Fresh Starts: The Past And The Future Of The Vancouver Titans
Fresh starts are not always what they seem, and the Vancouver Titans have seen both sides of that coin. They now stand with a semi-clean slate, with a retooled roster, awaiting news of the Overwatch League’s first voyage into the unknowns that its sequel brings.
Like untilled soil, fresh starts are potential laden opportunities. Is there ample rain? What about the sun? Can the soil sustain all that we hope to plant? Some things can be controlled, others simply have to be shrugged off as matters of chance and fate.
Yet each is another at-bat to record into the history books. After rebuilding quickly in 2020, after learning lessons all throughout 2021 and losing players along the way, even reaching into certain players narratives, there is a sense of affable rebirth held within Vancouver that permeates nearly every facet. The Titans now stand with a familiar yet hopeful smile ahead of the unknown. Next year can and will be different, this newest chance with Overwatch 2 will not be wasted.
They would make sure of it.
They wouldn’t let all their hard work go to waste.
“A lot of times people say ‘don’t think about things you regret’ but last season I think there was a ton of stuff we—or I—could have done better,” Steven "Flubby" Coronel lamented as he recounted the Vancouver Titans past seasons.
“As a staff, we all agree on these things. Some personal things could have gone better and, as a whole, it was a very stressful year for everybody involved.” However, it wasn’t just the pain of one miss opportunity the weighed heavily on him. Even the lessons learned along the way seemed like harsh, cold showers.
“Obviously, in 2020, we came up abruptly,” Flubby said.
“We had to get together a roster and everything—and all things considered—we did rather okay for what was going on. My other coach [Ali "Pew" Anwar] was very adamant [about] strategy and one area where we failed that year was [our] strategy—like very much so. That was our perspective going into .”
“Strategy? We cannot fail.”
“And we actually [didn’t]. We did a really good job of reading metas, practising correct things when new patches came [out]. The whole thing for us the entire year was just execution and with execution comes a lot of underlying things that people don’t really expect.” Flubby cited that both players and staff often suffered heavily from the stress of losing, the state of the team, all of these underlying influences build up over time.”
“That was definitely something that we learned—pretty, pretty hard,” Flubby laughed.
“There is a lot more to a team than just strategy.”
Was it that the Titans were too focused on strategy? Flubby didn’t think so but balancing the interpersonal situations and large scale in-game decision making is a skill to be honed. He noted that those interpersonal attributes went in tandem with execution but at the same time once the snowball started down the hill, it was incredibly difficult to stop. And yet, the Vancouver Titans were not winless. There was some hope somewhere during such a difficult season.
Flubby and the Vancouver Titans managed to stop the decline at least momentarily during the Countdown Cup. In the final stretch of the season, the Titans roared with new vitality and swept the Boston Uprising 3-0 during Week 17.
“Any time you’re feeling so down and you get such a huge [win] like that, I think everyone feels a certain way and they’re motivated again,” Flubby said. “Not to say that they lost motivation, but it’s hard to keep up that fire, that intensity when you’re losing.”
He elaborated explaining that during a team meeting after their win over Boston, the mentality was completely reset. There were no past losses, no wins so to speak. Just a completely fresh start for their final few games.
“At that point, playoffs were out of the question for us,” Flubby said. “That [didn’t] mean that our last month [couldn’t] be our strongest month. Honestly, that last month was our best month of [practice]—ever. I think timeline wise, preseason we did really well in [pracitce] and that last month we did really well.”
All lights seemed to flash green just as time was ticking down. Not just performance but the improvement was trending upwards and Flubby explained that it was just like their form prior to losing one of their integral members.
Just after the start of 2021’s June Joust, the Vancouver Titan’s main tank, Abtin "ShRedLock" Shirvani, surprisingly retired and departed the team. As one of the Titans’ biggest vocal contributors, things were difficult to repair in the midst of competition.
“Ever since doing [my] European adventure I had with Team Gigantti, I would stop by Second Winds’ [pracice] and hang out and get to know the players more,” Flubby explained. “It was kinda nice not being a part of the staffing at that time because I got to know the players more. It was fun, something to do on the side. With European [pracitce], you would always have work in the morning, so in the eastern time, so it was always nice. ShRedLock was someone who I saw grow up. He was this very quiet, mellow guy.”
Going into their 2020 season, Flubby and the coaching staff were sure that he could be moulded into a top western tank player.
“2020 he had his struggles but in 2021, going into that tryout season, ShRedLock was just really impressive, he said. “At the beginning of 2021 he was awesome, dude, I don’t really know what to say. He was smart, any decision was made with clear ideas in mind, he would be talking quite a bit.”
