In some ways, the Boston Uprising hold a certain position of power within the Overwatch League. They were the first team to buy into the League, and they have the backing of the Kraft Group. It’s admittedly odd to look at the owners of the New England Patriots and Revolution and look at them as an underdog, but this is esports.
The Uprising seem well aware that they’re in a whole new territory, and they’re balancing their rich background in running a team with approaching a new set of challenges. I spoke with Chris “HuK” Loranger, the Uprising’s President of Gaming and Jen Ferron, their Chief Marketing Officer, to get an accurate picture of both sides of the Uprising and how they’ve come together to prepare for the upcoming inaugural season of the Overwatch League.
The Uprising are an interesting team because they almost seem like a union of two independent arms. On one hand, you have the Kraft group, who saw the Overwatch League as an opportunity to strike new ground. Ferron explains: “We like to be cutting edge, we like to be on the forefront of new business opportunities.” The Kraft Group gravitated towards the Overwatch League because of Activision-Blizzard offering “very strong leadership and structure”. Ferron says that the Kraft Group wanted to form a long-term, sustainable foundation, and Activision-Blizzard convinced them this was possible. “The right support was going to be there to sustain this league and game for many years to come.”
There was just one, obvious problem: The Kraft Group didn’t necessarily have that esports background necessary for such an ambitious goal. Enter HuK, someone known for his pro gaming career in Starcraft 2. HuK’s pro career allowed him to transition into multiple roles, both on camera and behind the scenes, ranging from casting to consulting. The Kraft Group reached out to him, and he agreed to come on board.
As to why he chose to do so, the answer is simple. “First and foremost, the big priority from my point of view is they see the long term view of what esports is and what it can be. They take a long term approach, and invest in people. They put a lot of value and responsibility in the people that they hire.”
The end result, according to HuK, is an Overwatch team that feels like a family, not a business. HuK is aware that many people will look at the Uprising and think of them as big money business, but he hasn’t earned that impression at all. “In today’s time and age, a lot of corporations get a negative picture publicly.” he says. “The Kraft Group would be the opposite of that. Maybe because they’re a private company, maybe because they’re family oriented, but they take care of their own people.”
With the behind the scenes team put into place and the investment made, it was time to build a brand.
Ferron is admittedly not as accomplished in the esports space as HuK, but she comes to life over the phone when I ask her about Boston. “One of the things that was really exciting for us is that because this is a city based team we were going to be using the name Boston as opposed to New England, so this gave us the opportunity to hone in on what Boston is known for.” she says.
As for what that reputation is, she mentioned education, biotech, and medicine before getting to the meat of what the Uprising means. “Dating back to the 1600s Boston has been a community that has battled and has had to fight for what they’ve gotten, had to protect their territory.”
Uprising fits right in with Kraft Group teams like the Patriots and Revolution, but the goal is to create something futuristic. Uprising is less rooted in history, but captures the same spirit. It fits right in with Overwatch, but still evokes Boston. The Uprising has a global team, but Ferron says the team is excited to introduce the players who have yet to explore the city to Boston and its culture and history.
HuK, on the other hand, was more interested in claiming the streets of Route 66 and King’s Row. “My job was to pick a winning team, but do it intelligently. Pick players who work intelligently together, pick players who can be coachable.” he says. In the end, the Boston Uprising will debut with the following roster:
Jonathan “DreamKazper” Sanchez (DPS)
Stanislav “Mistakes” Danilov (DPS)
Kwon “Striker” Nam-Joo (DPS)
Shin “Kalios” Woo-yeol (Tank)
Noh “Gamsu” Yeong-jin (Tank)
Lucas “NotE” Meissner (Tank)
Kristian “Kellex” Keller (Support)
Mikias “Snow” Yohannes (Support)
HuK explains why he put this roster together. “With franchising, and the level of professionalism that can come with franchising, we wanted more investment on the staff side.”
The Uprising will have a coaching staff from around the world: a head coach from Korea, assistant coaches from Tahiti and New England, with Australian and Canadian supporting staff. These members of the team will be the ones working with the players and coaching them to win.
This means that when it came to a roster, HuK looked for coachability over sheer skill. “At the end of the day, we were looking for players who were just good people.” he says, citing humility, intelligence, and hunger to win as the key traits he looked for.
Speaking to HuK and Ferron in the space of a week is fascinating, because it displays the duality of the Uprising. Ferron represents the infrastructure backing the team. She’s quietly passionate about the scene, often answering my questions and then immediately going into more depth about the team and their plans.
When I ask her about the non-traditional esports markets entering Overwatch, including women, Ferron gives me the most in-depth answer I’ve heard from an Overwatch League team yet. “One of the things thats so unique about Overwatch is the inclusivity and the diversity that the game itself represents. That’s one of the things that makes it feel different than some of the traditional esports or first person shooters.”
Ferron’s passion for these changes—and the female fans who got into the game as an result—is evident from the way she speaks. “There are females represented, who are powerful and strong and great leaders. The women fan base is finding that appealing and powerful, especially a younger demographic, it’s resonating more and more with societal values. We’re going to do a lot to reach a broad audience and a broad fan base and women are going to be a critical part of that.”
While the Uprising isn’t ready to unveil all of their plans yet, there’s clearly a good deal of work going on behind the scenes. Ferron mentioned that the Uprising has lots of social media experiments left up their sleeve yet, and mentioned that fans enjoyed the Twitter spars between Boston and New York. In the future, there will be different opportunities to meet the team and connect with the roster in person.
With day one of the preseason rapidly approaching and the Overwatch League debuting in 2018, the Uprising don’t seem intimidated by their reputation as one of the weaker teams. If anything, they relish in the low expectations. After all, they’re playing the long game. When I ask HuK what makes the Uprising a team to cheer for, his answer is simple but effective:
“We’re the underdogs - we’re the team that people are counting out. Everyone loves a great underdog story. Everybody likes things like Remember the Titans. I think we are that team. I think being part of that process, and being a fan of that team on day one when everyone else is counting them out will mean a lot.”