NOW reports on gaming in Toronto; Defiant inks new sponsorship deal


Left: NOW Toronto cover illustration by Lance Inkwell and Studio MDHR. Right: Toronto Defiant logo.

The current issue of our sister publication NOW focuses on the video-game scene in Toronto. Richard Trapunski writes about the topic from several angles, including a feature on the runaway success of Cuphead. The issue also includes a list of the top 10 games created in Toronto.

The article of most interest to readers of this site, however, is Trapunski’s look at the city’s competitive-gaming scene. Thanks in large part to the COVID-19 pandemic, that scene got a major boost this past weekend. With the cancellation of all the live musical events that usually make up the bulk of the action at NXNE, the festival turned its focus to gaming. NXNE’s Game Land presented Valorant, League of Legends, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate tournaments.

The coronavirus has impacted gaming in more ways than one. As Trapunski writes, “The pandemic has opened a new audience to competitive gaming.”

Traditional sports fans dabbled in ESports while the major leagues were on pause. Casual gamers rediscovered their consoles and live platforms like Twitch have skyrocketed in streams. 

Of all sectors that pivoted online, gaming is the most natural. Most of the action happens there anyway, while the community congregates on online message boards and chats. 

Toronto’s pros

The NOW article introduces readers to the city’s professional ESports organizations, including its NBA2K roster and its teams in the Call of Duty and Overwatch leagues.

Toronto’s franchise in the NBA2K league, Raptors Uprising, is officially affiliated with the Toronto Raptors and owned by the same company, Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment (MLSE), which also owns the Maple Leafs and Toronto FC. Like the players on those teams, few of the ESports players actually hail from Toronto. The team, undefeated and playoff-bound, don’t play as real-life NBA counterparts but rather a roster of custom-made players. Major League Soccer has a pro ESports league too, eMLS, with Toronto FC represented in solo play by Philip “PhilB94” Balke, who’s sometimes billed as “Canada’s best FIFA player.” 

First-person shooters Call Of Duty and Overwatch have two of the biggest and most popular esports leagues in the world. Maintained by the game developers, the leagues are billion-dollar enterprises that got a big boost during the pandemic.

Toronto Ultra and Toronto Defiant, the city’s pro teams in the respective leagues, are becoming entrenched in the city’s entertainment and pro-sports infrastructure. The owner of both teams, OverActive Media, is loaded with MLSE alumni, along with part owners Abel Tesfaye (aka Scarborough-born pop icon the Weeknd) and young Leafs’ hockey star Mitch Marner. Though both teams kept playing online during the pandemic, they’ll soon have a brick-and-mortar home at a new 7,000-10,000 seat arena OverActive is building near the CNE.

For his story, Trapunski interviewed Marissa Roberto host of TSN’s Digital SportsCentre. Alongside yours truly, Roberto also appeared on an episode of the NOW What podcast. Check that out below:

Defiant makes bank

Meanwhile, in other T.O. news, the city’s Overwatch League franchise today announced a new sponsorship agreement with TD Bank Group. This makes TD the official bank of the Toronto Defiant.

According to an August 17 press release, the sponsorship deal includes “a new community-focused fan profile series, title sponsorship of an online amateur Overwatch tournament this fall, and the presenting sponsorship of Toronto Defiant’s upcoming Fan Appreciation Weekend”. 

The latter takes place August 20 to 23. It includes a virtual watch party for the Toronto Defiant vs. Dallas Fuel match, a community arcade tournament, and other online events.

I have done a lot of different things over the course of my life and professional career. I have interviewed Oscar and Grammy winners and written cover stories for glossy newsstand magazines. I have played guitar in a rock band on national TV and run an independent music label for which I wrote all of the PR and marketing materials. In my spare time, I sweated out a novel about a world where raccoons are kings and dragons are real.

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