There was a spot of drama on the Toronto esports scene earlier this week when the Toronto Esports Club, which made a deal in February to form an Overwatch Contenders team for the Boston Upgrising of the Overwatch League, announced very suddenly (and unhappily) that it will be pulling out of Overwatch competition immediately. The organization said the decision was made after Blizzard told it to drop the "Toronto" name from its brand, because the new Toronto Defiant Overwatch League team has "exclusive naming rights" in the city.
Toronto Esports appeared to want to keep things light and friendly with the Defiant after the team was announced, or were at least willing to capitalize on the presence of the big league team to boost its own profile. In October, the Club challenged it to a seven-game "showmatch" to determine the city's best Overwatch team, a stunt the Defiant ignored, leading to predictable trash-talk—nothing nasty, just the sort of bravado-borne "cluck cluck" noises you'd expect from someone trying to goad a highi-profile rival into a low-stakes competition.
The tone changed very suddenly on the evening of November 12:
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 reason cited: @TorontoDefiant have purchased “exclusive naming rights”. We will be leaving Overwatch effective immediately. Good riddance.November 13, 2018
We have asked Blizzard to fully confirm that this is their stance. We aren’t holding our breaths. We also feel they are displaying incompetence in developing a proper tier 2 talent development ecosystem.November 13, 2018
The club said in response to criticism of its tweets that it will "take care of our players," and that "leaving Overwatch does not mean abandoning our fans or staff." It also mused about the possibility of forming a Fortnite or CSGO team, saying that "they understand esports."
Ryan Pallett, the president of the Toronto Esports Club, told Kotaku that the organization had been "loyal" to Blizzard and Overwatch up to that point, helping it scout and develop players prior to the launch of the Overwatch League, and that it expected some support in return.
"We felt that given this, in the very least [we] 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," Pallett said.
"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 [Boston Uprising owner] 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."
Despite those warm words of camaraderie, Loranger, the president of gaming at the Kraft Group, said that the decision of the Toronto Esports Club to pull out of Overwatch and its Contenders team caught him and the Uprising completely by surprise.
"I do not have the ability at the moment to address the recent or current decision out of @TOesports and we were not part of the decision at all. That being said we retain ownership of all the player and staff contracts and ownership over the contenders slot," he said on Twitter. "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."
So at least it sounds like the players will be taken care of, then—just not by the Toronto Esports Club. I've emailed the club and the Overwatch League for comment, and will update if I receive a reply from either.