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Mile Marker 601: The journey of Boston Uprising’s NotE, his esports pilgrimage, and beyond

DreXxiN 2018-11-21 06:50:35
Written by Volamel
  The hustle and bustle of Toronto, Ontario proceed without hesitation. Like any big city, its thirst for excellence fuels its tendency to create, much like its flourishing film industry. Nearly an hour outside of Ontario’s capital lies the quiet suburb of Barrie, Ontario. It is here, where one Overwatch League hopeful, would begin his journey. Lucas "NotE" Meissner is a name very few people were familiar with before the inaugural season of the Overwatch League began. By the end of the season, pundits and analysts were singing his praises. Echoing the journey from his small hometown, NotE began on a small amateur team called I’m Your Huckleberry before being signed to Toronto Esports early in 2017. It was here that he caught the eye of then Toronto Esports General Manager, Chris "HuK" Loranger. For roughly eight months, NotE and Toronto Esports waded through Overwatch’s small weekly tournaments, amassing multiple top-four finishes. This culminated in their second-place finish during the second phase of qualification for Overwatch Contenders 2017: Season Zero, behind Immortals. While the regular season did not pan out as well as the qualifiers, their competitive performance put them on the map as one of North America’s strongest amateur teams. Just a few months later, the first trials for Overwatch League’s first season began. “I went in with a pretty good attitude and was ready to put my heart into [tryouts],” NotE said. “At that point in time, those tryouts were my one and only chance of getting into the Overwatch League.” Tryouts were long and stressful. NotE explained that his performance varied, but he still graded his play higher there than when he was on Toronto Esports. Weeks after the trials completed, NotE and his teammate at the time, Mikias "Snow" Yohannes, were called to a meeting at a nice Italian restaurant. Seated at the table was the owner of Toronto Esports, Ryan Pallett, and the man who would become the President of Gaming for the Boston Uprising, Chris "HuK" Loranger. This dinner would change NotE's life forever. “ A lot of small talks and some nice pasta later, they finally told us what they brought us out there to say; ‘we made it,’” NotE said. “It all felt so surreal and I couldn't believe it, all my hard work had finally paid off. I spent the rest of that day in a state of shock and everything else blurred away as I just sat there thinking about what had happened.” In under a year, NotE went from being a plucky amateur to playing on Overwatch’s biggest stage. First, he had to break the news to his parents.  

  As gaming and esports move forward, the internal dialogue that potential pro player parents face becomes easier and easier to digest. With a stable salary, benefits and ties to traditional sports teams and leagues, the Overwatch League is shaping the narrative for parents' involvement in esports. “Anytime I needed something more on the legal or financial side, I would ask my dad for advice but almost everything else was my mom,” NotE said. “She always gave the most encouraging remarks to me at just the right moments. [She] always told me to follow my dreams but was also the one who stressed the importance of a backup plan the most. She was kind of like a cheerleader in a way. When I had gotten signed I definitely think she was more excited than I was, mostly because I was more shocked than excited.” After NotE's fateful meeting with the Uprising brass, the official roster for the Boston Uprising was announced on October 26th, 2017. However, the original eight members revealed were met with little fanfare from the community. The team was announced through a video on the official Twitter account. The members revealed were a mix of veteran Overwatch talent paired with young upstarts that had potential. The first eight members were, Kwon "Striker" Nam-joo, Noh "Gamsu" Young-jin, Shin "Kalios" Woo-yeol, Stanislav "Mistakes" Danilov, Jonathan "DreamKazper" Sanchez, Kristian "Kellex" Keller, and the Toronto Esports duo of Snow and NotE. The majority opinion on the roster was that the team was already relegated to the bottom of the leaderboards. “I was a little bit heartbroken at the start when we were getting rated so poorly,” NotE said. “It really hit me deep enough to leave a lasting impact.” A majority of that criticism came towards NotE and his teammate from Toronto Esports. Not many people had seen them play and they were marked as “green” and “untested.” “My desires never changed from wanting to be the best teammate I could be,” NotE said. “But in the back of my head was an extremely powerful feeling of wanting to prove everyone wrong, so badly. I definitely used it to fuel my play and determination to improve. In my eyes, when you are at the bottom in the general public's eyes is when you have the best chance to prove yourself. Knowing that, I played my heart out to prove everyone wrong.” Slowly but surely, he would shape his own narrative and prove the naysayers wrong, but first came preseason.

"You will hit a rock bottom at some point, and that is where you need to be strongest. A good attitude will get you so much farther than raw talent.”

