Dallas is about to be the home of a team that boasts fans from around the world -- and they're not called the Cowboys.
Following a "significant" (reportedly $35 million) investment from the Hersh Interactive Group, popular esports organization Team Envy is moving its headquarters to Dallas. Notably, they are becoming Dallas' Overwatch League team, getting in on the ground floor of a new and fast-growing game from Blizzard Entertainment (developers of Warcraft and Starcraft) and publisher Activision (known for Call of Duty among other franchises).
Team Envy's owner, Mike Rufail, is a born-and-raised Texan who is excited to be coming home. "Like many other Texans, I love Texas," he says. "I always wanted to return, and always looked at it as my home and cheered for the Dallas sports teams."
Competitive video games are a huge deal, and the medium continues to grow. More and more esports matches are being televised live, millions of dollars in prizes are often on the line, and large stadiums are consistently packed for championship games.
Team Envy, like most esports organizations, plays more than just one game. In addition to Overwatch, they have players focused on League of Legends, Rocket League, Call of Duty and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
"We're a sports enterprise," Rufail says. "We're not just one sports team. So we look at our Overwatch League team as being one piece of that enterprise that we feel that a city like Dallas deserves to have and call their own. We'd be happy to have our fans all around the world continue to cheer for the team, but we want to play our home games in Dallas."
Those home games may have to wait, though. While Rufail and his colleagues are actively searching for a training space in D-FW to call their own, all games in this inaugural season of professional Overwatch will be played at the new Blizzard Arena in Los Angeles, which is the same building that once hosted Burbank Studios, once home to The Tonight Show and other popular TV programs.
Unlike most organized esports leagues in years past, the Overwatch League focuses on city-based teams, just like most other professional sports.
While not all players on Team Envy will be required to live in Dallas, this will be where they always get together to train.
So what does "training" for professional video games even mean?
When some people imagine esports, they think of out-of-shape nerds sitting in front of computer screens slowly clicking on things. The reality is very different, and it might be more like other professional sports than you would expect.
"Our training schedule is very similar to any professional sports team," Rufail says. "All of the players are responsible for showing up at a certain time to practice. They have a set amount of hours of practice with the team. They're expected to do some things individually on their own so that when they show up, they're in pretty good shape in terms of their muscle memory and being able to play the game at a professional level."
Rufail, himself a traditional athlete while growing up in East Texas, compares this to training camp for football players. "[Players] have to show up and have been playing the game quite often and have their skills ready to go for a professional season," he says.
And don't think that they're unhealthy just because they spend more time playing video games than you do. Gaming at a professional level still takes a physical and mental toll on one's body, so players have to stay in shape. "We do some things like provide nutritional help for the players," Rufail says. "We make sure they're on a fitness schedule. We do things for the players that are very similar to any professional sports team. We're basically making sure those players are in tip-top shape to be able to compete at a high level in esports.
"Many people might not think that it's so rigorous as any other athletic sport where you're running around a lot, but at the end of the day there's a whole lot of mental fatigue that goes into this. There's a physical aspect of it, and we expect our players to be in top shape."
Esports growth in Dallas doesn't stop there
Texas actually has two of only 12 teams that make up this first season of professional Overwatch. The state's other team, Houston, is controlled by OpTic Gaming. Despite representing H-Town, though, OpTic is also moving its headquarters to Dallas.
Local colleges are also on the esports train. The University of North Texas just invested $200,000 in "The Nest," an esports practice space on the UNT campus where teams can hone their skills in games like League of Legends.
In April, the University of Texas in Arlington took home a national championship in Blizzard's Heroes of the Dorm tournament, winning both glory and scholarship money.
Richardson-based Id Software, creators of Doom and Quake, just hosted a $1 million tournament at QuakeCon in Grapevine for their upcoming game Quake Champions, for which they hope to foster a large competitive scene.
The esports audience is big and growing. ESPN (yes, they, too, have started covering esports) reports that the 2016 League of Legends championships drew 43 million concurrent viewers. Big investments like the one from Hersh Interactive Group prove that people with a lot of money to spend are also paying close attention.
The world of esports still has some wrinkles to iron out before it can become truly mainstream, but things are headed in the right direction. Dallas has a big head start compared to other cities, and if Team Envy and fellow esports players can succeed in building a local fan base, the Dallas-Fort Worth area could be a hotbed for competitive video games for years to come.