This match remains the blueprint for the league—and more are coming.

20:30, 23 Jan 2021

The Atlanta Reign shook the cage, and now it’s the San Francisco Shock that shakes the world. The Reign’s victory over the eventual champions during the 2019 Overwatch League quarterfinal left us all stunned, and now, in a few short weeks, it’s the world that now faces the Shock.

On the one hand, Atlanta helped to clear a path for a dynasty to be born. On the other, both teams created the blueprint to what most Overwatch League matches aspire to be.

During the 2019 Overwatch League quarterfinals, the Reign cracked the hammer, but oddly enough, the Shock broke it themselves. The tool that nailed down each and every team in the Overwatch League that dared to rise to the challenge, missed its target in the worst way possible. And from that point on, the Shock was a different team.

Like Men In Black, the Reign had the flash on during this snapshot of a match, blinding the Shock with their own mortality. However, in that instant, they unknowing helped to give birth to the titans we still call champions to this day. Whether or not Atlanta is to be praised or blamed for the creation of this dynasty still has the jury hung. However, they did give us one of the most important moments in modern Overwatch League history. 

Are we saying the Atlanta Reign are the fire nation in our grandiose fantasy opera? Before your second thought, perhaps the San Francisco Shock are the Avatar. Well, as they say, if the rhetorical shoe fits—wear it.

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Still to this day, it is impressive how much this game delivered. Not only did it have an enclosed narrative, but it also went seven gruelling maps, and it had drama with the playoff implications. This criminally underrated quarterfinals match was a cornucopia of everything that captivates us, that has us standing on chairs, pants on our head as we question reality. Six maps and the final one comes down to a near four-minute hold on one point—and they came just short. Just incredible. 

Consider this; imagine we don’t see the images of the Atlanta Reign’s jubilation. Imagine we don’t see the juxtaposition in Grant "moth" Espe’s face as his team ventures just a touch too far off the cart in those final moments. These are the poster children to the idea that showing is everything. What should have us excited about the future is that Overwatch Esports Vice President, Jon Spector, confirmed that the league is interested in showcasing more player reactions so that iconic moments like these will never be lost. We need moments like Andrej "babybay" Francisty embracing his former team and verbalising what we all had rapidly clattering like pots and pans in our mind.

“What just happened?”

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Now, the Vancouver Titans were the first team to test the San Francisco Shock, that’s inarguable, but it was Atlanta who nearly stole the show. They are the ones that put the Shock’s playoff dreams on game point. Stage titles are respectable, but let’s not kid ourselves, everyone in this league is playing for the ring. And to see the Shock pass the reigning champions, their peers, and their rivals, all without dropping a single map? That’s a different level of impressive. 

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In all seriousness, San Francisco’s stunning loss to Atlanta during the season two quarterfinals was one of the last times we’ve seen the Shock dance with two left feet. Not only did the match exceed expectations, but it was the catalyst to their losers’ bracket run and one of the few starting points to their dynasty as a franchise. It seems only fair that a portion of the blame can be placed—albeit playfully—on Atlanta’s shoulders.

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Consistent success was not something we had thought possible in 2020, and yet the Shock were one of the only teams to prove that idea wrong. Sure, the Shanghai Dragons are a fair shout and Philadelphia certain could be argued, but with the clarity of hindsight, no one was as consistent as the Shock.

Now, their Summer Showdown loss to the Paris Eternal in the semifinals was surprising, that goes without saying, but to bounce back from that is almost more impressive. Far too often do champions slump under the dryer-fresh blanket of relief. They don’t need to fend off the challenges any more, they can finally relax—but that is exactly what set them apart. The Shock not only were vengeance-bound, but managed to defend their title through one of the most meta volatile moments in Overwatch history.

In the absence of dominance, inspiration took its place.

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And like muddy tracks at the end of an episode of Scooby-Doo, you could say our masked vandal here are the Atlanta Reign. Without their victory in 2019, history likely doesn’t play out the same way. Did the Reign ruin it for everyone else or did the Shock take it upon themselves to level up? Perhaps it is a strange marriage of both ideas, but the match itself sits not only at the core of that narrative but is one of the most iconic and dramatic matches in Overwatch League history. 

This is why the Reign’s victory over the Shock is Overwatch League’s carrot on a stick; it’s a blueprint for success. It showed us what this game can be when it’s all on the line. Sure grand finals are awe-inspiring, but how do you capture that outside of one time a year? How do you create a league that can churn out those moments more and more? That, in and of itself, poses the million-dollar question. Can the league synthesise the kind of feeling that the Atlanta Reign’s victory over the San Francisco Shock gave us all and being able to recreate it more frequently? Putting it bluntly; we’re trying to catch some anime, so how does the Overwatch League improve their scripts? 

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The thing is, they already have. 

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Imagine if every match was like this. Now before you cry tears of desensitisation, separate the wheat from the chaff for a moment. The point is, Overwatch esports could use a crystalised injection of healthy drama and larger than life narratives to complement the player’s latent skill. This is why the 2020 season is so exciting and has so much potential for the future. 

When teams played 40 games, every game mattered.

But when teams play 16 seeding games in 2020, every game matters.

Let’s also throw in some uncertainty on how many teams qualify for the tournament. And don’t forget the dash of ambiguity when it comes to the rewards of these tournaments. This is a recipe that inherently gives us exactly what the Reign and the Shock’s match gave us, however, now it is baked into the system. 

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We need more captivating matches like the Reign and the Shock. We need more teams like San Francisco who challenge our preconceived notions as to what an Overwatch League team can be. We need to cultivate these larger than life stories to transition the casual fan into the career fan. And the 2020 outline that has rolled out these past few weeks is the best part. They’re doing it right in front of our eyes. 

Overwatch League’s carrot on a stick is within reach.

 

Images via Blizzard Entertainment

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