It was a hot day in Hong Kong in early October, and Derek Kwok was in the middle of talking to his seven-man Overwatch schedule about the future.
The team tried to raise enough money to make a 7,200 mile trip around the world to BlizzCon at the Anaheim Convention Center in California, where the Overwatch World Cup was to take place at the beginning of November. Blizzard had changed the format of the tournament, so there were no regional qualifications and no way to compete outside of traveling to Anaheim. This was coupled with high costs.
Kwok, the general manager of the Fire dragons, those from Hong Kong Overwatch World Cup team, a fundraising set up for $ 80,000 HKD, which is sufficient to cover flights and hotels for the entire roster, coaching staff and support staff, as well as a training room for the run up to the competition. "We never thought the target would be feasible, even if our target could only cover players' flight and hotel costs," Kwok told me before BlizzCon. "The Overwatch pro scene in Hong Kong is very small, and the current atmosphere in Hong Kong made us feel inappropriate to raise funds for "playing video games in the US."
That atmosphere is well documented. Protests broke out in Hong Kong in June because of a bill that would allow individuals to be extradited to China. Those who oppose the bill believe it threatens Hong Kong's autonomy from China, and although the bill has since been withdrawn, protests have continued as protesters have made new demands on the government.
Kwok started fundraising in July and after a few months he had hardly made any progress. The team had not raised enough money to reach their goal in time to make the journey possible. It came to a point on October 8, where the team discussed whether they wanted to keep trying at all, but a few hours later everything changed drastically.
"I worked overtime for my daily work as a software developer when the madness occurred," says Kwok. That "madness" happened on an apparently unrelated e-sports tournament. At the fire plate Grandmaster competition, Blizzard had suspended and withdrawn the prize money from Chung "Blitzchung" Ng Wai, along with the firing of two commentators who had suggested him, for calling "Liberate Hong Kong". Revolution of our time! & # 39; In an interview after the game. The internet became outraged.
Shortly after the news became known, Andrew Bohan, general manager of Team Ireland, posted the fundraising of Team Hong Kong on the website Overwatch subreddit, and it started to blow up. "I posted it at a time when Blitzchung scandal made all of Reddit go crazy and when the general public really sees and understands the fight, they will offer help," says Bohan. "It's just that it's hard to see, and Blizzard's generous mess up was the perfect opportunity to get the public attention that Team Hong Kong needed." Within a few hours, the team had raised more than $ 90,000, which was enough to earn it from BlizzCon.
"That night at 11 p.m. we had an emergency meeting and (Hong Kong player, Chi-Yeung" Moowe "Yip) said: & # 39; So we have to go & # 39 ;," Kwok explains, "Then I said:" Yes, that's what people want, and we have to show the best of us in the arena. & # 39; & # 39; The easiest part was over for Team Hong Kong. Now they had to keep up with the best Overwatch talent in the world.
"Hong Kong has yet to win an official World Cup competition," Overwatch commentator and analyst Kevin "AVRL" Walker told me ahead of BlizzCon. “They currently have a total record of zero wins, one draw and seven losses over two group stage appearances (over the last three world cups). Their first victory of 2019, however, would already be a remarkable improvement on the previous years. Making a deeper run in the tournament compared to their other Pacific neighbors would be a strong benchmark to achieve. With Team Japan, Team Chinese Taipei and Team Thailand all looking very strong, Hong Kong will have to do their job for them. "
The campaign started before the crowds of the annual Blizzard convention. While the opening ceremony of BlizzCon took place in the afternoon of November 1, the preliminaries started on Thursday, October 31, when Team Hong Kong faced Team Paraguay in their first game.
Fabrizio & # 39; Zio & # 39; Liviere from Team Paraguay flew high in the air above the first point Overwatch& # 39; s Hollywood card, waiting for Team Hong Kong to catch up with its team. Just a few seconds later, the entire Fire Dragons team rushed around the corner and to the point. Hong Kong's Chi-Yeung "Moowe" Yip knew that Liviere would be a scourge and would disrupt his team's pressure on the point. Most teams usually rely on heroes such as McCree, Widowmaker or Soldier 76 to eliminate high-flying Pharahs, but Yip didn't want to wait. He pulled out the endothermic blasters from May and started firing icicles at Liviere. At the fourth shot he joined and dropped the jetpack soldier. Seconds later, Team Hong Kong nearly wiped Paraguay with team and captured the first point.
