It’s a fair bet that no other team has had as strange an inaugural season as the Boston Uprising. The team entered the Overwatch League as underdogs, with no real superstar power or proven championship rosters on their side. Even the fact that they were part of the Kraft Group wasn’t necessarily seen as a straight positive; the idea of city-based teams was still untested. Would esports fans discover their sense of civic pride, or would the city-based experiment end up leaving the Uprising feeling down? As we head into season one’s playoffs, it’s worth looking back at the Boston Uprising and their journey where they have gone from underdogs to undefeated, with a few unexpected steps in-between.
Boston’s bright spots
Right now, the Boston Uprising are in a pretty good place. The team has made it to the quarterfinals, where they are set to face the Philadelphia Fusion. Even better, the gamble of city-based teams has paid off in a big way for Boston. The Uprising’s traditional sports approach and ties to the Kraft Group have been a massive success.
Jen Ferron, the Chief Marketing Officer of the Boston Uprising, notes that the Uprising reached out to an already passionate group of fans in the city and quickly created a grassroots fanbase. In addition to watch parties at local bars, the Boston Uprising returned home to a crowd hungry to meet their heroes.
“We had over four hundred fans show up for an autograph signing and meet and greet session at a local mall in the center of Boston.” Ferron says. “We’ve been really pleased with how passionate folks have been.”
Add in a recent sponsorship from Gillette, and the Uprising is following in the footsteps of its traditional sports cousins. This is where the buy-in from the Kraft Group strengthened the esports element of the team.
“Because of our long standing relationship with them [Gillette], trust already existed.” says Ferron, and the deal allows the team to take part in initiatives like augmenting their training facilities.
With a homegrown base of passionate fans and healthy sponsorships, Boston may look like everything’s taken care of. Of course, nothing is ever that simple.
While the Uprising is owned by the Kraft Group, their President of Gaming is an esports veteran. Chris “HuK” Loranger has been guiding the esports aspects of the Uprising, backed by the Kraft Groups’s infrastructure.
In stages one and two, the Boston Uprising seemed to be a solidly middle of the pack team. They finished sixth place in both stages. Those are respectable finishes, but they aren’t exactly results to write home about. It wasn’t until stage three that the Uprising really started turning heads, picking up win after win until they stood undefeated throughout the stage with the league’s win streak record under their belts.
In stage four, the Uprising slipped back down, unable to maintain their stage three momentum. Loranger doesn’t see this as a major crisis. “There are a lot of factors that went into stage four results. There are certain teams -” he cites Valiant and Fuel in particular, “that are over-performing and others that are under-performing. The biggest factor to me is the meta shift.”
There’s one name that has defined the meta shift: Brigitte. The new flail-wielding, DPS smashing support has shifted the metagame away from Dive, and while some teams have benefited from the shake up, others are still trying to find their feet. With Brigitte cleaning up the Dive DPS, Reinhardt taking over as the top tank spot from and Widowmaker suddenly rising to prominence, the Uprising found themselves needing to make adjustments.
Loranger is confident as he speaks, weighing the meta concerns casually. “Overall, we’ve become a better team and fixed a lot of issues.” he says. “Our overall baseline has improved.”
The Uprising have proven that they’re able to roll with the punches. In April, the Uprising terminated the contract of Jonathan “DreamKazper” Sanchez after allegations from underage fans. (The Uprising declined to comment on Sanchez’s release.) It was a move that many thought would end the Uprising’s competitive chances, but instead, the team surged back stronger. There’s a quiet confidence that Loranger has when discussing the team; he’s honest about what needs to change, and there’s never a sense that the sky is falling. After all, meta games can come and go—especially with new heroes and reworks being released—but team fundamentals are here to stay.
Loranger shows the most emotion when I ask him about the brightest moment of the season. “Our win against London was a pretty big moment for us. At the beginning, we struggled. Anyone who looked back at the team can see there were ups and downs, but once we started practicing, we got really good, really quickly. We were doing well in scrims, but not on stage, and so the first time we beat London... It was our first Korean team win, when the Korean teams were dominating.”
With head coach Dae-hee “Crusty” Park recently departing the team in May to join the San Francisco Shock, there’s still room for Boston to augment their infrastructure and improve. With the foundation of the team looking steady, the Uprising’s competitive ceiling may be closer than it initially appears.
The Boston Uprising are, in many ways, the closest to a traditional sports organization among the Overwatch League teams. Ferron notes that while the Overwatch League is still evolving, the Kraft Group has been happy with the inaugural season so far, especially the consistent production value. The highest note of her season, however, is an emotional one. When Ferron discusses numbers, she’s brisk and all-business, but when she recounts this memory over the phone, the smile in her voice is obvious.
“You hate to point to wins [as an indicator of success], but I really feel that there’s this unique team bonding our team has. Maybe it’s because I’m close to them, and I see them in a different light than other teams—they’ve just overcome adversity, worked together, had each others’ backs... Watching the joy on their face when they finished stage three undisputed, how genuinely relieved but proud they were of their accomplishment, well...” Ferron laughs. “It was pretty awesome.”
Despite a season filled with ups and downs. the Uprising have qualified for the Overwatch League Playoffs and are set to play the Philadelphia Fusion in the quarterfinals, which begin on July 11th.