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Toronto Defiant’s Chris Overholt talks branding, fans, and the six

The Defiant wants to bring esports to the north-east

Bryan Luangmany | bluangmanyphotography.squarespace.com

Chris Overholt is the newest face leading up one of the Overwatch League expansion teams, the Toronto Defiant. The President and CEO of OverActive Media, Overholt previously served as the Canadian Olympic Committee CEO. It’s clear that he’s hands-on with the franchise, to the point where at one point during our interview he politely apologized to make and then sprinted off to handle something in person. Heroes Never Die had the opportunity for a one-on-one chat with Overholt during the Defiant reveal party in Toronto.

How’s the reception to the announcement so far?

I don’t know, what do you think?

I actually like it. I would have liked pink, but the red and black is good.

It’s funny you should say pink, because we actually looked at pink. We looked at pink and tan, but we didn’t really feel it was bold enough for Defiant.

Yeah, Defiant is a really great brand. You’re going with something that’s very Toronto vs the world, which I love. Who are you excited to face off against in Season 2?

That’s interesting. I’ve been asked that question a couple times and I really think the fans will tell us who our rival is. For me, Toronto is a world class city, so when I think of it in those terms I think of Los Angeles, and of course, New York, London. I think as far as global cities go, those will be natural rivals. But I think a lot of it will be born out of player interactions and story lines around the players and what the fans think. Who knows, we’ll see.

Bryan Luangmany | bluangmanyphotography.squarespace.com

After Season 1 we saw a lot with players dealing with issues like burnout, and struggling with the spotlight. I want to know what you think having watched all that. Coming into Season 2, you have that warning, but what’s your game plan?

Great question. I said to Marty and our Splyce team, who are going to run our team operation, I said: we’re going to run a professional organization. With the way we handle ourselves, the way we promote our brand, the way we go about things, we are going to be acknowledged as a professional esports company and we’re gonna carry ourselves that way.

And that really has to extend to the team operation as well and Marty said, ‘Yeah, 100 percent we want that too.’ So, it was really an easy alignment and then you just have to resource it, which means you need to hire great guys, like Jay and Bishop. And look at how those guys handle themselves! They’re in suits and ties, they’re coach and general manager. We’ve hired a couple assistant coaches a chef. We look out for our players. And there’s a lot that goes into that. There’s physical training, there’s mental training, and sometimes there just needs to be breaks.

When it comes to housing, are you guys using a team house model or something else?

I think so. I’m looking to the team to recommend our best solution. Again all of that goes to being sustainably competitive. As an owner, you wanna be in a place where you are presenting your team and your brand effectively and you want to win. And we want to win.

Speaking of that, you guys are coming in with a team that hasn’t had the experience of a team like the Valiant or New York. Tell me about your strategy as an expansion team going in.

That’s a better question for Jay and Bishop and they talked about it on-stage so I think you should talk to them about it.

But, one things for sure on that. I think we want a good mix of veteran and up and comer. We’ve got a pretty good eye for talent, and I’ve got a glimpse of the roster that you don’t have and I will convince to not really knowing anything except what those guys tell me. But I know what they’re doing and I believe in their strategy.

When it comes to who you’re working with, you guys are working with Splyce, a European organization. Can you talk a little about that decision?

Well, Splyce is based just outside of Rochester, which happens to be in our designated marketing area. So, they’re local like we are, is the way we like to think of it. They’re just down the road. In fact, I’m going to be there on Monday to visit with the entire team and a good number of them are here with us tonight. You know, we think a big part of why we won the franchise is because of the representation of Splyce, and I think our friends at the Overwatch League would say the same.

Bryan Luangmany | bluangmanyphotography.squarespace.com

What sparked your interest in being franchised in the Overwatch League?

We really liked the business model that goes along with this. The idea that you can own a franchise in this kind of League, with this kind of fan base and this kind of viewership, really the only thing that’s lagging behind is the investment in it and the professional operation of it. So, when you own a franchise in a professionally run league, you benefit from all of the advantages that come with that. So, revenue share from the league, so what comes from television and terrestrial and the over-the-top rights that they do with the league and a contract that deals with the enterprise development of the franchise. That’s our model and that’s our strategy. We want to own franchises in professional leagues and this is really the first step.

When it comes to that audience, there are lots of female fans, and a lot of LGBT fans. We’re seeing a lot of first generation fans coming into esports with Overwatch. What’s your strategy when trying to appeal to both traditional esports markets, but also Overwatch fans that are coming in?

I love that about the way that Jeff Kaplan and the team have built the game. I mean, look at the heroes. You’ve got male and female, multi-racial, it really represents the global audience the game is meant to serve. That speaks to this city, so it’s a perfect fit for us in that way. As a league brand we have to make sure we provide the type of leadership that’s expected of us. We have to make sure we help build the league and build the industry of esports. We have that responsibility as a league rep. So you should expect that from us and you should expect that we’re leading the way in those kinds of conversations. And we’re gonna be good for it.

Toronto is a city that already has a lot of traditional sports markets with the Leafs and the Raptors. Are you planning on bringing them in to Overwatch?

Well I know a little about those teams, I have friends and colleagues that work in those organizations. We’re gonna be a little different. We’re gonna be a little younger and we’re gonna read our content and our media a little differently. We’re gonna speak to our fans and our sponsors in different ways. We’re gonna be good citizens of our sports community cause when the Maple Leafs win, or the Raptors win, that’s good for our city. It’s good for sports. But I think we are gonna be a little different and a little edgier and a little younger. And that’s going to be our advantage.