OverActive Media’s Toronto-based facility sits in a quiet, unassuming brick building surrounded by many others that look more or less identical. The company’s logo is plastered on the front entrance, but it’s hidden from view by the cars clustered in front of it. Once you step inside, though, it’s anything but unassuming.
The facility spans 15,000 square feet and is tailor-made for esports pros, with a player lounge, dedicated training rooms and a gaming studio. To the left of the main entrance is an enormous mural containing plenty of references to the games that OAM teams compete in.
This is where the Toronto Defiant and Toronto Ultra are based. The facility was completed in early 2021, after construction was temporarily halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, OAM currently has plans for a 7,000-seat esports venue in Toronto. But, for now, this is home base.
OverActive Media provides a tangible work-life balance
The players live in condos near the facility and walk there every morning for practice. According to OAM Chief Commercial Officer Alyson Walker, allowing the players to separate the competition from their daily life was very important for the organization. Walker explained that it took a toll on the players’ mentalities to go from playing in a facility to playing from their apartments during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It affected everyone,” Team Services Coordinator Megan Teare said. “They went from being people seeing their co-workers every day to basically being isolated in their homes. We had very enthusiastic players who were still able to stay connected but, just like everyone else, they felt that it was very hard to not be able to see their peers or their family.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic heightening feelings of isolation, it’s not hard to see why it’s become increasingly important for players to work and compete in the same space. For most of the 2021 season, the Defiant and Ultra shared the facility. Then, near the end of the Call of Duty League season, Ultra began traveling to offline competitions again. This left the Defiant to utilize the space a bit more.
One of the most unique parts of the OAM facility is the Red Bull Gaming Studio, which is outfitted with a small stage setup — not unlike that of actual Overwatch League and CDL matches. It was usually used by Ultra but, as their season drew to a close, it was repurposed to fit a six-man team. Now, the Defiant scrim and play all their matches there.
“It’s great being in there,” main tank Kim “SADO” Su-min said. “It really feels like it’s a tournament. We can really focus on the game, though some of the players — maybe the rookies — might feel like the environment is a little intimidating compared to regular practice.”
Stepping into the Red Bull Gaming Studio while the Defiant are all on stage, preparing for their coming match, you could almost pretend like things are normal and you’re about to watch the team play a match. The studio itself is decked out with seats, tables and even a bar. After so long, it was surreal to be in the same space as the competitors again.
But, things aren’t completely “back to normal,” and people aren’t allowed in the room while the team is competing. This is a league rule, not a health regulation. The seats and the bar must also remain empty. Instead, team staff and guests are allowed to sit in the TD Player Lounge next door and watch the match on a TV. As each map goes on, the sound of players shouting carries through the wall, growing increasingly impassioned until it culminates in either a triumphant shout or disappointed silence.
“The good part about it is that they have a separation,” Teare said of the setup. “When they go on stage, they get into the performance mentality. It’s kind of a mental thing where it’s like, ‘Okay, it’s time to turn on Game Day mode.'”
Where do the Toronto Defiant go from here?
It’s impossible to tell exactly how much the new match setup is helping the team, but it certainly hasn’t hurt. The Defiant have had a late-season surge. They went 3-1 in Countdown Cup qualifier matches and narrowly missed out on a final four berth. In the time leading up to the Overwatch League play-ins, they’re trying to improve even further.
Star damage dealer Jeong “Heesu” Hee-su, who came to the Defiant after a year on the Philadelphia Fusion and has become one of the breakout players for the Defiant this year, is eager to keep proving himself in the upcoming play-ins. The Defiant will need to make it through those matches to secure one of the coveted playoffs spots and keep their season alive.
“I think our team needs to gain more game IQ,” Heesu said. “We need to be able to focus during a fight and think what to do, not just let our mechanics lead us. Although we’ve improved a lot, there are many ways we can improve even further.”
SADO echoed this sentiment, agreeing that the team needs to sharpen their game sense most of all. He, too, came from the Fusion, along with Heesu and Head Coach Kim “KDG” Dong-gun.
“It’s definitely been helpful being able to work with former teammates closely,” SADO said. “We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and we’ve built good chemistry with the new teammates. Going into play-ins, all of us feel confident and we’re very diligent.”
The Defiant have struggled to find their identity this season. At times, their play can feel like a bunch of disjointed parts rather than a cohesive team. Those individual parts are all great, but the team’s coordination certainly still needs work. Play-ins will be the Defiant’s biggest test so far but, if they can learn to work together effectively, they could be a real threat to the current top dogs.
Regardless of their performance, one thing’s for sure: the players know they’re capable of greatness. When informed of his status as a star player, Heesu laughed bashfully, as though he’d never considered it before. But his ultimate goal as a player reflects his lofty ambitions.
“I want people to remember me as the best DPS in the world,” he said simply.
It may be an ambitious dream but, if the Defiant can pull off a miracle run in the postseason, it could very well come true.