— Lucas "NotE" Meissner

In the days leading up to the preseason exhibition matches, NotE and the Boston Uprising would participate in the league-wide media day. “[It] was pretty wild for me,” NotE said. “Seeing all these players that I had only known through the internet as famous or legends of the game. To think that I was walking around with them as a player too was pretty crazy at the time. It was something that normalized pretty quickly but I was awestruck during media day.” Having so many ties to traditional sports, it was no surprise that the inaugural season was highly publicized in the media. The preseason was set to hold a series of exhibition matches to act as a primer for the upcoming regular season. The first two opponents that the Boston Uprising had to face were none other than the New York Excelsior (NYXL) and the Shanghai Dragons. Walking into their first game, Boston’s public expectation was fairly low, but they managed to steal a map away, which gave Boston natives hope. “It was a pretty scary first experience,” NotE said. “Playing against a team like NYXL as your first match even if they didn't have JJoNak yet was still really rough. It was a good learning experience for sure though.” The Uprising then would go on to defeat the Shanghai Dragons 2-3 to round out their preseason matches with a 1-1 record. This was the stage where NotE would first show the general public his skills. While he had performed previously in smaller amateur events, nothing quite compared to the Overwatch League stage. It would be here that NotE’s dreams came to a halt and the nerves of a young competitor took over. “My nerves were through the roof and I was shaking like a leaf in a hurricane,” NotE said. “It took a solid two or three maps before I could manage to block everything out and  just focus purely on the game, a skill that I have honed quite a bit since then and can now focus up from the start of the match.” While the preseason placed the Uprising on wavering stilts, the regular season gave way to a whole new team, one that would end the inaugural season in third place overall and second in their division with a 26-14 match record. Boston was also the first team to defeat the three giants at the time, the NYXL, the London Spitfire, and the Seoul Dynasty. NotE explained that his favorite match of the three was against the eventual champions, the London Spitfire. “This was during the time where everyone thought the South Korean teams were untouchable and were the only ones able to take matches off of each other,” NotE said. “Being the very first team to take a match off of [all of] them was incredible. The rush of emotions that I felt [during] the winning moment on Lijiang Tower was something I don't know if I will experience again. I think the closest match other than that one in feeling was when we reversed swept London, but this time instead of pride or excitement it was almost completely pure surprise. [It was] definitely the match that peaked my heart rate.” For some team’s this meant the end of their Overwatch League experience, but for the cream of the crop, the playoffs were the next mountain to climb.  

As the third-place team in the overall standings at the end of the season, NotE and the Boston Uprising qualified for the playoffs. Their first opponent was the Philadelphia Fusion. After trading matches back and forth, the Boston Uprising would fall to the eventual silver medalists in a fairly convincing 1-2 loss. In the past, NotE has said that the Uprising is a team that starts new metagames slowly and needs time to approach the changes with trial and error. He echoed this sentiment and elaborated on how it affected their playoff run. “I'm not sure if two weeks was enough time for us to reach our peak performance,” NotE said. “I think that out of the many metagames that were played in the first season of Overwatch League, the playoff meta was the worst for our hero pool and play style by far. With enough time it may have been possible for us to be very good at double sniper and Orissa/Roadhog, but there was quite a short time limit. I think next season we will definitely look to expand our flexibility so [patch changes] aren't as tough, but a key characteristic of our team is the grind for sure.” This unbridled work ethic permeated throughout the entire team including NotE — so much so, that his opportunities would continue after their playoff run ended. Developed in the suburbs of Toronto, NotE’s outstanding play is only matched by his humble, unassuming air that he carries about him. As one of the countries most promising prospects, NotE also participated in the 2018 Overwatch World Cup as a staple of the Canadian national team. “I'm so proud that I got picked to represent my country this year!” NotE’s excitement was palpable. It wasn’t that long ago that the Barrie, Ontario native was being criticized as a major weak point of his team -- before they had played any matches. Now, he headlined the Canadian national team. “I watched from the sidelines for two World Cups cheering on my team and now I have got the opportunity to play for them and I'm super pumped. I don't really have anyone in particular that I would like to beat but the end goal will always be to take the cup this year. I think our roster has changed for the better and we have a good chance to compete for the top spot. I want to prove this year that I deserved my spot on the roster first and foremost though.” You can’t ask someone to do much more after they spent hundreds of hours a week giving it their all in the Overwatch League’s and top that experience off with more practice on your nation’s World Cup team. There has to be a limit to how much a player can work before it starts to negatively impact you.

"My desires never changed from wanting to be the best teammate I could be, but in the back of my head was an extremely powerful feeling of wanting to prove everyone wrong, so badly.”  

