekly at the pub or college bars and then hang out at my house. Also, because of my pro background, I do a lot of top-down teaching within the team.”

The university esports scene in the UK isn’t as competitive, in fact my own university was able to reach the top eight, for two tournaments in a row, a few years ago, with a GM main tank and two Masters players. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some exceptionally good teams playing in these events.

For this section I wanted to create a small description for a few notable teams, their standout players and where they went after competing in NUEL/University Esports and NSE.

Portsmouth Paladins, 2019-2022 (Uni of Portsmouth)

Players: JJPT, Rift, Lukeyboy, Sheep, Todos, Nightmare

If the term “dynasty” can be allowed to exist within such a low level of competition, I think Portsmouth deserve it. The core of this team were lucky enough to play together for a whole four years, winning nine splits across NUEL and NSE tournaments along the way.

One was a great seven-map series featuring Portsmouth and Warwick at Insomnia 68. Currently Rift, JJPT and Lukeyboy all still play together on ‘Golira’ who compete in LAN’s across the UK and in FaceIt Leagues in Europe. 

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Warwick Angels, 2021-2023 (Warwick University)

Notable Players: Rosden, Meta1, Jaynine, Cheeselord, Thrall 

Fighting in final after final against that aforementioned Portsmouth team is Warwick. They have been named NSE’s Esports University of the Year for six years in a row.

So the university’s esports society as a whole is one of the stronger ones in the UK, having great teams in Valorant and League of Legends. And their Overwatch team is no different.

The earlier version of this roster featured two off meta one tricks in Rosden and Meta1. These two only played Roadhog and Symmetra and yet they found themselves always top four minimum for every NSE split they competed in. Rosden’s Hog in particular was very strong and when Warwick landed on a patch where the tank was good, they were unbeatable.

Symmetra as a hero has often faded in and out of pro play purely for her point presence and TP shenanigans. Meta1’s mastery of Sym and its required spacing, being an incredibly short range but high damage 200hp character, should showcase how good he is at that hero.

Currently coached by Kajor, they finished fifth at EpicLAN 41 and had a good showing against a very stacked competition with tier 2 and tier 3 European Contenders players. Their roster for the event consisted of Rosden and Meta1 alongside Jaynine, a promising hitscan player and their backline of Thrall and Cheeselord. Again, these five players have been smurfing in university tournaments for the last two years – and they show no signs of slowing down. 

BUsted 2018-2021 (University of Bournemouth)

Notable Players: BlizzardStar and Strebor

A quick and deserved mention for Bournemouth University’s roster here. Strebor and Blizzardstar have gone to play at a very high level after graduating. Strebor featured for SheerCold and Supershy on main support winning Insomnia LAN events and finishing top eight in the most recent European OWCS circuit.

Whilst BlizzardStar hasn’t found themselves on a Contenders team yet, they have also a really great record at Insomnia LAN events AND were selected in the final closed trials for Team Ireland. The spots for Ireland’s DPS in particular have always been tough with Synex and Faith still playing, so it’s a genuine real achievement.

BlizzardStar is, alongside Strebor, one of the many strong names frequenting LANs in the UK, taking 4th at Epic.LAN 41 with 721 Ignite.   

UK LAN culture: Insomnia and Epic.LAN stories, plus standout teams

insomnia resize lan hall 1

For the majority of Overwatch’s lifespan, the two major LAN events in the UK have been Insomnia and Epic.LAN.

Before the publication of this article, it was announced that the company running Insomnia would be entering liquidation and effectively ceasing operations of the event. This is an incredibly sad moment for all of UK esports. Insomnia was so much to so many people and made so many amazing memories along the way. It’s really upsetting to see it cease to exist. 

Insomnia, located in the Birmingham NEC for the last several years, hosted a BYOC tournament in their section of the event, where teams sign up in an open circuit. Most of the event is played in a massive hall where teams are only a few seats away from each other. After three days, the finals are played on their main stage as a singular best-of-7 between the winners of the upper and lower bracket.

The first instance of us reporting on Overwatch LANs in the UK was back in April 2016, with the article: ‘Multiplay ups esports focus with Overwatch and new UK Masters CSGO League at i58’.

Fast forward to Insomnia 68 in April 2022, and I was lucky enough to cast Belong’s grand finals. During the same weekend, Insomnia ran its BYOC event, which led to a personal favourite clip of mine. Linked below is a small part of an interaction where i68’s eventual runners up, Mind Goblin, met with Legday, another UK caster on-site to cast their grand finals. 

Insomnia decided to decrease its Overwatch presence after i70, downsizing its tournament and playing most of it online.

However, during this time, Epic.LAN started reaching out to several notable players, casters and managers to gauge their opinion on the LAN scene in the UK. From my perspective this was THE saving event for LANs in the UK.

“At LAN everyone’s happy to literally hang out with anybody, across Tier 1, 2, 3 and 4, and people make really good mates through it.”

Horrocks, former competitive Overwatch player

Horrocks‘ quote really does define UK LAN culture for me. Whilst the competition is always fierce, there is such a strong sense of community within these teams and players.

It’s important to note that players from overseas like Sonder, Theomatic and ANJ have flown into the UK specifically to attend these LAN events. There’s a photo that Horrocks was happy to show me of a group going to a steakhouse after the recent Epic 41, which included himself, plus eX-OWL player Sauna, TheHolyPig, Nevix and Mickji. Players scattered across various levels of competitive play who would normally never interact.

LANs like Insomnia and Epic.LAN have not only been tournaments, but social events, places to make connections and to meet up with long-time teammates. I think it’s really important that they continue to be a part of UK Overwatch going forward. 

I got a story from a few members of the Golira and 721 team at that event, too. A late-night McDonald’s trip resulted in 12 players standing outside a Maccies car park in Kettering, just chatting about the game and spending time with each other for several hours. If these stories aren’t UK LAN culture, then I’m not sure what is.

The competition at LANs will only continue to grow and get better, even if notable UK players have ceased competing in EU’s open circuit and gone on to pursue full-time employment. There will always be these LAN events as they exist over just one weekend. 

I also mentioned earlier about international players from Europe flying into the UK to play in these LANs. It’s a credit to the prize money on offer, the quality of the events run and the level of competition displayed at both Insomnias of the past and Epic.LAN of the future that they are able to attract these players. Speaking of which, a special shoutout to Boombox, who has contributed to Epic.LAN’s prize pool in the past, giving back to those important community LANs.

From my knowledge the UK really did become a small hubspot for lower-tier competitive Overwatch for a good few years. It still might be the best place if you want a LAN experience and aren’t on SSG, Ence or TM.  

Closing Thoughts and Thank Yous

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Thanks again to GGBET UK and Esports News UK for allowing me to do this. 

Shoutout to Artemis, CommanderX, Horrocks, Yukinoo, Rene and Kevh for giving me what felt like an infinite library of information regarding UK Overwatch. 

Overwatch esports is currently in a very volatile era, BUT, with the first Dreamhack LAN over, it feels like investments are flooding in and there is still legitimate interest in both Europe and all over the world for this esport.

Europe as a whole felt at times ignored and silenced during the years of the Overwatch League, yet it still found a way to represent itself on the biggest stage offered. Now in the years after it, I can only expect the UK to help reignite passion for this esport.

Stay tuned for more articles powered by GGBET UK soon, and see even more UK esports history content here:

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