TORONTO — The NHL and NBA will share the many screens at Real Sports Bar and Grill with esports on Feb. 15 when the Toronto Defiant play their opening game in the Overwatch League.
OverActive Media, which owns the esports franchise, is holding a viewing party at the giant sports bar adjacent to Scotiabank Centre for the Defiant’s kickoff against the Houston Outlaws.
The Toronto Maple Leafs and Raptors are both off that night.
“I think there’s something hugely poetic to the idea of having our first fan viewing party inside of Real Sports,” said OverActive Media CEO Chris Overholt. “It’s just such a great venue for all sports … I’m really excited for us, excited for our fans.”
The Vancouver Titans, the other Canadian expansion franchise, open Feb. 16 against the Shanghai Dragons.
“Overwatch,” a team-based, first-person shooter (a genre centred around weapon-based combat), has spawned a blue-chip league about to start its second season.
Twenty franchises are active in 2019, up from 12 in 2018 when the London Spitfire won the league championship — and US$1 million — in July, defeating Philadelphia 3-0 at a soldout Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
The other new franchises are Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and Paris and China’s Chengdu, Guangzhou and Hangzhou.
Toronto will join the Atlantic Division with Vancouver in the Pacific.
As with Season 1, most games will take place at Blizzard Arena in suburban Los Angeles. But the league eventually hopes to stage games in franchise cities and is starting this season with three teams — the Dallas Fuel, Atlanta Reign and Los Angeles Valiant — hosting regular-season matches.
Atlanta will host matches on July 6-7, with Toronto among the teams slated to play. Vancouver will be involved in the Aug. 24-25 games hosted by Los Angeles.
Teams will play a 28-match season, down from 40 in 2018. The prize pool in 2019 season is US$5 million, up from $3.5 million in 2018.
The Defiant roster is all-Korean and the players all have nicknames: SeungHyun (Ivy) Lee, Kyeongmu (Yakpung) Cho, Dohyung (Stellar) Lee, Jae Yoon (Aid) Ko, JooSung (RoKy) Park, Jun-Sung (Asher) Choi, SeHyun (Neko) Park and Kang-Jae (Envy) Lee.
Neko, however, will miss the first three games of the season after being suspended for “selling an account and obstructing league office investigation.”
The Toronto franchise noted the infringement occurred before he joined the team. Overholt said he didn’t know much about the infraction other than the player had accepted responsibility and apologized.
While South Korean players dominate rosters, the league also has players from Canada, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Israel, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Sweden, Thailand and the U.S.
The Canadians under contract this year are Ottawa’s Christopher (Bani) Benell (Houston Outlaws), Brady (Agilities) Gerardi of Blairemore, Alta., (Los Angeles Valiant), Calgary’s Lane (Surefour) Roberts (Los Angeles Gladiators) and Lucas (NotE) Meissner of Barrie, Ont., (Boston Uprising).
Seven Canadians competed in the 2018 inaugural season.
The Toronto team trained in South Korea before moving to its season base in Los Angeles. But the players were in Toronto on the weekend, drawing several hundred fans at a downtown event.
“Our team was just blown away by it … They were over the moon,” said Overholt.
Jaesun (Jae) Won has been named general manager of the Defiant. Beoumjun (Bishop) Lee, formerly of the London Spitfire, is head coach with help from assistant coach Yun (Bubbly) Ho Cho, strategic coach Dongwook (Don) Kim and analyst Dennis (Barroi) Matz.
Overholt said team chemistry is already evident.
“They’re super-young, that’s for sure,” said Overholt. “I think our youngest on the team just turned 18 last week. But they really get along. They’re like family. They spend a lot of close-quarter time together but there’s great energy.”
The league is the brainchild of Overwatch developer Blizzard Entertainment, whose gaming portfolio also includes “World of Warcraft” and “StarCraft.” Blizzard says Overwatch has more than 40 million players.
All matches will be broadcast on OverwatchLeague.com, Twitch and MLG.