Can The San Francisco Shock Survive The Weight Of Expectation?
We often throw blocks of iron to those drowning, rather than life vests—and for the reigning Overwatch League champions, the San Francisco Shock, their situation is no different. They stand across a sea of competitors, whose force has only multiplied over time, and whose attention is fully enthralled with capturing championship glory.
With all eyes set on dethroning Overwatch’s one true kings, how much weight do their rings bear? After a shaky start to the season, can the two-time title defenders swim against an increasingly impossible current, or will their patience and fortitude free them from the riptide?
Expectations are often more of a hindrance than they are a help. However, it is no coincidence that the San Francisco Shock are the first team in Overwatch League history to capture two major titles in consecutive fashion. Be it players, coaches, or loved ones, placing added weight on the individual without knowing any different sets them up for failure. If they are told they will be champions, if they are told they will be great, they are doomed to chase the tide. Luckily enough, the City by the Bay representatives are fast and familiar friends with being swept underwater.
Shock boasts an impressive historical record of being slow to start to new environments. Recall Overwatch League’s 2019 season; during the first few weeks of the regular season, the Shock took two early losses to both the Los Angeles Gladiators and the Vancouver Titans before accelerating into a stage title.
Lest we forget San Francisco’s loss to the Atlanta Reign prior to their 2019 title run.
In more recent memory, you can review the Shock’s first three outings in 2020. Opening in rough waters against the Dallas Fuel, the Shock’s second outing in week eight would see them swept away by both representatives from Los Angeles. This all before being considered a leader in North America, winning both the May Melee and Countdown Cup and then eventually capturing their second Overwatch League championship.
However, with the changes to the 2021 Overwatch League format, do they have time to burn?
Overwatch League’s inaugural season hosted a 40 game regular season.
Following that, season two held a 28 game regular season.
Due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, Overwatch League’s third instalment housed anywhere between 21-29 game regular season, depending on where teams were situated at the time.
However, season four has been filed down to a meagre 16 game season.
If we look more granular, this year teams only have four matches to qualify for their respective monthly tournaments. Earning added wins from events like the May Melee and June Joust are early votes of confidence for a team’s respective playoff lock. This only amplifies each loss a team procures. Teams are not allowed to slip up anymore. Having a bad read could be the final crack that breaks the dam. Having too one too many errors could mean teams get washed out of the playoff race. One too many early whiffs from the defending champions paired with the weight of the crown could leave them anchored at the dock.
This expectation is centred around the idea that the San Francisco Shock overcame once, so they surely can do it again. However, this removes most of the tangible context regarding what’s changed about this team. Like a riptide catching unsuspecting swimmers off guard, this loss to the Houston Outlaws is a form of growing pain and is to be expected of any team with as many changes as the Shock has faced—but we view them as different. We view them as above that. Through player additions and subtractions, through massive changes in the coaching staff, the San Francisco Shock are not the same team.
When any team loses individual talent like, Lee "ANS" Seonchang, Kim "Rascal" Dong-jun, or Grant "moth" Espe, the environment changes. Regardless of if you think their respective replacements are skilled, it is highly unlikely that they bring the same skill set to the team. The catch is; the Shock lost all that talent at once. On top of that, two tenured assistant coaches, Choi "Junkbuck" Jae-won and Lee "Arachne" Ji-won, departed for ownership over their own ocean. Again, this is not the same team. There’s little argument to have regarding calibre, but in the same way, the sins of the father should not be passed to the son; the riches shouldn’t either. The 2021 Shock are their own team—and yet we expect the world from them. In that same breathe, when they showcase the adaptability and grit to take the Outlaws to game five and come just short of beating them, you cannot help but hear the echoes of Shock’s past voyages.
After looking despondent on Dorado and struggling with Houston’s decisive engages, the series looks lost—but map by map, they adjust. Anubis shows their willingness to be more aggressive and push advantages. This compounds and builds them confidence going into Oasis. And Havanna gave us a taste at their strategic depth with their double-shield look, but it was just slightly too late. While this isn’t the same roster in 2019 and 2020, it feels like the same team.
The same team to make mid-match adjustments on the fly.
It is the same team that came just short of beating the Vancouver Titans in Stage 1 of 2019 but conquered their demons when it mattered most.
This is the same franchise that consistently starts slow but refines the game down with time.
The feeling is wrong, the expectations are heavy and in ways unwarranted, but it’s hard to ignore those same signs. It’s hard to ignore how similar this pattern looks. How after a surprising loss, the Shock reverses the tide and turn it into a triumphant excursion.
The one constant, the one control of it all, is Park "Crusty" Dae-hee. With his track record and pedigree of success, you almost can’t help but throw them a block of iron rather than a life vest. Crusty manages this regardless of his roster, regardless of his assistant coaches, and regardless of the franchises he’s working with.
He is the Golden Fleece.
With a new roster, through increased competition, travel, hero pools, metagame shifts, and bearing the heavy glares from both fans and foes alike, the San Francisco Shock have been asked to pay their seasonal toll. They’ve managed expectations in the past, and they have come out the other end with their hands raised. However, the question remains; is this year any different. After being sucked into a riptide, will they accept their position and smile?
Just as French philosopher Albert Camus imagined Greek figure Sisyphus “happy” with his tedious fate of pushing a boulder up a hill only to have it roll back down, we co-opted the analogy for Atlas; a Greek titan cursed to hold the heavens on his shoulders for eternity. Imagine the weight, imagine the pressure one must feel, but see them as content with their position. See them thrive under the weight of expectation. See them gaze and muse on the stars. And as the walls close in, as their muscles twitch in failure, see them as happy and see them shift.
This is the absurd pattern that happens every year, and every year the Shock display why they are special.
Is the prestige of an Overwatch League title worth the weight it bears? The Shock has answered that questions twice now, and by all projections, they aim to bring glory to San Francisco for the third time.
Can they survive the weight of expectation? Time only knows, but if anyone can catch shooting stars as they fall and hoist them back into the sky, it is the 2021 San Francisco Shock.
Images via Blizzard Entertainment