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Miracle on the Rift: Toronto Esports miraculous run into the NACS open qualifier finals

Counter Logic Gaming. Echo Fox. Toronto Esports. One of those seems like an odd name out, but after an implausible run deep into the League of Legends North American Challenger Series (NACS) open qualifier late last year, the relatively new Toronto Esports is putting in work to solidify their name as a top-tier organization.

With a stacked roster of pros including Hexo and Guilte playing and winning tournaments every month on the main Overwatch team, Toronto Esports has an eye for talent. Although the Blizzard shooter is a main focus, League of Legends (LoL) has to be on the radar for any organization – it is the biggest game in the world after all. There is also widespread Canadian talent in the professional LoL scene, especially from this city. Team SoloMid starters Biofrost and Wildturtle are both from Toronto. Expanding into other games seems like a natural way to develop the Toronto Esports brand; still though, it took a hail mary message from the University of Toronto’s (U of T) LoL team for a connection to take place.

The idea of regional esports representation is distinctive and incredibly interesting. Most esports are localized entirely to one or two cities, such as Santa Monica, California for North American LoL. City representation has huge market potential but lacks support.

Gabe “Invert” Zoltan-Johan loves the concept of city-esports relationships. He is the current analyst for the U of T LoL team, and the person that first reached out to Toronto Esports with a strong assertion.

“If you’re committed to this regional project,” wrote Invert. “Do you want to meet to talk about the best LoL team in Toronto?”

Invert wanted more avenues for his team to succeed, more tournaments to practice in and more support from a real organization. Toronto Esports did a bit of research and confirmed Invert’s braggadocio: this team was indeed the best in the city.

The U of T team comes off as mechanically talented albeit a bit raw. The squad competed in the uLoL collegiate tournament in 2016 and had a fantastic regular season, but was knocked out by crosstown rivals York University in the playoffs. Determined to find victory, the team formed again in 2017 but lost multiple starters. A newcomer was jungler Casey “YummiBananas” Woo. As this new 2017 squad adopted the Toronto Esports brand, Yummi was admittedly hesitant. “This was our first sponsor or pickup. We didn’t think we were worth it,” he said. “Anything would have been good for us because we were a small team.”

Those fears were laid to rest when they competed in their first tournament under the new representation. LAN WAR X took place in Oshawa, Ontario and Toronto Esports made quick work of it, winning outright and taking home $800. The prize was nice but it wasn’t the most important recognition of the night; the team now knew they were talented enough to not only represent their school, but also their city.

“What better way to represent Toronto then to wear that moniker of Toronto Esports?” Invert says, letting his city pride shine through. “Being that everyone is from this city and now a part of this organization, we’re showing what we can do.“ Yummi agrees. “There’s not enough professional esports in Canada,” he says. “I feel like playing for a city gives us a better image.”

After the LAN in Oshawa, the team wanted more of a challenge. Every year there are open qualifier tournaments in LoL, and the champions are invited to join the NACS, the league directly below the pros. Once you make it to the NACS, the League Championship Series (LCS) swings into view.

Toronto Esports registered for the qualifier with mixed hopes of what would happen. They wanted to win but at the same time gain experience against what essentially amounted to be professional teams, including CLG Black (Counter Logic Gaming’s challenger team) and Delta Fox (Echo Fox’s challenger team). These teams were a far cry from the low-tier players they matched up against in Oshawa; these were esports goliaths.

The team felt understandably hesitant on how they would fare heading into that December 2016 open qualifier. Invert remained confident though; even in the face of a potential CLG Black matchup in the second round.

“I have text message proof to the [Toronto Esports] owners when the brackets came out,” laughs Invert. “They told me ‘oh man you’re facing these guys?’ and I said ‘well I think we’re going to coast through.’”

Toronto Esports rolled through first round opponents CC Esports and moved on to play CLG Black. Invert kept the team motivated, knowing that Toronto Esports had beat four of the five team members already at Dreamhack Montreal earlier in 2016. At Dreamhack, Toronto Esports played as Flashpoint Air and CLG Black was Team Checkpoint. Toronto Esports knocked them into the losers bracket, and though CLG Black would claw back and win the whole thing, it was enough to instill confidence in the team for these open qualifiers.

When that first game against CLG Black came, Toronto stuck with comfort picks. It was a BO3 and CLG Black was predicted to not drop a single game, so Toronto didn’t have room to fool around with gimmicky strategies.

Right from the beginning, Toronto was dominant. Firing on all cylinders, Yummi showed his diversity as both a carry and a support jungler. In both victories against CLG Black, Yummi was involved in over 85% of the kills.

