With their roster carefully selected, Team Spain have set their sights on breezing through preliminaries and making it onto the Blizzcon Arena Stage. First, they had to overcome last year’s poor showing at qualifiers. Then they had to conquer financial setbacks, due to a new format and an unfortunate sponsor deal.
Overcoming Past Hardships
Last year fans of both Team Spain and the Philadelphia Fusion were left stunned when main support Alberto “neptuNo” Molinillo González announced his withdrawal from the World Cup just one month prior to the qualifier stage in Bangkok, Thailand. While he cited health concerns and burnout in his Twitlonger, some fans still felt that the loss of such a high caliber player was partially responsible for Spain’s lackluster showing. When asked if he regretted his decision, he said “It was the right decision and I don’t regret it”. He added that “…this year I committed from the beginning on going. We have a lot of new players [on] the team that are trying to get into Contenders or OWL. So I will try my best and help them make it.”
Concern over players’ mental and physical health is not a new concept in esports and is a topic of frequent discussion throughout the Overwatch League. Veteran players, such as, Benjamin “uNKOE” Chevasson, Scott “Custa” Kennedy and Benjamin “BigGoose” Isohanni, all announced that they would not be participating this year prior to team selections. After making it to Team France’s final roster, neptuNo’s former Philadelphia Fusion teammate, Gael “Poko” Gouzerch, also withdrew, citing health problems.
Worldwide Financial Struggles
Blizzard instilled new format changes to this year’s World Cup which left many teams, including Spain, facing financial setbacks. The new format gives all 50 teams the possibility to play in Anaheim, however, some have had to opt out of attending. It also eliminated the much loved and incredibly hype group stages. But where it hurts the most is the wallets of these teams, putting a large financial burden onto them. Although, Blizzard is still footing the bill for the top 10 qualifying teams, according to the Overwatch League website, “…all other eligible countries that confirm their attendance will be fully responsible for their travel and will receive some support for hotels.”
This is the second year in a row Thibaut “Tibix” Durand is serving as Spain’s General Manager. He says the new structure has had quite an impact on the team. “It’s very hard because last year all of it was paid, so the players only had to focus on training and improving their skills”. Originally excited for the opportunity to travel and play at Blizzcon, the monetary hardship on teams was hard to bear. “I hope next year Blizzard will make some changes because it’s not possible to do this another year.”
Sponsorship Gained and Lost
Many teams immediately turned to their communities for financial support. Within weeks there were multiple crowd sourcing campaigns set up, alongside alternate jerseys for sale. However, Team Spain was fortunate enough to have secured a sponsor early on. Or so they thought.
In a Twitlonger posted on October 5, the team committee explained their situation with complete transparency. “Travel expenses of Team Spain were 100% covered and confirmed,” they stated. But with flight costs increasing daily and Blizzcon rapidly approaching, they still had not received the promised funds. “Urgently, we met with the sponsor and [he] informed us that, despite backing up our project, he currently did not have the money for it.” This left Team Spain in a quandary, as Blizzcon was three weeks away and they had no way to cover the expenses.
The committee had to make a difficult decision; submit their team’s withdrawal or turn to their community for urgent support. They continued in their Twitlonger, “…We have opened the donations as a last desperate attempt to send, at least, the six players to compete, leaving the committee and the 7th player in Spain”. They explained that they felt that their team deserved to participate in OWWC after all their hard work.
A Community United
The goal was set to raise 7000€ by October 20, which only gave the community two weeks to donate and the committee less than a week afterwards to secure flights and accommodations. But it wasn’t that long before donations started to pour in, collecting over 1200€ in just two days. The Spanish community wanted to see themselves represented at World Cup and they were making it clear.
Beatriz “kaquka” Alonso is a highly popular Spanish streamer and serving her second year as Spain’s Community Lead. She tweeted that she would be hosting a 24 hour stream on October 12, complete with pick up games, guests, and prizes to try to boost the donations further. But even she was surprised it only took about 14 hours to achieve their minimum goal of 5000€. She tweeted the next day saying that she still couldn’t believe they would be able to send their players.
A Team Undivided
Although it still meant leaving behind their committee and their substitute player, Spain had their funding to get to OWWC. But donations from both the Spanish and international communities were still coming in. In what may have been an effort to make amends, Tibix says that the person who was in charge of the original sponsorship deal still personally contributed some funds to the endeavor. This gave Team Spain enough to bring their full seven man roster. But what is a team without its coach?
First time OWWC Head Coach Pablo José “Darkzero” Ramos Alonso may not yet be a household name in competitive Overwatch, but he’s had experience coaching teams in Contenders South America, Europe, and most recently with Chicken Contendies during their North American Season 1 playoff run. An avid competitive swimmer in his youth, Darkzero credits a strong bond with his former coach for inspiring him to turn to coaching as well. “I decided that I wanted to have the same impact on players that my coach had on me. Not to be a teacher but actually help youngsters to grow up and make them better, inside and outside of the game.”
Receiving profound praise from many that have worked with him, his hard work to have an impact on his players seems to have really paid off, quite literally.“The players put the money in to take the coach there with them.” says Tibix. Miraculously, Team Spain would be sending their full roster and their highly revered coach to World Cup after all. Tibix further says, “We will send the 7 players and the coach that have been working very hard for this. This is their opportunity to shine. Kaquka and I will stay in Spain to give them this opportunity.”
A Token of Remembrance
Before the unpleasant sponsor news, Spain had already begun a contest for their fans to design an alternative jersey. This year’s official jerseys were not well received throughout the community, and Spain wanted something to remember World Cup by. Tibix says, “The idea was pretty criticized from people…yelling at us that all we wanted was a ‘free design’, but we were happy that all [of] our community was happy about the idea and helped us a lot!”
Funds were initially set aside as an award for this contest and to help offset the cost of production. But with the sponsorship debacle those funds had to be reallocated towards the cost of travel. Even with the contest on hold, the winner was selected on October 4. Tibix confirms that, “The winner will receive the 150€ that we promised and a shirt with all the players’ autographs”. Any money leftover will be dedicated to still hopefully having the design printed and doing giveaways after OWWC.
¡Muchas felicidades a @PatruXita por el diseño ganador!
— 🇪🇸Selección Española de Overwatch🇪🇸 (@SpainOWWC) October 4, 2019
Welcoming the Challenge
Despite the difficulties, Spain has hurdled over every obstacle thrown at them and are ready to make this their year. “People in Spain are aware of the amount of work these players and the committee [have] put in. They know we will play our hearts out trying to put our country in the best possible spot.” says Darkzero. He commented further saying that Spain is hoping to play against other European teams. “It is something really challenging and beautiful for the players. Teams like Sweden, France, UK…we have an insane amount of respect for those players but [it] can be an awesome experience.”
When asked why fans should be rooting for Furia Roja, Tibix had a simple message. “Because after a few years, we finally have our own national competition, something that helps a lot to make Overwatch grow in Spain. This year is the transition year, this year is the change we all have been waiting for [in] Overwatch. This year is THE year for Team Spain to show what we can do and we take the challenge.”
The preliminary matches start in less than a week, but no match schedule has been released at this time. Games are tentatively scheduled from 12:30PM EST until about 1:15 AM EST on October 31.
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