— Lucas "NotE" Meissner

Yet, NotE has not shown too much structural instability or exhaustion. “For me personally I like to think that I did a pretty good job managing my burnout so that it would never affect my play, simple things from eating better to a better sleep schedule, playing less ranked or even just taking a walk helped me immensely,” NotE explained. “I went into this league with the mindset that burnout is a very real thing and could affect me negatively so I was on the lookout for any signs and took action immediately. I'm quite confident that it affected a lot of players in the league, a few of the players were very obviously affected by it and had to take breaks from playing to recuperate. I hope that it’s treated more seriously by everyone for the next season.” Overwatch League came with a multitude of spotlight and fame, but what is seldom acknowledged is the flip side to that coin.The pressure on the shoulders of any esports professionals mounts quickly.. Your adoring fans always sending you words of encouragement. Your coaches drilling the strategies you’ve prepared for the last week. And there's a mountain of of irrational critique that is also thrown your way. It all slowly eats away at a players mentality. “I consider myself someone that handles pressure very well, but this season pushed me to my limit,” NotE said. “It is super stressful trying to balance work and taking proper care of yourself and then on top of that working in a high-pressure team environment. I think a lot of people make claims and comments about players and their performance or attitudes without taking into consideration how hard this league can be on people. I hope that people's perspective on that will change for the second season.” It’s not only these outside forces that pressure the players from all angles, but there can also be a miniature culture shock for some coming into the Overwatch League. As players and staff alike are called up from the amateur league, the shock of expectation can be extremely jarring.  “There are a lot of changes moving from Contenders to the Overwatch League but I'll try and condense it to the most important details,” NotE said. “First, moving from a team house scenario to apartments or practice facility setup. I think [this] greatly helps the work-life separation that team houses don't [remedy] at all.” The balance of work and life has been something that Western esports has experimented with and is a support beam to keep a team’s mentality above board. “Next was the level of play and coaching. The Overwatch League is the grouping of all the top players from every region into a single league,” NotE said. With the investment from groups like the Kraft Group and handfuls of venture capital firms, the Overwatch League has a wealth of resources to pull from when looking to build a roster as well as support it with staff and coaches. “This means that the level of play is extremely high and an absolute wonder to play in and learn from. The coaching as well is way more streamlined and greatly improved from my time in Contenders.” Last, but certainly not least, NotE went more in-depth on the level of pressure players have to stomach and how it’s dealt with. “I never felt this level of nerves going into any of my previous matches on Toronto Esports,” NotE said. “But going into all of my Overwatch League matches have been insanely nerve-wracking, though I have gotten much better at controlling those nerves by the end of the season. Overall the league has been a scaled up and greatly improved version of Overwatch Contenders and I'm very glad I've gotten the opportunity to play in the inaugural season!” The Overwatch League is the biggest stage in Overwatch. It is the be all, end all of the esport. Making to that stage is the goal of every person who’s ever touched the game in a competitive setting. While ambition is supported and encouraged, you cannot let the stars blind you. For those entering the league in its second season, either on expansion teams or existing ones, NotE gave some heartfelt advice. “Keep your head up,” he said. “This isn't a kind career to pursue. You will hit a rock bottom at some point, and that is where you need to be strongest. A good attitude will get you so much farther than raw talent. If you plan on taking esports seriously than it is an absolute requirement to have a backup plan if esports doesn't work out.” A cautious optimism controlled his tone as he continued. “It's a harsh world out there and not everyone who tries their heart out will make it. Be prepared. Stay ahead of the meta. Make friends with people instead of making enemies. Following along these guidelines. It’s how I made it through.” It takes a mere 601 miles to travel from Barrie, Ontario to Boston, Massachusetts, and that distance will pale in comparison to where the Overwatch League next takes NotE. “Honestly, I had no idea what I was really expecting going into [the first season], but it definitely blew me away at the start,” NotE said. “Seeing this incredible stage and how much work they put into developing everything really humbled me as being part of it all.” As the league prepares for its sequel, rest assured, season two will encompass its own leg of NotE’s competitive journey. Featuring its own peaks and valleys 601 miles, thousands of hours, and an unwavering work ethic have brought NotE here for a chance to prove himself to the world and at every mile marker, he has.
Joseph “Volamel” Franco has followed esports since the MLGs of 2006. He started out primarily following Starcraft 2, Halo 3, and Super Smash Bros. Melee. He has transitioned from viewer to journalist and writes freelance primarily about Overwatch and League of Legends. If you would to follow his thoughts you can follow him at @Volamel. Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment.

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