Invert sounds like a proud dad gushing over his son as he looks back on these second round matches, particularly game one where Yummi carried with Lee Sin. “It was a clinic. [CLG Black] had no idea what was going on,” says Invert. “Yummi was curving skill shots around everyone. It was literally a joy to watch.” CLG Black actually ended up trying to stop the bleeding and pick Lee Sin for themselves in game two.

“It worked well for us,” says Yummi. “When the second game came and they picked away Lee it gave me even more confidence to play better.”

The whole team played well leading up to the finals, with Yummi and teammate/ADC Terry “Erry” Park performing especially well. After breezing by squads ILYSB (Stripped) and Team Secret, Toronto Esports found themselves in the finals with a chance to become a challenger team in the Spring 2017 Split. The only thing in their way? Delta Fox, a team owned by Rick Fox with massive funding and resources.

“In the Delta Fox match, we all mutually agreed that our jungler and mid were skill-wise a lot worse than theirs,” admits Yummi. “Beating them? I’m not to sure, but we could have gone to game five.”

Though Toronto Esports came out firing, it wasn’t enough. Toronto fell in three straight grueling games. The games were tight, but Delta Fox controlled the map as their mid-laner Damonte played late-game carries and top laner Allorim brought out uber-tank Poppy all three games. As each game lasted on average more than 43 minutes, these scaling damage and tank team compositions were too much to overcome.
Invert was disappointed his team lost, but not because they played badly. “[LoL developers] Riot Games did a disservice by allowing the finals to happen on west coast servers,” Invert sighs. “Any skill balance was thrown off by an imbalance of the lag that each team had.”

It’s hard to argue that things would have been drastically different if the finals were played in a LAN setting with 0 ping, but the principle is important.

“You leave the players with a sense of what if. That’s really devastating,” says Invert. “Players come out of it thinking they missed out on an opportunity because of things that were out of their control.”

Yummi chimes in. “We were at a disadvantage because of the tournament servers. We believe that was a big problem to winning.”

Unfortunately, this lack of agency is not new to Invert. “It’s a tough situation, but any solution needs to start from the top,” he says. “Riot needs to take more control on whatever is under the Challenger Series.”

The miraculous run deep into the Challenger Series qualifiers from Toronto Esports was over. From decimating established organizations all the way to organizational problems in the finals, there was a lot to learn and take home from the tournament. After the qualifiers ended, Toronto Esports parted ways with this University of Toronto LoL team, but it’s hard to believe that at one point this squad of mostly first-year students were three wins away from becoming an entrenched part of the storied LoL professional league.

I feel identity, swiftly.

Three days before I left for the festival, I spent $228.77 on hats. The funny thing is that a cap was never intended to be typical casual wear, but mine usually costs more than the rest of my outfit combined. That's what you get when you shop at Winners or Costco for jeans and shirts, but Queen's Street boutiques for hats. This form of headwear has evolved into something beyond its means, from fad, to trend, to phenomenon.

As I carve through Shakedown Street around 9pm, I am bombarded by brims. Mauled by mesh backings. Logos flash by like a punch-drunk Times Square dream sequence. The Chicago Cubs, The Arizona Diamondbacks, the Boston Red Sox. I even spot hats spouting phony phallic companies or hilariously depressing taglines like "I have issues." There are so many different things on top of these people's heads. It seems like these hats don't even serve a purpose right now, as the sun has long been hidden behind the Ferris wheel in CenteRoo. Yet as I scurry past a samosa stand, trying to catch My Morning Jacket on the "Which? Stage" in twenty minutes, I see a group of three guys rocking the same logos on their baseball caps all standing together. They are reminiscent of a dilapidated billboard, with fragments of insignia and lettering spread haphazardly. They wear sweaters from well-known football colleges like Stanford or LSU, and NHL tees underneath. The only thing uniting them all is a Blue Jays logo on top. I had to stop walking and gaze at the sight, nearly spilling the beer of a shirtless man trailing close behind me. Jesus, Bonnaroo was packed this year. The guys in hats were about 30 feet away and smoking cheap cigarettes, the kind only young Canadians in America would smoke. I was always affected with a certain affinity towards headgear, but it seemed like everyone had a different purpose for it now. Our identities were reflected not upon our brains and personalities, but a little bit higher.

