Inside the Votes

The T-Mobile MVP fan vote tallied nearly 650,000 votes worldwide via social media, and Sinatraa was the clear favorite with 36.8% of the vote. Among the “expert” poll—comprising team management, global broadcast talent, and members of the media—Sinatraa also came out on top with 33.7% of the vote.

Rookie of the Year was decided via the same “expert” poll as MVP and Role Stars, with each voter providing their top three rookies with points assigned to each placement. In a packed field, Haksal emerged with 17.9% of possible first-place votes, as well as 12.8% of the total point share.

On Thursday at Blizzard Arena Los Angeles, the recipients for the two highest individual awards in the Overwatch were announced: San Francisco Shock damage Jay “Sinatraa” Won was named the Most Valuable Player presented by T-Mobile for the 2019 regular season, while Vancouver Titans damage Hyo-Jong “Haksal” Kim was recognized as Rookie of the Year.

Sinatraa emerged as a worthy successor to last year’s MVP, Seong-Hyun “Jjonak” Bang of the NYXL, claiming both the public T-Mobile fan vote and the closed poll from teams, broadcast talent, and media. Haksal was the runaway winner—pun intended—of the closed poll, an impressive feat when considering the wealth of new talent in the league this season, including his own teammates.

It’s fitting that the two winners hail from teams that separated themselves from the pack—the Shock made all three stage finals and established themselves as a meta-proof roster capable of adapting quickly to any situation, while the Titans rode a dominant early win streak all the way to the best regular-season record and top seed entering the playoffs. The fact that Sinatraa and Haksal stood out on star-studded rosters says a lot about their respective genius.

Sinatraa, confident and explosive, maturing into a team player and making good on his own potential. Haksal, precocious and ambitious, turning heads by reinventing himself on an unexpected hero. Congratulations to the 2019 MVP and Rookie of the Year!

The Prodigal Sinatraa

Which version of Sinatraa do you know the best?

There’s the one whose daring, impeccable Tracer play nearly topped South Korea at the 2017 Overwatch World Cup. That’s the one that created both a myth and a monster. His fearlessness and brash self-confidence were double-edged earmarks of his youth, and they held him back when he finally made his debut in Stage 3 of the inaugural season, shortly after turning 18 and becoming age-eligible for competition.

“Last year, I was just a kid,” he recalled. “Dumb, thinking I could carry the team, this and that, playing by myself.”

That’s another version of Sinatraa you know, the one from 2018 that carried an amateur mindset to a professional setting, the one who would always try to pull off the hero play without the proper backup from his team. That Sinatraa had the most hotly anticipated debut of the season, but limped quietly into the autumn with nothing to show for all of his razzle and dazzle.

“Not making any stage playoffs last year—that hit me hard,” he said. “I used to read Reddit a lot, and Twitter, and everyone would flame me, so that’s when I kind of realized I should probably change.”

Sinatraa has repeatedly credited his team—coaches and teammates alike—for helping him grow, both as a player and as a person. “I learned a lot about how to play with a team, and just living in the team house for a year now has taught me a lot about just being a nicer person and being a better teammate in general.”

So now we have this version of Sinatraa, the one who is still a star, but recognizes that you need an entire constellation to light up the night sky. They’ve done exactly that; steered by head coach Dae-Hee “Crusty” Kim, the Shock found staggering success in the 2019 regular season, including appearances in all three stage finals and the first and only golden stage in league history. Sinatraa was a big part of that success, according to Crusty. “Sinatraa is very well deserving of MVP,” he said. “One of his many attributes I like is when the coaches and myself set certain expectations, Sinatraa will always take the initiative and execute courageously.”

Deep Impact

Sinatraa and Haksal’s strong performances throughout the regular season were reflected in their Player Impact Rating values, the meta-agnostic model developed by stats producer Ben “CaptainPlanet” Trautman to evaluate individual players across roles, teams, and metas.

During the 2019 regular season, Haksal led the league with a 121.7 PIR, and Sinatraa was on his heels with a 119.05 PIR, despite playing only sparingly in Stage 4.

It’s this newest version of Sinatraa who just collected the 2019 MVP Award, and it’s this version that feels the truest. His statistics this season were staggering—15,577 hero damage per 10 minutes in teamfights, the highest in the league, and that number was even higher when limited to just Zarya (16,488), the hero he played the most over the first three stages.

