There’s taking your ball and going home, and then there’s whatever Toronto Esports just did. After a few days of unusual tweets from the organisation's president and founder, including an unanswered challenge issued to Overwatch League’s new Toronto team, Toronto Esports suddenly dropped out of Overwatch’s minor league, Contenders, over a naming dispute. In a further statement to Kotaku, Toronto Esports’ president cited issues with “the recent changes to the Contenders rules,” which supposedly go “against our core company values.”
Until yesterday, Toronto Esports managed the Contenders team of the Overwatch League’s Boston Uprising. The organisation had dubbed its minor league team “Toronto Uprising,” and that name was part of what caused problems, according to Toronto Esports’ tweet about the matter last night.
“We have been informed by Blizzard that we will be forced to remove ‘Toronto’ from our brand in only 6 weeks. Mid Contenders season 3,” the Toronto Esports account stated. “The reason cited: Toronto Defiant have purchased ‘exclusive naming rights.’ We will be leaving Overwatch effective immediately. Good riddance.”
Toronto Defiant is a new Overwatch League team operated by OverActive Media and esports organisation Splyce. The team had its big coming out (read: branding) party at the end of October. It’ll begin competing when Overwatch League season two starts in February. Like other Overwatch League teams, Defiant can now also field an “academy” team for Overwatch Contenders if it so chooses.
With the launch of Toronto Defiant, perhaps Toronto Esports should have seen the writing on the wall for their Overwatch Contenders team name. However, instead of preemptively changing the name, organisation president Ryan Pallett challenged Toronto Defiant to a show match, despite the fact that Toronto Esports is a Contenders team and Defiant is a League team.
“We will be leaving Overwatch effective immediately. Good riddance.”
Toronto Defiant did not respond to the Toronto Esports show match challenge. After a few days without a response, the official Toronto Esports Twitter account re-upped the challenge with some trash talk, posting that the Overwatch League team must be “scared” and, later, writing: “What does their silence tell you?”
This raised eyebrows from some in the Overwatch League community, including London Spitfire social media manager Mateus Portilho, who wrote, “Can this team stop tweeting cringe stuff, it’s reflecting really bad for them and for the OW competitive scene.”
Pallett reacted to this post by apparently taking a headlong slide into Portilho’s DMs late last week, asking why he was opposed to the show match idea and then – when he didn’t respond – calling him a “coward.” In a public tweet, Pallett then posted that Portilho was “a joke.”
All of this led up to Toronto Esports splitting off from Overwatch Contenders last night. While things hadn’t been entirely normal in the days prior, people were still shocked by the sudden departure. The team’s own players appeared to be shocked as well.
“Damn,” tweeted Toronto Esports player Charlie “Nero” Zwarg in reaction to the news. “I guess I’m goin home boys it was a good run.”
In the hours since, Boston Uprising president Chris Loranger has clarified that his organisation still possesses the Contenders team’s player and staff contracts, as well as the Contenders slot. The team will go on.
“I do not have the ability at the moment to address the recent or current decision out of Toronto Esports, and we were not part of the decision at all,” Loranger tweeted. “We will continue to compete as a team, but obviously under a new brand. That is all I can say at the moment but will provide further details at a later date.”
Kotaku reached out to Toronto Esports, Boston Uprising, and Blizzard about all of this, but as of publishing, the latter two had yet to provide comment. Pallett of Toronto Esports provided the following statement to Kotaku:
“Yes, we felt we were loyal to Blizzard and Overwatch. We stayed and helped scout and develop players in tier 2 in the early days, prior to Overwatch League, at a time when most other organizations were abandoning Overwatch. We felt that given this, in the very least should have been able to keep our original brand, which we hold very dearly. We also feel that the recent changes to the Contenders rules are creating unnecessary barriers that are harming the talent development ecosystem. This is against our core company values.
We did challenge the Defiant to a showmatch, we felt it would be a great local event, and many of our fans really wanted it to happen, so we continue to represent them in pushing Defiant to answer.
We plan on entering new titles and continuing to compete in esports and help young players. I think it is unlikely we will continue to work with Kraft group. However, I would like to state that Chris Loranger and Uprising and Kraft Group have been incredible partners. We have nothing but the utmost respect for them and their leadership in sports.”
There’s something to be said here about Blizzard’s continued prioritisation of Overwatch League over all else – especially Contenders, given recent changes to Contenders’ format – but the name thing was always gonna be an issue for Toronto Uprising and Toronto Defiant. Maybe… the show match was a good idea after all?