These kinds of caps first came into existence in 1860 for the purpose of identifying each unique baseball team within a newly born league. The caps also blocked out sunlight during high noon games. Today, it seems that both of these original uses have been tweaked slightly. Honus Wagner would be ashamed. Earlier, caps were floppier then the hard-brimmed versions we have today, and had much less, if any significance in the fashion world. As the models of hat evolved, the audience base grew. Media coverage of sports expanded with television and suddenly everyone had a chance to support a hometown team of some kind. Pro shops opened up in the stadiums of large cities, and a subculture was born within team allegiances. Popular musicians donned hometown headgear and began to "rep" their city, instantly making these hats trendy, especially for men. When Drake wears a Toronto Blue Jays cap in a music video, you can bet Torontonians will echo in unison "Did you see that?!" Baseball caps began to establish flair all on their own, reflected by the person beneath the cap. Designs went from simple one-colour polyester all the way up to snake-skin, with prices ranging from ten dollars to over a thousand. However, it seemed to be the logo on the front that mattered most, not the material or quality.

I will identify you based on this logo. I will extend my comfort zone based on this logo. I will talk to you based on this logo. I have made many new friends simply by seeing a familiar hat or shirt and making introductions based on these mutual interests. These mutual interests let me feel comfortable, and provide a diving off point for conversation. Logos are reminiscent of ice-breakers, minus the cheesy lines and buying the first drink.

I have seen My Morning Jacket before and knew that they would start with "Victory Dance" so I walk over to the group timidly. Immediately, before they say a word, I spout "Man, is Bautista going to crack 50 homers this season or what?" The group ponders and retorts, forming sheepish grins. Not one of them is shy, not one of them is closed off. My question about one baseball player's projected stats, stereotyped from the logo on their head, brought me closer to this group quicker than a shared near-death experience ever could. At this music festival, surrounded by 90,000 strangers, I feel identity swiftly. My trivial knowledge of sports specifics allows me spot familiars and connect with someone in any environment.

Kevin, wearing an all-black Jays hat and sloshing his beer around, is completely trashed already and hails from "Bramptown" or something like that. Kirk has a sweat stained original blue and white Jay's hat. He keeps urging us to get to Arcade Fire to secure a good spot, but they start in two hours. Finally, Brandon sports a yellow and neon green Jays hat, and has already let slip that he's on his fourth tab of acid. Four completely different people including me, and we all unite under one flag. Or maybe one hat.

I'm not a psychologist, but I know that we all feel vulnerable. Something that astonishes me is how easy it is to have a placebo effect on this vulnerability. Anything can help, from fashion to media and yes, sports. In this way, conformity is a virtue. I saw Kevin, Kirk, and Brandon all wearing hats that were familiar to me, and I felt secure trying my luck to become friends. A stupid, meaningless logo on a hat became a way to bypass my personal vulnerability. When John F. Kennedy said "Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth," I don't think he was wearing a baseball hat.

Even the colour of a hat helps define persona. Jet black means dull, possibly with a trace of darkness. There could be something intimidating hiding underneath that brim. Wearing the original colours offer two varying explanations. One is the hardcore fan, unwilling to deviate from the true representation of the team. Another is the person who knows nothing about the team, and is just wearing the hat to rid them of the guilt they possess for hating any gift they receive from their senile grandfather. Then comes the standout colours - pretty much anything neon or bright. These hats are harder to find, and signify those who want to stand out in a crowd, but at the same time not stray too far from that comfortable mass mentality. Or the colours could be pretty cool to look at when hallucinating, I don't really know.

As I walked with Kevin, Kirk, and Brandon towards the opening bass riff of "Victory Dance", we discussed baseball stats, DJs spinning later that night, and the fajitas at Sneaky Dees. A woman beside us was playing drums on garbage cans and pots, creating a rhythm that seemed in sync with our steps. She was taking something old and forgotten, and giving it a new identity, while simultaneously defining herself by her actions.

As we neared the stage, the smell of samosas and cigarettes still in the air, Kirk pointed upwards above my eyes and asked, "Where'd you get that sick Pirates hat, man?"

November

The music pulsed and the voices were loud next door, naturally calling our names. We debated about the decision to go, but after one "screw you" it turned into nonsensical ranting and personal attacks quickly, so a joint was rolled. Jeff sat and began chopping up weed on a cheap IKEA table, and assembled the joint with foreman-like precision, demanding perfection. The lighter with a missing child safety crackled and burnt the extra paper before catching and sparking the small stick, which slowly circled the room. It began to smell like Grade 10. Not one word was said between us, save for a few laughs, and the ember made its way from mouth to mouth. Smoke billowed, and ensured level heads prevailed. We sat and lingered in the smoke for a bit as it filled each corner of the room, while re-runs of Sportsentre flashed on the TV.

