esports, Gaming, Travel, Video Games

Recapping my OWL 2020 Season

My first full season in the Overwatch League has come to an end, and I can’t succinctly sum it up. The season was disappointing in many ways. We didn’t travel the world. We didn’t host homestands. We didn’t hear roaring crowds every weekend or meet scores of fans. We didn’t win many games.

I say “we” as if I have anything to do with the team’s match performance. I don’t. But I do feel closely tied to our players’ successes and failures. Many of my duties fluctuate directly based on matches. I’ve learned to always hope for the best and prepare for the worst. Any outcome is possible. When the team wins, it’s a wave to ride. When the team loses, the internet becomes a minefield to carefully navigate.

I won’t lie: This job is stressful. There were days when I couldn’t wait to log off to escape the torches and pitchforks. Transitioning to a remote environment destroyed our workflow. There were days I stressed about what would happen when our content reserves ran out or if players would be unwilling to appear on camera after tough losses. The weight of discussing the racial equity movement rocking our nation — a topic I take very seriously — brought me to tears this summer. I could twist it to sound nightmarish, but I won’t.

Despite working for statistically the worst-performing team in the league, I absolutely love my job. 2020 has been tough, but I’m already looking forward to 2021. I want to travel with this team, even with all the long hours and sleepless flights it’ll entail. I want to continue grinding to win over fans in any way I can. I want to inspire more Reddit comments that say “the Uprising socials are actually pretty good.” I want to use our platforms to inspire change in divisive times. I want to bring smiles to faces. I want to earn respect for everyone in this organization who puts their hearts into this work each day.

This is going to be a long post, so buckle in.

Early this year, everything fell into place. We put the finishing touches on our graphics overhaul, which I’m immensely satisfied with. We bolstered our content crew to capture all the unique moments global competition would offer. We introduced our fanbase to a new roster of popular T2 players and unknown hidden gems. Players from around the world moved into a beautiful team house and comprehensive practice facility where we saw them almost daily. We bore down on homestand details to craft high quality events. I was optimistic and excited for the season.

The Homestands
Opening weekend in New York City showed exactly what geolocated esports can be at its best. The New York Excelsior put on a fantastic slate of events leading up to and including their homestand, and the fans showed out in droves.

In esports, it often feels we’re trying too hard to make people care about something that just isn’t there yet. But the NYXL homestand didn’t feel like an attempt to legitimize esports. It felt real. Chalk part of it up to a great vision for the event. Chalk part of it up to rabid NYXL fans. Chalk part of it up to the hype of opening weekend. That homestand felt surreal, and I crave more.

After a bye weekend back in Boston, we continued to Washington D.C. to pick up our first win in a match that will live on in infamy. I firmly believe our world-first seven-map, double-draw “El Clasico” is a top five match in OWL history. Name five more entertaining matches. You can’t.

I’ll never forget the nervousness of waiting backstage for the cheers that would signal either our victory or defeat after nearly three hours of battle. The combination of relief and exasperation from the players was palpable afterward, and the excitement of promoting a victory made me optimistic for what the season could hold.

Houston’s homestand banked on a “yeehaw” vibe and was our shortest trip of the month, offering us little time to rest. But between the delicious breakfast tacos and Texas BBQ, I found enough to enjoy. D.C.’s second homestand was rough, with back-to-back losses hitting the team hard. Equally worrying, the crowd was nearly nonexistent, maybe a third of what the same venue hosted two weeks prior. Part of me thinks fans may not want to attend such frequent matches, but part of me is assured they stayed home only for their safety.

Less than a week later, travel ended. Homestands were cancelled for two months, then later nixed entirely. That was a crushing blow for me; it felt awful to have all our preparations erased. I hope we can show everyone what we’re capable of in 2021.

Online Play and Remote Work
The shift to remote work and online matches happened suddenly. There have been many hiccups along the way, with teams relocating, schedules changing, and a persistent sense of uncertainty. Throughout the year, important information has come in a drip feed: not much, and not quickly enough. Although it frustrates me, I can’t blame anyone within or outside the OWL. We’re all making it up as we go along. While the season has been wacky, I respect those with jobs far tougher than mine who ensured we could even continue competing in the first place.

At a team level, things got chaotic. Players and coaches departed. New faces arrived. There was a span of several months when the content team couldn’t see the players. I didn’t meet Punk and mikeyy until August. Stay at home orders forced us to think fast, pivot to webcam footage and develop new content that could be filmed from home. I think we’ve done a fantastic job.

No more match day photos? I’ll be the only person posting weekly screenshots for his team. Can’t go backstage? No worries, we’ll be the only team to give weekly peeks at halftime discussions and in-game comms from home. Can’t interview OWL players and staff at homestands for Spilling the Tea? We’ll film via Discord and publish more one-on-one video interviews than OWL itself. Can’t convince the players to record TikToks? We’ll do it ourselves and amass more followers, views and likes than every other OWL team on TikTok combined. 

