Overwatch’s “Path to Pro” is one of the most hotly discussed constructs in the scene. Each year it seems to change just a little, but every change has lead to large outcries from those on the path. Despite the debate, Overwatch Contenders has produced incredible rookie talent in OWL in 2020 like Kyungbo “Alarm” Kim, Kai “KSP” Collins, and Han-been “Hanbin” Choi. In fact, several teams have loaded their rosters with plenty of talent from various Contenders teams. Sometimes the system does not work, and players just barely miss the mark. One of those players was almost the Uprising’s latest addition, Leyton “Punk” Gilchrist
Starting on the Dark Side
Punk started his competitive career in 2017 with the Australian Contenders team, Dark Sided. With Punk on the off-tank position, Dark Sided produced relatively strong finishes. They placed 2nd in the second Contenders season in 2018, where they finished the group stages with an impressive 5-0 record. They eventually fell to the Sydney Drop Bears in the finals, in part due to a strong performance from one Kelsey “Colourhex” Birse.
From there Punk began his journey towards that ever-elusive Overwatch League contract. In 2018 Punk was able to represent his country of Australia in the Overwatch World Cup. Alongside current and former OWL pros like Ashley “Trill” Powell and Scott “Custa” Kennedy, it was Punk’s first run with the highest level of Overwatch play. The Australian team made a quick exit however, as they faced South Korea in the first round of the knockout-stage, and lost 3-0. It wasn’t all bad for the young off-tank, as only a few months later he would be on the fast-track to the Overwatch League.
On the Rise
Shortly after the World Cup, Punk found himself playing for an Overwatch League academy team. On December 26th, 2018, Punk signed onto the Uprising Academy – a contenders team affiliated with OWL’s Boston Uprising.
— Uprising Academy (@UprisingAcad) December 27, 2018
For many young players, joining an academy team was seen as a massive indication that the OWL is within their grasp. Teams like XL2, Fusion University, and Atlanta Academy had shown that players on their rosters are seen and scouted regularly by OWL teams. Players like Alarm and Yeon-kwan “Nenne” Jeong had quickly climbed the ranks of Contenders thanks to their success on their respective academy teams. Having a slot on the Uprising Academy almost certainly would mean a trip to OWL was inevitable.
However, in Punk’s first full season of NA Contenders in 2019, the Uprising Academy sat comfortably at the bottom of the standings. At 1-6 on the season, the team was relegated to Contenders Trials, where the squad would need to battle to compete once again among the fellow academy teams.
It was at this moment, Punk began to experience the toll that comes along with pursuing a dream. Punk had flown across the world for an attempt to make a splash in North American Contenders. But as a young player making the leap towards the professional scene, being away from friends and family can be the toughest part of the journey.
The Trouble Being Away
It was one thing to be far away from loved ones, but it is a whole new issue when games aren’t falling the right way. “It was especially bad in my case” Punk said in regards to feeling homesick while playing in the US, “we were just getting stomped week in and week out”. He added, “it was bit demoralizing”. Poor match results truly challenged Punk’s feeling towards competing in Contenders at the time.
Like any high schooler, Punk was worried about “missing out on things,” and thought “is this a bad decision”? Hailing from Australia, Punk knew he would have to battle the massive time-zone difference between his home and his work. “It’s really hard when timing just doesn’t work” he mentioned while discussing calling back home to catch up – “those are the times where it really sucks”.
Despite it all, Punk knew that bad times don’t last forever. “You get through it and make the best of it” Punk said about being away to compete in Contenders. “You realize that you are committing to something, you are doing something for just a bit” he went on, “you’re always going to come back to those people and have those good times too”. Maybe Punk brought that mentality back to the UA roster, as good times certainly came for the struggling Contenders team. Uprising Academy placed 1st in Trials, with a perfect 7-0 record to get back into Contenders for Season 2 of 2019.
Waiting for the Call
In Season 2 of 2019 NA Contenders, Punk and the Uprising Academy roster reached the quarterfinals in the Contenders playoffs. They lost to the Gladiators Legion 3-0, and failed to qualify for the Contenders Gauntlet. With the Overwatch League Off-season rapidly approaching, it was time for many Contenders players to try-out for Overwatch League teams. From the Uprising Academy, Gabriel “Swimmer” Levy, and Walid “Mouffin” Bassal were promoted to the Boston Uprising, and Gia Huy “MirroR” Trinh signed with the Los Angeles Gladiators.
Our rookie has rocked the league on multiple heroes ever since his debut- learn more about @MirroR_ow in our next Under the Helm tomorrow.
— Los Angeles Gladiators (@LAGladiators) May 10, 2020
Unfortunately for Punk, one of the longest-standing members of Uprising Academy, he did not get the call in November to join his teammates in OWL.
“Nothing’s true unless it’s written in a contract and signed it, so it was that point where I was brought back to reality” Punk said about missing OWL the first time. “All it is, is just opportunities” Punk added about making it to the big leagues, “so you might get one, you might not, and you just kinda gotta take em”.
Headed Home for a Spell
Despite not quite hitting the mark and making OWL, Punk took the new-found opportunity to head home. Missing the call-up to the pros allowed Punk to make up for lost time with his friends and family. “I was going out, catching up on my socials” he said, “that [part of me] was pretty diminished after leaving school for a year.” With much needed time to catch up, Punk had to make the decision to step away from the competitive grind for a bit.
“Kinda [had] to rethink what I wanted to do” Punk described the thought process of stepping away from Contenders. “That’s what happened with the [Uprising] Academy, decided whether or not I wanted to leave Australia and my last year of high school […] It was a bit of a set back, but I decided to stick in Australia for a while and see what happens”.
Punk finished high school and enrolled in university in his time away from OW. In his first semester, Punk had to turn down some offers from Australian Contenders as he looked to stay away for the moment. “People did reach out and I told them [no]. I wasn’t quitting, I was just seeing what else I could do” he explained.
Completing the Path to Pro
The one call Punk could not avoid, was the eventual call from the Boston Uprising.
“I was surprised when the coaches called of course,” Punk started, “they actually asked if I wanted to trial for [Uprising Academy]. I thought at this time, y’know, I was accepted into Uni that it wouldn’t be worth it”. Understandably so from Punk’s perspective, as the last stint with the Academy team failed to net any meaningful results at the time. It wasn’t until a bit later that the Uprising called about Punk’s VODs that he became interested in competing once more.
But Punk never lost that competitive edge, it was just put on hold for a moment. He stayed sharp grinding the Overwatch ranked ladder, where he played with the game’s top players. Despite not being on an official team, Punk joked that he still got the experience of playing alongside OWL pros in ranked matches. Maybe it was in those ranked matches that Punk saw that he could truly make a splash in OWL. “I always thought from the start when they chose that other guy that I could make an impact,” he said when asked about being snubbed the roster spot, “that I could do better”.
“There’s always a bit of me that thought I could make this team better” Punk explained, sitting inside the Uprising’s team house in Massachusetts.
Quite a debut for @punkinoz so far!
— Boston Uprising (@BostonUprising) May 16, 2020
Punk had the right feeling, as his first match in the Overwatch League brought Boston a victory after 9 straight losses. While the journey lasted a bit longer than expected, Punk’s very own Path to Pro has finally made it to the summit. Now it’s up to Punk to keep the Boston Uprising team on the rise.
Featured image courtesy of the Boston Uprising
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