The joy of victory can manifest itself in different ways. It can look like the forward somersault that one of the San Francisco Shock players did on his way to shake the hands of the defeated—at last—Vancouver Titans. It can look like head coach Da-Hee “Crusty” Park’s proud tears as he went around bear-hugging everyone just seconds after the winning moment. It can look like flex tank Hyo-Bin “Choihyobin” Choi nearly losing his glasses in the chaos of the initial celebration, and ducking out of the huddle to save them from certain trampling. It can look like player of the match Min-Ki “Viol2t” Park tripping over main tank Matthew “Super” DeLisi after the group picture, both teenagers sprawled on the ground, laughing, giddy—champions.
On Sunday at Blizzard Arena Los Angeles, the Shock put a crown on an exceptional, record-breaking, unthinkable stage with a 4-2 win over the reigning stage champions. Over the last six weeks, they transformed their Stage 1 Finals devastation into a flawless run through 28 maps and, eventually, a dominant playoff performance. Painful defeat is often the catalyst for even sweeter triumphs, and San Francisco’s young prodigies have been richly rewarded.
The recent history between these two teams lent an extra layer of significance to this match. On Sunday, after the fifth map, the Shock found themselves in an eerily similar situation to the one they faced in the Stage 1 Final—up 3-2 against a Titans team that only seems to gain power the more they’re pressured.
This time, though, the Shock knew what to expect.
“Last time I think we took our foot off the gas and didn’t do what we needed to do,” Super said. “But this time, probably half the things I said after the fifth map was—don’t let up, do not do the same thing we did last time.”
And they didn’t. The Shock closed out the match in style on Map 6, Blizzard World, converting on vital plays to keep momentum firmly in their own grasps. It wasn’t perfect, but even with a couple of whiffed ultimates, they relied on each other to survive and sustain fights and finally push the Titans past the breaking point.
Whether they were taken aback by San Francisco’s newfound maturity or simply affected by their own insufficiencies on the day, Vancouver didn’t quite have the earth-shaking confidence that they normally exhibit, and it showed in some hesitancy, especially when it came to teamfighting—their inability to capitalize off Min-Soo “Seominsoo” Seo’s Graviton Surges or Sang-Beom “Bumper” Park’s Earthshatters was a significant departure from their usual ruthless playstyle.
Simply forcing the Titans to veer ever so slightly from their game plan counted as a big mental victory for the Shock. “That told us that they were kind of scared of us, and we knew we had them if we just kept going strong,” Super said.
“There were a lot of unusual mistakes,” Titans support Seong-Jun “Slime” Lee admitted after the match. “We weren’t able to execute our plans.” The loss marks the end of their own phenomenal win streak, one that stretches all the way back to July 21, 2018, when the majority of the roster was still with Korean team RunAway.
Bumper, reflecting on the end of a unique era of dominance that spanned two top leagues with two different organizations, could only offer, “I’m very happy we were able to put together a long streak.”
Just over 12 hours before Vancouver’s ill-fated final, the current RunAway team—reigning champions in their own right—was dumped out of the Contenders Korea semifinals by an unheralded O2 Blast. Leading the charge for O2, literally, was RunAway’s original tank god, Sang-Hoon “Kaiser” Ryu. Bumper wasn’t Kaiser’s immediate successor, but he’s the most notable one, the one who carries a similar swagger, and Sunday’s results were a reminder that the mythology of this Titans team, more than almost any other group of players in the Overwatch League, runs deep.
Although the past isn’t even really past, the future has already arrived with an impatient knock, wearing the colors of an early morning sun peeking through a foggy Bay Area sky. The Shock have their own backstories; this is, after all, a roster of phenoms and late bloomers, the coveted and the cast-off, fused together into a rowdy, crowd-pleasing, manifest-joy nucleus. The Stage 1 loss was frustrating for the team precisely because they were already on the doorstep, but the experience also gave them a shot of confidence that allowed the team to do—well, everything they just did in Stage 2.
“For me, we were just better than them last [time], but this time, I was thinking, we are way better than them, for sure,” Shock DPS Dong-Jun “Rascal” Kim said.
There have been great rivalries in Overwatch before—a couple of Vancouver players can attest to that—and some certainly carried over to the inaugural season on the shoulders of legends. But what we’re witnessing now is the dawn of the first great Overwatch League rivalry. The Titans, old gods who would consume the world if allowed; the Shock, bringing forth a tectonic shift in power. Vancouver’s semifinal clash against the New York Excelsior—another all-time great roster—on Saturday was intense and important in its own way, but felt like it came a stage too late. The Titans and Shock are writing the story of the 2019 season, and it’s one in which they—not New York or London or any other team—are the final bosses.
It couldn’t have been anybody else in the Stage 2 Finals. It couldn’t have been any other team handing Vancouver their first loss.
“That’s the main reason why beating them feels like we’re the best team now—because they’ve been the best team for so long,” support Grant “Moth” Espe said. “Everyone wants to beat them.”
Now, the Shock know they’re the ones to beat. As other stage champions—including the Titans—might caution, retaining the title is a much tougher task than winning it in the first place. But that’s a challenge for another day, after All-Stars and a well-deserved break. For now, they’re content in knowing they’re indisputably the best team in the Overwatch League.
“Our team was always not [ranked] first, for sure—always the second or third or fourth, like, ‘They’re good but there are better teams like NYXL or Vancouver,’” Crusty mused. “Today we break that.”
Join us for the Overwatch League 2019 All-Stars on May 15–16. Stage 3 starts on Thursday, June 6, at 4 PDT, when the San Francisco Shock (11-3) take on the Atlanta Reign (7-7). Watch all 2019 season matches live and on demand on overwatchleague.com, the Overwatch League app, our Twitch channel, MLG.com, and the MLG app.