The Blizzard Arena stage has a massive light-up halo on the ceiling that serves as a progress bar for Overwatch objectives. As a team captures a point, the halo fills up with that team's colours. It's an impressive illustration of who's winning. And it's all manual. Or so I've been told.
The Blizzard Arena halo fills with golden light as Seoul Dynasty maintains their hold.
The other elements on the Blizzard Arena stage update automatically, such as the massive screens above each team that show which in-game characters have died, as well as which characters have their Ultimate attacks charged. Just like those screens, the halo helps show the audience who's winning, but unlike the rest of the stage, the halo requires one very important human to pay close attention to what's going on during every Overwatch match.
I found out about the all-important halo operator due to being in the wrong place at the right time.
One of the lounges near the skybox at the Blizzard Arena (image via Blizzard Entertainment)
When I arrived at the Blizzard Arena on Overwatch League opening day, I picked up my media bracelet and got escorted into the venue by an event staffer. That staffer later told me that she and many of her colleagues had been brought on last-minute to account for the huge influx of reporters covering the event. That could explain why she took me to a tiny press lounge in a hallway next to the Blizzard Arena skybox seating, as opposed to a much larger media lounge downstairs, where the rest of my colleagues ended up.
When I saw Overwatch League commissioner Nate Nanzer walking into the skybox along with other people I didn't recognise, I thought to myself, "Am I in the right place?" But my room had a sign on it that said "press work office". Perhaps, at future Overwatch League matches, that small room will be where the reporters end up. During OWL Opening Day, though, every other person around me had a badge that said "Backstage Pass". I didn't.
I didn't see anybody else with a bright orange media bracelet like I had, either. I asked three Blizzard Arena staffers where the rest of the reporters had gone, and none of them seemed to understand my question.
Inside the "press work office" at the Blizzard Arena.
I hung out by the skybox, watching Nate Nanzer and his pals watch Overwatch, and soon a dozen people gathered nearby. A tour guide had just begun a backstage tour of the arena. I edged to the back of the tour and tried to look nondescript.
The tour guide told us all a story - the story of the halo. He explained that many people who've seen the halo in action have praised its use of Blizzard's API, or application programming interface. In other words, viewers believe that the halo's lights respond according to cues sent by Overwatch in real time. But, the tour guide laughed, it doesn't do that at all. It's operated by a member of the Blizzard Arena production team. Thanks to the common assumption about who really does his job, that employee has earned the nickname "API".
So, yes, Blizzard's API does make the halo light up. As in, a guy nicknamed API literally cranks up the halo lights according to what's happening in the game, live, as it happens.
The tour guide and his group walked out of the skybox area. I knew from talking to the venue staffers that if I left this area, I wouldn't be able to get back in without an escort. Nate Nanzer's skybox looked crowded, anyway, and I wanted to ask around to see if anybody else knew about the halo's mysterious operator. Was it just a fun anecdote told by a tour guide to entertain investors and high-rolling attendees? Or was it true?
OK, so, which of these controls the halo? (Image of the Blizzard Arena control room, via Blizzard Entertainment)
I left the skybox behind, never to return, since no other escort wanted to let me back in there (and yes, I did ask). I went into the arena to watch the halo in action, and I also asked three Blizzard employees about the halo operator. The first two employees told me they didn't think the halo operator could be real, and that the halo had to be automated. The third employee thought so, too, but he knew who to ask: The head of production backstage.
At 3AM that night, long after Overwatch's successful opening day had wrapped up with Seoul Dynasty and Dallas Fuel's thrilling match-up, I got a text message from that enterprising Blizzard employee: "Can confirm it is run by someone on our production team, affectionately nicknamed API." Who has the honour of performing this job? "Let's keep it anonymous."
The Blizzard Arena staff could be pulling my leg. But I'm pretty sure it's real. The same Blizzard employee even seemed a little wary, asking "how this would be used", and telling me he thought the story would be better as a tweet than an article. Plus, none of the other Blizzard employees I spoke to had heard of the halo operator, suggesting that the job truly is secret, even internally.
Or maybe that's all part of the bit. Maybe I only saw what Blizzard wanted me to see, after all. Maybe Nate Nanzer is reading this article right now, laughing at my naiveté. They always put one rube in the skybox at OWL matches, every time. It's all for show.
I choose to believe in API. Just like Quasimodo at Notre-Dame, or Dunkin Doughnuts' Fred the Baker ("Time to light the halo!"), this mysterious but all-important person single-handedly ensures that the Blizzard Arena's huge glowing ring illuminates with just the right team colours at just the right time. Perhaps, someday, that job will get automated after all. But until then, it's one more magical element of watching Overwatch live in the arena. You get to look up and see the work of the unsung API.