There’s an old adage that says there are only two arenas where you can represent your country: War and sports.
Despite this, Ottawa native Chris “Bani” Benell has managed to find a third avenue: Esports.
Starting Friday, Benell, along with his six teammates, will have the unique opportunity of representing Canada at the Overwatch World Cup finals in Anaheim, Calif., during BlizzCon, Overwatch publisher/developer Activision Blizzard’s annual convention.
It’s an opportunity the 25-year-old relishes.
“I think I’m good enough to represent Team Canada,” Benell told Sportsnet before an Overwatch World Cup qualifier over Discord. “It was really exciting for me. I’m super glad that I’m here and am looking forward to representing the country.”
Benell along with teammates Lane “Surefour” Roberts, Brady “Agilities” Girardi, Liam “Mangachu” Campbell, Félix “xQc” Lengyel, William “Crimzo” Hernandez and Lucas “Note” Meissner make up Canada’s Overwatch World Cup team, a squad that ripped through its qualifying tournament without dropping a single map until falling to the United States to finish second in the qualifier, but still book its ticket to BlizzCon.
— Team Canada OW (@TeamCanadaOW) October 16, 2018
Despite losing to the U.S., Canada should still feel confident heading into Friday. At BlizzCon, Canada and the seven other qualified nations have been placed into a single-elimination bracket with the Canucks taking on France in their first-round matchup.
The French side is by no means a pushover as it finished first in its qualifying tournament, dropping just two maps along the way, but what Canada has over them, and all other competitors except South Korea, is a lot of experience in the Overwatch World Cup finals because of what happened last year.
In 2017’s Overwatch World Cup, Canada surprised many by reaching the finals, only to lose to the powerful South Korean side. From that 2017 finalist team, four players – Roberts, Girardi, Campbell and Lengyel – are on 2018’s squad.
It’s a wealth of experience that should serve Team Canada well in addition to, as Benell describes it, the team’s individual talent.
“We can count on every single player on the team to basically be better than the opponent, which is, I think, a really big deal,” Benell said. “So anytime we find ourselves in chaotic 1-v-1 situations, which is basically the style we’re trying to force where everybody has to deal with people on the side all over the place, we’re gonna win those duels, I think, 60, 70, 80 per cent of the time.
“I think that’s our biggest strength. We can just rely on our skill to take those chaotic fights and we don’t have to rely on really in-depth strategy.”
Led by Benell, an Overwatch League pro with the Houston Outlaws, and OWL all-stars Roberts and Girardi, of the Los Angeles Gladiators and Valiant, respectively, Canada’s Overwatch World Cup team has the potential to do the country very proud.
Overwatch World Cup action is slated to begin Friday at 3:15 p.m. ET, with the Canada-France match slated for a 5:15 start time. You can catch all the action on the official Overwatch League Twitch channel.
Toronto Defiant roster revealed
Last Saturday the Toronto Defiant announced their first two player signings in South Korean flex tank and flex support Kang-jae “Envy” Lee and Se-hyeon “Neko” Park.
Since then the entire roster has been unveiled.
— Toronto Defiant (@TorontoDefiant) October 30, 2018
Joining Lee and Park will be Seung-hyun “Ivy” Lee and Lee Do-hyung “Stellar” Lee in the DPS positions, Gyeong-mu “Yakpung” Jo as the team’s main tank and main support Jae-yoon “Aid” Go.
Along with head coach Beom-joon “Bishop” Lee, the entire Defiant team will be South Korean, a fact that may be disappointing to some who might’ve been hoping for some Canadian content on the new OWL team, but a reality that speaks to where the world’s best Overwatch players are coming from these days.
Vancouver OWL team partners with Luminosity Gaming
Similarly to how OverActive Media, the owners of the Defiant, partnered with Splyce, the Aquilini family has partnered with multi-esports organization Luminosity Gaming.
Founded in Canada by Steve Maida in 2015, Luminosity has been involved in many different esports but is best known for being the esports team that Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, the world’s most famous Fortnite streamer, is currently signed with.
“I’m thrilled and humbled to be teaming up with the Vancouver Canucks and the Aquilini family,” said Maida in a statement. “I want to thank them for believing in me and giving me this opportunity. Their organization, family and leadership are all first class. I am confident this will be a successful pairing and hope to make the organization and all of the fans across Vancouver, the Pacific Northwest and Canada proud.”
That the Aquilini family is turning to a third party to help with their OWL franchise shouldn’t be surprising. In an interview with Sportsnet last month, Adrian Montgomery, the president of Aquilini Entertainment, said as much.
“We need people who really understand the esports space from a roster construction perspective, from a talent acquisition and development perspective,” said Montgomery. “We freely acknowledge that that’s not our expertise at the moment within Canucks Sports and Entertainment.”
The Aquilini family is now betting on Luminosity Gaming being the organization to help them with all that their new esports franchise entails.