Jeff rose from the torn blue couch after careful meditation and knocked over two beer bottles in the process. He pointed and yelled to Oscar, "fuckin' bottles of Moosehead everywhere, O.G. clean this shit up! And while you're at it, pick up your apple core from three days ago too." Alex is another housemate of mine, and was in the midst of finishing his fifth beer of the night. Picking himself up from the couch, he stumbled slightly and dragged himself to the kitchen. We followed earnestly, knowing what hid in the whitewashed room with basic pine cabinets. Burn marks on the stove and a littered countertop surrounded us as well, along with plates encrusted with six-day old meals. The amount of dishes piled up in the sink was enough for three families. Alex nodded towards the sink, "Maybe it's time for another cleaning? Nah." He smirked. Alex threw the freezer open and a slight fog plumed out, along with an empty ice-cube tray that fell from a shelf. Inside was our saviour for the night. A frosted bottle of 136 proof Jamaican rum, with enough inside to knock four fully grown men on their ass.

We crashed through the front door. The twenty second walk to the house is made bearable by half rum and half cola mix drinks clinking with ice in highball glasses. November outside just means the ice in our drinks doesn't melt.

My hands were cold from the glass, so the doorknob to the house being warm was a surprise. I kept my shoes on to not risk losing them in the sea of hundreds. Running shoes, flats, cowboy boots, skateboard shoes. Rich shoes and poor shoes. I moved away from Oscar and Kevin, both already in motion. I break loose just as I hear Alex impress a girl by mentioning he is on a first name basis with the LCBO cashier.

Typical banter from typical people accosted me as I cut through the bunches, and all I could hear was talk about university majors or "how drunk I am." I approached a table surrounded by colourfully clothed people playing beer pong and almost falling down. I snatched the ping-pong ball from the guy playing immediately. His girlfriend turned and seemed appalled, but too shy to say something. I shot the ball into a full cup of beer, which prompts you to chug the contents. He conceded and finished the beer left in the cup with one swift rise to his lips. More drunk and ready to party, he mumbled "g'game bro" and turned in search of more drink to spill on his shirt. As he introduced himself through the crowd all the way to the stairs, I made eye contact with the only reason I ventured across the street and up the stoop in the first place. Her name is Sarah, and she had dark hair that matched perfectly with the black dress she had on. We approached each other and the tension was thick. It seemed like a movie, with one of us waiting to deliver the perfect line. Sarah spoke softly, "Do you remember first year?" There were no words for thirty seconds after, only the sounds of the newest release from the hottest European DJ emanating from the blinking sound system in the corner. The bass rattled and I could almost hear both of us breathing in sync, her eyes lost in mine and my thoughts processing the situation. Gears churned inside my head, and scholars searched for the right thing to say. I opened my mouth to ask her something but my body just stuck out my hand and grabbed hers by her side. It was soft and she squeezed back faintly. I leaned in close, near enough to smell her perfume, and whispered, "follow me." We hurried out the back door and into the crisp November air.

What your name means to me

Your name can mean a lot to me sometimes. It influences what I think about you and how I perceive you. If I had a bad run in with someone of a certain name, or even exact spelling of that name, (Kaitie vs. Katy, anyone?) chances are there will be some bias. This also applies with joyous occasions and thoughts linked to names. Although (like life, or at least the pessimist life) the joys are too few and far between.

I’m going to use some real life examples here and I hope they don’t care too much. I have met some Chevonnes before, and I didn’t really care too much about it. But when I meet another Siobhan, well they might be pretty unlucky to have stumbled across me. I have had some, um, experiences with a Siobhan in the past, some good, and some horrible. If i meet another (which I have since then) I immediately think back and my judgement becomes clouded for some reason. Even if they are super nice and affable, there is something in my brain firing that makes me do constant double takes. It’s like the only thing they share is a name but it goes deeper. The same goes for Fiona and Paul, my parent’s name. Any other Fiona/Paul I meet (only one so far) immediately jumps up in my books. I admire them and want to get to know them, because inherently I feel as though they are a kind-hearted soul who will nurture my development. This is, of course, laughable to think.

Some people might just say “oh well you’re just make stupid accusations of character and attributing one personality to another,” but I think it goes down deeper. I honestly don’t know what would happen if another girl came into my life with the same name as one who has messed with my feelings, so to speak. We all have those odd attachments to certain names, which pins the new person in a corner. Imagine the longest relationship you have had, breaking it up, then meeting another love interest with the exact same name, weeks later. There is something beyond petty “trait attribution” at play. It digs deeper into our conscious.

Or maybe it doesn’t. Maybe I just really fucking hate some names.