Pro Overwatch event at TMU was ‘all about validation’

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By Ilyas Hussein

It’s the first week of the fall semester. Hopping off the subway at College Station and heading to the Mattamy Athletic Centre (MAC), the expectation is to see the various Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) athletic teams preparing for their upcoming seasons. Instead, there’s a different type of atmosphere in the sports complex formerly known as Maple Leaf Gardens. 

At the front of the building, the walls were covered in large banners showcasing characters from the popular game Overwatch, rather than the usual banner of TMU’s women’s basketball team. Players were roaming the facility, but they weren’t tradtional athletes—they were there to play video games. The hockey rink was the most packed it’s been since the pandemic and full of cheers. Everyone was there to watch video games.

Hundreds of people flooded the university’s sports complex for the Overwatch League’s (OWL) Summer Showdown event hosted by the Toronto Defiant and OverActive Media. 

Toronto Defiant Overwatch players walk towards the stage in between the stands full of fans
Photo: Stephen Kazumi

The tournament was structured in a double-elimination format with the eight teams that qualified for the event, many coming from outside of Canada to attend. Participants included the Washington Justice, Dallas Fuel, London Spitfire, Vancouver Titans, San Francisco Shock, Florida Mayhem and the Houston Outlaws. 

Over the course of the four day event, a large number of fans, including many TMU students, gathered at the MAC to watch professional Overwatch players compete against each other at the highest level of their profession. 

I was really nervous for the matches, but when I was high-fiving the fans during the walkout, one person hit my hand so hard that it woke me up and relaxed me”

The main stage was laid out on top of the ice hockey rink with fans seated in the lower bowl and on top of the covered ice. Lights could be seen flashing across the stage and crowd, emanating from the large screen suspended above the players, showcasing their gameplay. The commentators’ voices could be heard blaring through the overhead speakers. 

Photo: Stephen Kazumi

“This event has been absolutely amazing. This is my first ever live esports event and the vibes are unreal—it’s so hype,” said Xavier Oshinowo, a third-year media production student and member of TMU’s Overwatch team. 

Throughout each day, there was a cool draft coming from the ice beneath the seats as the players set up on stage. Despite the chilly temperature, fans were remarkably passionate about the matches. It seemed as if nobody noticed the cold air. 

They were especially emphatic when the Defiant came to play. The hometown team had a different entrance compared to the other squads, walking through the crowd and up to the stage. Other teams would emerge from behind the stage itself. 

When it was Defiant’s time to enter, every fan in the building stood up and gave out raucous cheers. 

Fans were chanting for each of the players as well as rooting for the team with “Let’s go Defiant” chants throughout the tournament.  

“I was really nervous for the matches, but when I was high-fiving the fans during the walkout, one person hit my hand so hard that it woke me up and relaxed me,” said Hyeonwook ‘Although’ Jung, who plays offensive output characters, otherwise known as a damage-per-second (DPS) player, for the Defiant.

Following a disappointing loss on the previous day against lone European club, the London Spitfire, the fourth-seeded hosts used their hometown advantage as motivation. In their next match, they secured the win against the seventh-seeded Washington Justice—their first win at a major event this year.

“Literally everyone was out of their seats cheering us on, which was quite a scene to see,” said Huisu ‘Heesu’ Jeong, a DPS player for the Defiant. 

“I’m just really appreciative of all the support from the fans.”

Photo: Stephen Kazumi

Toronto went on to win its following two matches against the Houston Outlaws and Florida Mayhem to ensure a top-three finish at the event. The crowd began to look more full for each Defiant match as they advanced through the gruelling lower-bracket. 

The Defiant swept the favoured Outlaws in a win considered to be an upset in the Overwatch community. However, their following match against the Mayhem, in the losers bracket semi-final, was played extremely close, going the distance in a best-of-five series.

 It seemed as if the pieces of the puzzle finally came together for the Defiant. Other teams could be heard chatting around the arena about how they had looked like the best team in practice, but were never able to perform well on stage until this event. 

“It felt as if our careers could be on the line if we didn’t win today,” said Heesu after their win against the Justice. 

“People have had many doubts about Esports at the school for a long time”

Nonetheless, their Cinderella run came to a halt against the heavily-favoured San Francisco Shock in the lower-bracket final on the last day of the event. 

The Summer Showdown played a massive role in bringing people from TMU together. Over the course of the pandemic, the esports community at TMU has grown exponentially. 

Rostered players in respective titles grew to almost one hundred people within the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, according to former TMU Esports president Liam Parmar, in an article written for TorontoMet Today back in March 2021. 

“It felt as if our careers could be on the line if we didn’t win today”

Many members involved in TMU Esports attended the event to support the growth of gaming at the university. This was the first live esports event for a great number of people. It was also the first time some members of the university’s competitive club team met each other in person—an opportunity they may not have had without the tournament. 

“Being able to come to an event like this at your university and be surrounded by like-minded people can remind members of the community that you’re not alone in liking video games here at TMU,” said Zachary Shami, a second-year mechanical engineering student and Twitch streamer. 

The Creative School has also recently launched the Red Bull Gaming Hub, a gaming facility with dozens of computers for the respective esports teams to practice and play on.  

“This is all about validation,” said Benson Lam, a fourth-year media production student and president of TMU’s Esports club. “People have had many doubts about esports at the school for a long time and things like this show that esports is a real industry.” 

For many, the integration of—and investment in—esports at TMU is especially important. They say they’re glad to see the university taking more initiative. 

“This is something we needed to do for a long time and I’m glad we’re doing it now because if you put your stocks into esports when it’s early, eventually you’ll see the payout,” said Oshinowo. 

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