I’m beyond proud of how we’ve adapted as a content team, and I don’t think we get enough credit for the content we create. I firmly believe we put out more high quality work than a slew of teams but are overlooked because we don’t win many games. Maybe it’s cocky to say we’re underrated, but I’m damn proud of what we’ve done despite the awful hand we were dealt this season.

OWL fans don’t realize how difficult remote work is for teams. Take, for example, the laughable Photoshops when the Vancouver Titans announced their new roster. I bet the players sent photos taken on their parents’ phones, leaving Vancouver to take what they could get from an ocean away. It’s impossible to control the quality of content when you can’t capture it yourself.

While it’s easy to lament the loss of homestands and focus on the negatives of online play, I learned many valuable lessons through the quick pivot to remote work. I’m better at thinking on my feet, finding solutions and innovating than I was a few months ago. On a lighter note, I’ve also learned that being in the office five days a week is overrated. I’d totally be in favor of a hybrid workweek with Tuesday and Thursday at home. Let’s make it happen, America.

Activism and Awareness
I’ve grown a lot as a person since joining the Uprising. Part of that means I’ve tuned in to topics important to our community, whether or not they directly impact me. I hope our programming for Pride Month helped people find resources that could help them or at least feel a little more loved and appreciated. I hope that when we discuss mental health and suicide prevention this September it’s helpful to at least one person out there. And I hope we can make up for how the organization’s Black Lives Matter statement was perceived by the community.

As I mentioned previously, that night brought me to tears. Since then, we’ve used our platforms to celebrate and teach about Juneteenth and to call for justice for Jacob Blake. The Kraft Group also has worked to make its stance clear, committing $1 million to social justice initiatives, creating content on the struggles Black Americans face and compiling resources for the public. Personally, I’ve also donated to the Columbus Freedom Fund, ACLU and Boston Uncornered. I will continue to donate alongside the Kraft Group. Moving forward, I hope we can prove that we’re not treating this movement as a social media fad and that we will continue to advocate for what’s right.

Our Staff
I cannot stress enough how grateful I am to work with the people here. Everyone on the content team brings unique skills and perspectives to the table, ensuring we can create a wide variety of content. I never have to worry about anything being late or subpar; I legitimately love our team and wish we could’ve been fully unleashed at homestands.

Obviously this year has been taxing in many ways, and our supervisor has been fully understanding of issues that affect us inside and outside work. She helped us adapt to travel, walked us through best practices and has been exceptionally accommodating over these tumultuous months. Whether that means accepting when we can’t access players or when we simply need to take a break from the internet, our supervisor has been a phenomenal support this season.

On the team side, it’s clear that our players and staff put their all into the season. Though I won’t mention every player, I will name some. Fusions has worked hard since the end of the 2019 season to develop as a player, teammate, leader and person. His effort is clear to me, and I’m sad for him that the team’s results don’t reflect it. His comms are cleaner (to me, anyway), his mentality is stronger, and he’s a content collector’s dream outside of the matches.

Team manager Seowulf has been our lifeline during the past few months, helping us collect content during quarantine. Without him, so many pieces from TikToks to Sights & Sounds would not have been possible. I owe him a steak dinner when this is all over, because it’s remarkable how much he’s helped the content team despite his countless other responsibilities.

And for all the flak he gets online, I can assure you that Mineral takes his job very seriously. Every fiber of his being is fully invested during matches — just watch this season’s in-person episodes of Sights & Sounds. I’ve literally never seen a person more devoted to their craft than Mineral. He wants to succeed, he wants the best for his players, and he works tirelessly to that end. Clearly, this season hasn’t panned out, and I can tell that it weighs on him. My heart breaks for him, because I know he puts in incredible effort for every match. From the organizational failures at the Florida Mayhem to a 2-19 regular season with the Uprising, he has dealt with some of the toughest situations in all of OWL. I admire him greatly for his composure through it all. He’s always been a delightful, intelligent individual to work with, and I’ve enjoyed the conversations I’ve had with him this season.

I think the fact that we released He Who Shall Not Be Named on my birthday serves as a microcosm of the kind of season it was. It may be the unluckiest season in OWL history, with a contract termination, injury, multiple retirements and visa issues that we could never have prepared for. We won three matches. But I’m completely at peace with that. I think this season has taught me more than any winning season could. It’s made me stronger, and I think I’m more prepared for success now than ever. I believe that as people, we must go through tough times to fully appreciate the good. I will never take a win for granted, and I will do my best to run with every opportunity I get.

But winning isn’t everything, and I’m more than satisfied with my personal and professional growth this season. Although I’ll always wish we could have had a full season of travel, I still have plenty of memories to reminisce upon. I’ve worked with people I admire greatly. I reunited with old friends in New York and D.C. I experienced the thrill of “El Clasico.” I designed a cosmetic that is now a part of Overwatch, which I still cannot wrap my mind around. I watched people cheer for our players and have been constantly reminded why we do what we do: to entertain and brighten lives.

Every day I work for the Uprising is a day I am blessed. If next season brings success, I’ll be ready. If it brings another 20th place finish, I’ll be ready. Either way, I’m proud to be a member of this organization and will do my best to make fans proud as well.

Here’s to a bigger and better 2021.


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