Following their Season 2 victory, what are the odds that they'll take home the title again?
The larger than life stories that orbit esports are what keep us here. It’s what drives us to wake up at the crack of dawn to witness the possibility of history. It’s what takes our attention all across the world into uncharted territories and into stadiums and convention halls filled with people that hold a similar passion. It’s the legends, the names, and the tales they tell that captivate us--and the Overwatch League is witnessing the birth of their very own legend. After such a dominant 2019 season, can the San Francisco Shock avoid becoming victims of their own success and forge the first dynasty in the Overwatch League era?
They are the odds on favorite to pull off this Herculean effort, but the deck is stacked against them.
The amount of travel required this season not only will take a toll on the efficiency of their practice, but it will stress what it means to be a “team.” Shakespeare said, “Uneasy is the head that wears the crown” and there couldn’t be a more perfect description of the Shock this season.
They are the team to beat and they know it. That causes it’s own stress, a stress of maintenance, while still attempting to keep a journeyman’s hunger for greatness alive and well. Now they view themselves as champions. They are winners of the highest caliber. And anything short of domination starts to chip away at that strong sense of self until the confidence once called “hubris” melts like candlewax.
That is the number one contender to Shock’s 2019 title, their own shadow.
And as cliche, as it sounds, the Shock truly are the Overwatch League’s first champions.
Not in historic truth, but in feeling.
The 2018 London Spitfire were not even projected to defeat the Los Angeles Gladiators in the quarterfinals, let alone win the entire season. Come 2019, the team arguably were not in striking distance to even defend their title, and before you claim hindsight, I had them at 5th going into Stage 1. They were punchy, but unstable and wielded their individual talent like a club. Compare that to the Shock’s run through the 2019 playoffs.
After winning Stage 2 and coming second in ever other Stage playoffs, the Shock came extremely close but just missed defeating the Atlanta Reign in the upper bracket quarterfinals, 3-4. The Shock then went on an unprecedented 20 map win streak and toppled the Vancouver Titans to win the championship. This victory and dominance showed are reflected in how the communities ranked the teams as we head into Overwatch League season three. Pundits, peers, and community members alike have unanimously voted the San Francisco Shock as the strongest team going into the 2020 season.
They are the first “true” champions in the Overwatch League era and the pressure is on them to defend their throne. Under a different scope, key members of the roster also embody this pressure to reach excellence as well.
Head coach Park "Crusty" Dae-hee can shut down any heretics with a historic repeat championship run. After leading the Boston Uprising to a surprising mid-table finish at the start of the 2018 season, he frankly shocked the world when he and Boston pulled off the league’s first perfect run in Stage 3. That cemented their stock that season as plucky underdogs and it was mostly credited to the coaching staff’s leadership, which Crusty lead. He was rightly touted as HuK’s “golden goose” and the Uprising system was off to a fabulous start--right up until Crusty left and joined the Shock in the following stage.
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Immediately people jumped the gun and wrote him off saying he wasn’t that integral and he wasn’t needed for Boston to succeed. Jumpcut to their playoff performance that year and their 2019 regular season execution and I think we can safely say Crusty wasn’t even close to being a problem. Rather the opposite actually as he and the Shock had a frankly dominant season which further showcased his aptitude for deep and nuanced player substitutions as well as allowing and being able to utilize hyper-flexible players like Kim "Rascal" Dong-jun and Park "Architect" Minho to the best of his abilities.
While the cult of people who write off Crusty is small, they still exist. Winning another season or even just being able to take his team to another grand final appearance would make his status as the number one head coach undeniable.
A similar story could be pitched to San Francisco’s wunderkind, Jay "sinatraa" Won and Matthew "super" DeLisi, two young and deserving prospects that shouldered the lion’s share of the burden in 2018. They now stand as equal parts spokespeople and key members of this championship roster.
During the 2018 season the consistent narrative was, “what happens when the Shock can play with sinatraa and super? Why have the Shock banked on two players that can’t even play?” And frankly, the community was left wanting once they finally were able to play, but the organization knew what kind of talent they had and look where it led them. It led them to the core of what looks to be, on paper, the most dominant team in Overwatch League’s history.
Two-time Olympic gold medalist soccer player Mia Hamm said, “It is more difficult to stay on top than to get there” and the Shock, as a team, knows that more than anyone.
With the odds starring them in the face, the San Francisco Shock has everything to prove as they attempt to not only become the first team to win two Overwatch League titles but secure the league’s first-ever title defense and become a dynasty.
Carpe diem, Shock. The gilded gates of esports history lie before you.
Images via Blizzard Entertainment