The sudden end of Toronto’s first pro Overwatch team

The London Spitfire taking on the Philadelphia Fusion at the 2018 Overwatch League Grand Final (Blizzard)

Sitting inside a bar on a warm September afternoon, Ryan Pallett is animated in conversation.

A doctor born and raised in Toronto, the focus of Pallett’s attention isn’t on his day job but on his other passion.

“Something that’s crazy to think about when talking about esports when compared to traditional sports is that they’re more expert at their sport,” he says. “It’s crazy to think about, but LeBron James hasn’t played as many hours of basketball as ‘Faker’ has played of League of Legends, and it can’t be close because of the physical limitations of the sport.”

In addition to being a physician at the Infinity Health Centre, Pallett is also the president of Toronto Esports, a Toronto-based esports outfit that he founded nearly three years ago as a passion project.

“I just wanted to basically get involved in esports,” Pallett said. “I love esports, I saw an opportunity. I did medical school here, I was born in Toronto, I’m a Toronto sports fan, I’m a Raptors and Toronto FC fan – I’m a season ticket holder – so I figured let’s take my passion and create something unique.”

The result was Toronto’s first pro Overwatch team, a club that competed among the competitive circuit before the Overwatch League’s inception and earned itself an affiliate partnership with the Boston Uprising of the OWL as the Uprising’s team in the Overwatch Contenders – the OWL’s minor league circuit.

For a while, things were looking good for Pallett and his team. Toronto Esports was succeeding in Contenders as evidenced by their second-place finish during the first season of the North American Contenders circuit back in May and they had players move onto the big leagues of the OWL with Canadian Lucas “NotE” Meissner and Mikias “Snow” Yohannes both moving on to join the Uprising.

Then, on Sept. 7 this year, the not-as-yet-named Toronto Defiant was officially announced as one of eight expansion clubs coming to the Overwatch League for the 2019 season.

As momentous an occasion for Canadian esports the announcement of the Defiant may well have been, in order for the Defiant to exist, Toronto Esports’ Overwatch legacy needed to be erased.

Late Monday evening, the Toronto Esports Twitter account sent out a tweet claiming Overwatch League creator Blizzard had informed the team that it must remove “Toronto” from its brand as the Defiant had purchased “exclusive naming rights.” A move that prompted Toronto Esports to withdraw from Overwatch competition altogether.

This sudden departure was pre-fixed by Pallett sending a public challenge to the Defiant for an exhibition match between his Contenders team and the new major-league outfit in town.

Predictably, the Defiant never responded to Pallett or Toronto Esports as they continue to prepare for their inaugural season beginning in February. This didn’t sit well the Toronto Esports team, though, who began mocking and goading the Defiant for supposed cowardice at not taking up their challenge.

Again, the Defiant didn’t respond and that finally led to Toronto Esports announcing it was leaving competitive Overwatch.

It’s unclear whether or not Pallett’s challenge played any role in Toronto Esports’ eventual departure from the Overwatch space, but as he told Kotaku in a lengthy statement, the decision to leave Overwatch was an issue with Blizzard.

“We felt we were loyal to Blizzard and Overwatch,” Pallett wrote. “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.”

In regards to the matter, Sportsnet reached out to OverActive Media, the group that owns the Defiant, for comment and they, too, say they didn’t have anything to do with the forced name change that Toronto Esports would’ve been subjected to had they remained in Overwatch.

“The Toronto Defiant is focused on building our team and launching a successful 2019 season,” wrote Paulo Senra, OverActive Media’s vice president of content and communications. “Neither the Toronto Defiant nor OverActive Media was involved with the decision to ask Toronto Esports to rebrand.”

Request for comment went unanswered from the OWL/Blizzard by this story’s time of publication.

When contacted, Pallett referred Sportsnet to the statement he issued to Kotaku.

In the aftermath of this strange incident, Chris “HuK” Loranger, the president of gaming for Uprising owners Kraft Group, took to Twitter to say that the Uprising do still own the Contenders team, but that Toronto Esports won’t be the brand operating it.

As for Pallett, he now intends to shift Toronto Esports’ focus to different games such as Fortnite or Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.

“We plan on entering new titles and continuing to compete in esports and help young players,” Pallett mentioned in his statement to Kotaku. “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.”

It’s a bittersweet ending for Pallett, who, at that bar just a mere two months before everything he had been working towards vanished, was enthusiastically breaking down the best ways to identify esports talent.

His passion, for the city of Toronto and Overwatch esports, is real. You can’t fault the guy for chasing after a dream.

“We’ve always been advocating for Toronto to have an Overwatch League team, whether we’d be involved or not,” Pallett said in September. “That’s what we’ve been working on and we feel that we would be very successful if we were able to run or aid a Toronto franchise.”

Sometimes your passions can only take you so far.

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