Toronto Esports Team Pulls Out Of Overwatch Because It Couldn't Use 'Toronto' Anymore

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. L

ike 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.

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 organisations 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?


    If you can only have one team per city, and you have a Champions\Contenders arrangement, treat your Contenders as "owning" a city.

    This is really unfair to these organisations that not only are developing to players, but also the brands necessary to continue to fund these players.

    Geez. As an outsider with no knowledge of the politics involved, from my first read of this I'm getting the impression that an established but less influential/cashed-up team got told they couldn't have their name any more because a bigger kid on the block bought it out from under them?

    And I guess they've reacted badly to what seems to me to be a dick move?

      There are a few layers to the story.

      1. Blizzard set the rules and expectations for the OWL before OWC (Contenders) existed that their objective was city-localised teams, especially as part of geographical branding. The rule is essentially 'one city, one team'. Academy/OWC teams do not use city-based team names and don't operate locally, only by region (eg. North America, Europe, etc).

      2. Boston Uprising contracted an existing group called Toronto Esports earlier this year to manage their OWC team. Boston paid for the slot, all the players were contracted to Boston, the only thing Toronto Esports was contracted for was management. Worth noting here, Toronto Esports did not have an OWC team prior to this partnership.

      3. Toronto Esports chose the name Toronto Uprising, which Boston didn't object at the time for some reason despite the team being a wholly owned and paid for Boston and operating as a Boston feeder team. They were the only team to include a city in their team name.

      4. Toronto Defiant was announced at the beginning of September for the OWL, though negotiations had been going for a while prior. As an OWL team they are required to be linked to a city and for branding they get exclusive rights to that city's name within the league (this right is afforded to all teams, to be clear, and has since OWL started).

      5. Toronto Uprising might have been able to fly under the radar until the end of the 2018 seasons if they hadn't decided to start acting weird, antagonising Defiant about the show match invitation, pissing off even their own team's fans with unprofessionalism and using the group Twitter for personal tweets. It was a bad look, one that fans and even staff on other teams were calling out to stop.

      6. An OWC team with Toronto in their name causing shit is a problem for the OWL team with Toronto in its name too, because the way the league is set up it implies they're associated. The last thing Defiant wants while they're still in startup and marketing mode before the next OWL season is getting caught up in Toronto Esports' shit. So they talked to Blizzard, and Blizzard talked to Toronto Esports and asked them to change their name. They refused, threw a tantrum and ragequit.

      7. The team itself is fine. The players are all still contracted to Boston Uprising, the team will continue to play, Boston will just rename it and will probably take up management of it themselves until they decide if they want to get another third party to do it. The only thing that's changed (other than the team name) is Toronto Esports bailed on their management contract.

      Whether you agree with Overwatch's rules about team localisation I'll leave to your own prerogative, but the writing was on the wall for this OWC team for months now. Pretty much everyone had speculated before Blizzard even stepped in that they'd be required to change their team name, and the general sentiment among Overwatch fans that I can see is that this outcome was neither unexpected nor unreasonable.

        Thanks for the context, that was significantly useful background that I didn't have. Seems like the article needs a lot more insider knowledge than I have to get the right of the story.

        Points 1 and 4 in combination are the strongest and most relevant point that I needed, on reflection. My first impressions from the article were that the rules about naming conventions were set AFTER the OWC team chose the 'Toronto' name.

        Bad behaviour aside, it's still pretty dickish for Blizzard to retroactively force a name change because they didn't make it clear from the outset that the name exclusivitity was across ALL leagues, but as you mentioned, this seems like if it were handled with maturity, the 'damage' done to the 'losers' in that scenario could have been minimized.

        From a skim of the TE president's ravings, I get the feeling old-mate Presidente was tying a lot of value to being the first/only Toronto-named esports group, in the hope of bluffing the organization's way into perceived primacy to become the default choice for esports hopefuls.

          I remember when the Toronto Uprising name was announced, there were people speculating even back then 'what happens if Toronto gets a league team?' because they were (and to date still are) the only OWC team to include a city name in their name (in every region other than AU, which has a few).

          I agree it probably should have been made clearer, and I do sympathise with Toronto Uprising mostly because of the mandatory uniform requirements OWC has (ie. it cost them money to get their team name on shirts), but at the end of the day it was still just a name change request for what is effectively equivalent to a college level team. They weren't insisting it be disbanded or release players or anything like that, and it's in a division where every other team are named things like 'Fusion University' and 'NRG Esports'.

          Personally I don't like Pallett, so it colours my opinion on the whole story, but even at the most sympathetic reading I still think him just up and insta-quitting was a massive overreaction, and I don't honestly think the competition has lost anything of value from his departure.

    Blizzard prioritising growth over early adopters and supporters, sounds familiar

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