Deromanticizing Boston Uprising’s 10-0 Stage — a sombering reminder

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We all love the classic underdog story. The scrappily earnest small-town heroes. A final victory in which the power of friendship leads a team to its well-deserved win.

The thing is, nobody wants to hear what happens in the wake of happily ever after. Orson Welles once said, “If you want a happy ending, that depends on where you stop the story.”

In Stage 3 of the Overwatch League’s inaugural season, the Boston Uprising achieved a perfect 10-0 record. This was a team that had been heavily criticized from the moment its roster was revealed and entered the league with the lowest expectations. But the players gritted their teeth and delivered through gameplay a retort with an eloquence that no words could ever match.

The team defied all expectations. After months of serving as the punchline, the Uprising startled with clean, competent teamplay. Its initial stages demonstrated a well-drilled team that won games through discipline and preparation, built around a flexible playmaker in Jonathan “DreamKazper” Sanchez.

After two stages of steady improvement, it seemed all had been for naught. The Overwatch League announced that after allegations of sexual misconduct, Sanchez was suspended indefinitely. Less than 24 hours later, the Boston Uprising terminated Sanchez’s contract.

Many commended the Uprising’s decision to respond swiftly. Nevertheless, there was a distinct sense of gloom as fans looked at the grueling schedule ahead. Most agreed that to uphold its morals, it seemed that Boston had sacrificed its season.

Instead, the Boston Uprising did the impossible.

The Boston Uprising is owned by the notorious Robert Kraft, well-known for his ownership of the New England Patriots, and it seemed that the Uprising had adopted the Krafts’ philosophy of “next man up.” Taking the place of Sanchez was Stanislav “Mistakes” Danilov.

Despite the apparent drop in versatility, Boston shocked with an upset victory over the mighty New York Excelsior. While Danilov did not command the same superstar presence, his studious consistency unlocked the incredible Tracer play of Nam-joo “Striker” Kwon, whose heroics repeatedly brought Boston across the finish line. Most memorable was the Uprising’s nail-bitingly close series against the London Spitfire, considered the most dangerous team after New York, which ended with a reverse sweep victory so cathartic it brought Kwon to tears.

Afterward, the Uprising was unstoppable. Though the team was tested again and again, the players pulled through and, with a final victory over the Los Angeles Gladiators, became the first team to secure a perfect 10-0 stage.

It was a perfect Cinderella story. But just as the team hit the highest of highs, the clock struck midnight, and Boston woke up as a dusty maid once more. Except that in this story, there was no glass slipper.

Boston’s herculean victory soon felt pyrrhic. In the Stage 3 playoffs, the Uprising hype train screeched to a halt as it collided with the barricade that was the Excelsior. Boston couldn’t repeat its regular-stage performance and fell to New York in the title match.

The first blow was the departure of Boston’s head coach, Da-hee “Crusty” Park. Considered one of the best coaches in the league and instrumental in building Boston’s integral team play, Park left the team to pursue opportunities with the San Francisco Shock.

This was the worst time possible for the Uprising to lose its guiding hand. Stage 4 saw the introduction of Brigitte, a character who countered the Uprising’s aggressive play style and shut down Tracer, Kwon’s signature pick. Additionally, Stage 4 had a change in the map pool that removed Volskaya Industries, a map on which Boston maintained a win percentage of 91.

Without its coach in a shifting metagame, the Uprising went from an undefeated first place in Stage 3 to a hobbling eighth in Stage 4. Although Boston was seeded No. 3 in the playoffs, the Uprising was undoubtedly the most fragile of the six teams in the race for the finals. Boston finally broke when, despite best efforts, it was ultimately eliminated in the quarterfinals by the No. 6 seed, Philadelphia Fusion.

It was an ignoble end for the team that many saw some weeks ago as a powerhouse contending for the trophy. But perhaps worse for fans was the news to come after, which would rob them of even the warm nostalgia of that brief period for the Boston victors.

The Uprising announced Sept. 2 that Danilov was released from the team, to the disappointment of many fans. Danilov had been a Tracer specialist who, because of the release of Sanchez, had been pressed to play every character other than Tracer.

Danilov’s departure was just the first page ripped out of the Uprising’s storybook. The next chapter torn out was the team’s friendship bonds. On Oct. 25, VPEsports reported that the Boston Uprising had been marred with internal conflict for the entirety of its season.

The report cited multiple points of contention, ranging from dissatisfaction with players’ league-minimum salaries to inadequate housing situations. The central figure of strife was Chris “HuK” Loranger, the Boston Uprising’s president of gaming, named “the root of many internal team issues” such as an incident in which he reportedly verbally harangued a staff member to the point of tears.

Loranger released a post on Medium that same day in response to the VPEsports report. In it, Loranger claimed “the majority of the statements in the article are hurtful and grossly false, some being partially true but twisted to fit an agenda/narrative that isn’t true.”

The veracity of the situation remains uncertain. Nevertheless, the luster of Boston Uprising’s victories has certainly dulled.

It’s a sobering reminder of the everyday humanity beneath the theatrical grandeur of competitive sports. Great stories are not what they appear on the surface, and most would prefer we not pay attention to the man behind the curtain as he operates the flashy machine.

It’s uncomfortable for fans, who became emotionally invested in the struggles of others to prevail despite the odds only to discover that they’d been watching the wrestling shadows of a far uglier battle.

Michael Jeong covers esports. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @Michael4Jeong.