*by Guest Columnist Jeff Yabumoto*
Let’s start with a quick caveat: I am happy that the Atlanta Reign were able to work out something mutually agreeable with Daniel “Dafran” Francesca. I am happy that Dafran is going to be happier being a streamer rather than a professional Overwatch player. It would do Atlanta no good if he remained on the roster and was a miserable player.
But what Dafran just did with his resignation to the Atlanta Reign shouldn’t have happened. This is a big deal and it should not pass without consequence, or, at the very least, a critical look at the situation.
First up, let’s look at all the time and resources the Atlanta Reign invested in Dafran. Dafran was easily one of the most hyped new players to come into Overwatch Season 2. He has a big community following that was excited to see him on the Overwatch League stage. They wanted him to succeed.
Teams, especially the expansion teams, are looking to build their own brands and fan bases. When signing Dafran, the Reign didn’t just look at his skill as a player. They looked at his marketability. Dafran is popular and fun. He draws a lot of eyes to the Atlanta Reign franchise and to the Overwatch League in general. That sells merchandise, which in turn, helps fund the team. That’s extremely important for new organizations who are trying to find revenue streams.
Then there's the marketing effort they’ve put into Dafran. Posters, social media posts, media appearances, interviews with reporters, and a myriad of other things. These are all things with cost, something that his early resignation completely insults.
Let’s not forget that throughout Stage 1, and the months leading up to it, Dafran has been practicing and bonding with his teammates. Getting to know his playstyle and them his. We’ve seen how important knowing your teammates is for OWL teams. It can make or break stages/seasons for them.
The right player can make all the difference. We certainly saw that with Pongphop "Mickie" Rattanasangchod on the Dallas Fuel after he switched to main tank and Brandon “Seagull” Larned switched to off tank.
Now, the Atlanta Reign have a roster of players that have to adjust their playstyle. The Reign have to possibly recruit another player to add to the roster. A player that the existing roster will have to learn to work with, which can be an arduous process. After all, communication is half of the game.
But, recruiting a new player right now is not going to be the easiest thing. The expansion was the best time to pick up new players and that window is now closed.
If Dafran had never been signed, the Reign could have possibly bid more aggressively on another player that would still be around. One that would complete the contract that they signed instead of ducking out after two months of practice and competition.
They could have found a player that didn’t quit randomly after they were signed only to say that they weren’t actually quitting the next day. A player that didn’t have a streaming safety net to fall back on.
This is not okay.
The Reign could have recruited a player that knows and understands that Overwatch League is something that is hard. It’s something you have to work at and you can't be selfish about it. And it’s not like there weren’t clear examples for Dafran to look at before he signed. How many articles were there about the grueling schedule the Shanghai Dragons endured? How many former players talked about how stressful the league is?
Being a professional in anything is difficult. Being a professional in the public eye is even harder.
When Seagull retired, he talked about how the stress of the league affected him so heavily. He talked about how much work it was and how he missed streaming and the fans that got him to where he was in the first place. Not to mention health issues.
Ted "Silkthread" Wang, formerly of the LA Gladiators and Chengdu Hunters said the same thing. It’s stressful being a professional Overwatch player. Stanislav "Mistakes" Danilov, formerly of the Boston Uprising, also said that he had motivation and health issues. Dafran was not without warning going into the Overwatch League and he is certainly connected enough to talk to former players who experienced the league and retired.
There needs to be consequences, just like there were consequences for Félix "xQc" Lengyel. Blizzard has an opportunity here to make an example of a player here who is being selfish and potentially harmful to the long-term health of the Overwatch League.
"Professional gaming was always the biggest dream of mine since I was very young and you gave me a shot. Sadly it is not anymore. I would rather be a streamer at this point in life and chill."
It took just two months for Dafran to get what he wanted out of his dream. If he can just quit after doing what is essentially a test run, what’s to stop others from doing the same? What about the 16-year-olds out there who look up to current players and grind it out in order to go pro? What happens when they sign and then quit a month or two later in the middle of the season?
Current and future players need to know that this is not acceptable behavior.
This cannot become precedent for the Overwatch League or any other professional esport. If this becomes commonplace, it could easily lead to more people not taking esports seriously if you can just hop in and out of being a contracted professional. That is not something we need when the industry is still young and trying to find its place. Not when we get vitriol by the barrel when Overwatch League airs on ABC.
Overwatch League is fighting for its own and esports' legitimacy every day. It's partially why xQc's punishment was so severe. He was not good for the image of Overwatch League because he didn't want to adhere to the rules they had set forth. It's why Overwatch League has takedown power over players' social media posts. They want to be able to take things down like pepe, something Dafran mentions in his resignation that he is happy to be able to use again.
Overwatch League has an image to maintain, rightfully so, and players need to know that if you harm that image, there will be consequences. Overwatch League is a business venture, after all.
Just remember, at the end of the day, Dafran took someone else’s spot. He stopped someone else from achieving their own dream of being a professional Overwatch player this year, and that is not okay.