Maybe the greatest indication of the new Sinatraa’s maturity is the fact that he accomplished most of this in the triple-tank, triple-support meta, where team coordination was the holy grail. There was no such thing as solo-carrying, and in embracing that, Sinatraa became the ultimate carry on Zarya, enabled by his teammates.

That’s why this award means so much to him—it’s a testament to how much he’s grown in a year. He no longer reads the comments on Reddit or Twitter, because he doesn’t need those outside voices hyping him up or dragging him down anymore.

Winning MVP is validation enough.

“When I saw Jjonak last year, all I wanted to do was win MVP and win the Overwatch League at Grand Finals,” he said. Then, because this version of Sinatraa is both not as young as he used to be and yet still only 19, he added, “Wait, I’m going to knock on wood—one second.”

Haksal’s Hidden Depths

Sinatraa was one of the first prodigies in the Overwatch League, but years before, in Korea’s APEX tournament, there was Haksal. As a teenage Genji specialist, Haksal was a menace in Runaway pink, feared for his devastating Dragonblades.

It must be a bit bemusing to him, now, that in his first year in the Overwatch League he became famous for an altogether different hero: Brigitte. But even with different tools, Haksal managed to stand out, ranking first among Brigitte players in both hero damage (8,082 per 10 minutes) and healing (13,584 per 10 minutes) in teamfights, and second in final blows and survivability.

But that’s part of Haksal’s immense potential—he has more than one trick up his sleeve. Vancouver Titans head coach Ji-Sub “Pajion” Hwang said, “Haksal is a very smart player, so if I give him one piece of feedback he is able to take ten things from it. A lot of people think he is only good at Genji, but he can play any hero at the highest level because of this.” Director of operations Harsha Bandi added that Haksal is “perhaps the most mechanically gifted player in the world, and he has the game sense to match.”

With all these superlatives in mind, as well as his lengthy list of career achievements, it’s easy to forget sometimes how young Haksal is at just 18, and he admittedly acts his age sometimes. After thanking his fans for their support, he brought up the recent controversy surrounding an on-stream outburst, citing it as a valuable learning moment.

“I’ll try hard to watch my behavior and prevent things like that from happening again,” he said. “Before, I think I was toxic beyond belief, but nowadays I think to myself, I shouldn’t, so I’m trying to improve. I want to show people a leopard can change its spots.”

Much like Sinatraa’s transformation from a year ago, the kind of change Haksal is referring to has to take root in his own determination. But within a team setting, at least, he’s tried to have a positive impact beyond just his brilliant mechanical skill and shotcalling efforts. “I also take care of my teammates’ mentalities during the matches,” he said. “I try to cheer my teammates on when I can see that they’re kind of tilted, and when they play well, I’ll exaggerate my praise and say positive things.”

Showing off the well-oiled coordination from their Contenders Korea title run in 2018, the Titans blazed a trail unlike any other in the Overwatch League, winning their first 19 regular-season matches and the Stage 1 title while barely breaking a sweat, and cementing their status as one of the kings of the 3-3 meta alongside the Shock.

Vancouver’s success has surpassed even Haksal’s lofty expectations. “When I first entered the league, I did expect us to be one of the top teams, but I never expected us to finish first in the standings,” he said. “When I heard there was going to be an award for rookie of the year, I kind of expected something to happen, because we had such a long undefeated streak at the start of the season.”

With top-three players in nearly every role, there was a compelling case for any of the Titans to take home a regular-season award. “Actually, I expected that Jjanu or Bumper might get the rookie award because they’re really popular and really good players,” Haksal admitted. “When I got it, I was a little surprised.”

Hyun-Woo “Jjanu” Choi did in fact make the shortlist for MVP, along with support Ju-Seok “Twilight” Lee. But Haksal is the one who is walking away with Rookie of the Year honors, and he’s grateful for the recognition.

“You only get one chance to win the rookie of the year award,” he said. “I really appreciate getting this, and it motivates me to work hard so that I can win other awards in the future. I want to be the best not just among the rookies, but among everyone in the Overwatch League.”

In case you missed it, we announced Los Angeles Valiant support Scott “Custa” Kennedy as the recipient of the 2019 Dennis Hawelka Award for his leadership and charitable contributions this season, and unveiled the 2019 Role Stars class comprising the top four players at each role.