They continued to close the South American team.
"It was great," Kwok told me after the game. "That is the first victory in four years of participating in the Overwatch World Cup. The team was hyped. We have done our best to play against all teams, even the weaker teams such as Paraguay, so we think it is a well-deserved win. "
The Fire Dragons didn't have much time to rest, as their next game against Team Germany would be held the same day. Germany was a much more difficult team; they had participated in every competition Overwatch World Cup qualifier since 2016. The two squadrons collided frontally in one early moment OverwatchThe Eichenwalde card as a small room overlooking the control point was full of almost every member of both teams. Shields, immortality fields and bullets flew in both directions. Hong Kong had to push the Germans back to defend the checkpoint and prevent their enemy from scoring.
In the course of a few seconds, Kin-Long “ManGoJai” Wong pulled out the immortality field of the enemy, so the health of Team Germany players did not fall below 20 percent, paving the way for a near-team sweep to push the Germans back. The importance of that moment would fall if Team Germany made its way through the Fire Dragons and finally beat them 3-0. However, the competition was closer than the score indicates.
"I didn't really have them on the radar for the World Cup because they were pushed into our braces in the short term. But after I played them, I can say it wasn't an easy game," team coach Julian told "ProGi" of Team Germany me after the game. "Their composition of Mei and Reaper was pretty good … you can see they punished us when we relax."
It was close but unfortunately we cannot take the card. Let us not lose faith in our home team!
View the team's wonderful teamwork. pic.twitter.com/YoRtlr8n3i
– FIRE DRAGONS @ BlizzCon # OWWC2019 (@OWTeamHongKong) November 1, 2019
"It was close," said Kwok. "We had alternate team fights, especially in Eichenwalde, where we wasted most of their time in the second round of the German attack. We could have taken one of those moments for the win. (We) were disappointed. Some of us have been disappointed even shed tears. & # 39;
That was the end of the road for Team Hong Kong because of the new structure and ruleset for this Overwatch World Cup; one loss in the preliminary round meant that you went home. But their presence was still felt during the remaining two days of the tournament. Between the Hilton and Marriott hotels, directly to the front entrance of BlizzCon, stood a small group of protesters against Blizzard. They sang, held banners and distributed signs and flyers in an effort to draw attention to what was happening in Hong Kong, and in particular Blizzard's actions against Blitzchung.
"Every team from Hong Kong or Taiwan will try to play harder and win," a masked demonstrator told me while dozens of enthusiastic Blizzard fans marched past. "Because China doesn't want us here and we have to do what we can to tell the world that we are still here."
"I'm proud of them," she added. The demonstrator, who came all the way from Hong Kong to Anaheim, told me that she had only heard of the Fire Dragons and what they had achieved thanks to BlizzCon. Although they didn't get nearly as far as they had hoped in the tournament, individual players in Team Hong Kong sparkled on a larger stage, and that extra exposure helped bring their message to more people. They didn't win, but they achieved a lot by just making it.
"I really believe (Kin-Long" ManGoJai "Wong) that this year he has proven his abilities as a clear highlight in the Hong Kong team and as an important part of the success of Talon (the Wong amateur team) in Contenders and the Gauntlet, "Walker told me after the tournament. "He had some great individual moments on heroes such as Zenyatta, who doesn't see much gameplay in this particular meta. And although he was unable to get past Germany, he proved that he could stand toe-to-toe with the best competition at the Gauntlet. "
Walker, Maier and others I spoke to believe that, apart from Wong and Yip, other members of the Fire Dragons still have a way to go before they make the leap to the Overwatch League, but competing on the international stage is a step in the right direction. In addition to experience and exposure on one of the largest venues in Overwatch, Kwok and Team Hong Kong were covered by points of sale such as ESPN and The Washington Post. They brought more attention to what is happening in Hong Kong by making the trip to BlizzCon.
"Right now, my team and I think the best way to express ourselves is to keep playing in the tournament," Kwok said. "Doing our best and showing the great minds of Hong Kong that we never give up are already a sign of strength."
I asked Kwok if he thought he and his team had an impact during their short stay in Anaheim. "Let the fans speak for themselves," he said. "We think we've given fans a place to express their support for us and Hong Kong."