“When it came down to his retirement—obviously everyone’s performance dipped, and I think that lead to—maybe not the main part of it—but it was part of the decision he made. He had other things on his mind at the time.”
“That’s one of my bigger regrets,” Flubby said. “I felt like I should have been able to do more. That question I’ll never be able to get a good answer—and asking anyone for that kind of advice is just impossible because they won’t ever understand the situation.
“I think I find a lot of guilt in that sense.”
As dark and foreboding as the situation seemed, Flubby and ShRedLock still are connected to this day even though their days playing are well past them. And that connection between coach and player was something Flubby connected with quite a lot. It was obvious from how much he wished he could turn back the clock and find the right words to say, but he explained it went further than that, past just one player in particular.
“I think when he retired, it was a very big gut punch—it felt really bad. I saw him grow up and there are a lot of these relationships that people don’t really realise exist. You work with these kids from when they were young, like—and this is off topic—but [Benjamin "UltraViolet" David], [Corey "Reiner" Scoda]—like we’ve been talking to and working with [Reiner] since 16 years old, and he’s in Overwatch League now. Same with UltraViolet.”
“These things are kind of insane,” he chuckled.
“You become attached to them. They came up with you, they listen to you because you’re a coach, but at the same time, there is some [sense of] friendship there.”
Flubby and his staff were traditionally close to their players in the past, partly due to the inherent nature of Overwatch Contenders being the talent pipeline into the league itself. However, something he stressed was setting clear boundaries and always remaining a high degree of professionalism. While they seemed to foster a close relationship, Flubby said he had never had an issue with lines or roles being blurred, they always just had to pick the right time to be a friend and a coach.
Managing to still pull together a fairly competitive season was a feat for the coaching staff, but one that didn’t come without consequence. Ending the regular season with a 1-15 record, playoffs weren’t on the table—and that didn’t seem to matter much.
“Obviously we’ve had meetings surrounding that because it’s a topic that comes up during staff stuff,” Flubby said. “Like playoffs are something to shoot for but when you don’t have the opportunity to even get there, what are you playing for?”
“And you can have your doubts, like ‘what do they have to play for?’ We took it upon ourselves to talk to them individually—and it wasn’t a surprise, it was more a [reafirmation] that they just want to win.”
“They could care less about playoffs,” he explained.
“Every single player that we talked to, every single person from top-down, they didn’t care about playoffs, they just want to win.”
“No one had really given up.”
“The main thing I’d like to get across is no one gave up. And that’s what matters.”
While the situation was serious and difficult to manage, the Vancouver Titans did find some semblance of levity last season. Throughout his career, Flubby and his staff had never met face to face. Venturing through the amateur divisions did not warrant the luxury of team houses and with a career that dated back to 2019, they looked forward to finally being able to review in the same room with their players and have one-on-ones that weren’t online. Really coming together meant something to them.
But even that came with its fair share of ‘issues’.
“Obviously, we’re doing preseason practice and we had to go to Canada and had to quarantine and [Kim "Teru" Min-gi] was a little delayed for whatever reason,” Flubby explained. “And we were all in the facility except for [Teru].”
“So we start practice, and we had this VOD room. And we were so excited to use it and start pointing at things on the screen instead of drawing with Epic Pen and drawing on things. We tried it a few times and, it was so funny, we’d set up [Teru] with the little mic and we’d be talking and pointing at the screen—but we realised we’re screen sharing with [Teru]—and he can’t see anything we’re pointing at.”
“So we had to draw on the maps and make little notes and the whole time—and we’re like; ‘why don’t we just sit at our computers to make it easier for us?’”
As he shared the story, you could feel the relief and the smile coming across his words. This was a fun memory, a silver lining to such a stressful point for the team.
“Then [Teru] came home—or came to the team?” Flubby laughed. “I guess it’s like home. Around the same time, ShRedLock retired and then we got [Moon "ChangSik" Chang-sik], who, by the way, ChangSik the best sport ever, like the best person ever. And again, we had someone abroad, so we went from not being able to use the room, to using the room for a week, to going back to doing everything Discord and online.”
“[Pew] and I have yet to really experience the full team review. Where we to have stuff prepared, everyone is in the room, and we get to point at the screen and draw on it or whatever,” Flubby laughed. “Hopefully, there are no issues with travel for this year and we’ll have to do a follow-up interview. It’s funny that I’ve still not been able to do that yet.”
2022 held a lot of hope. Could a historically underperforming team find their footing? What would the offseason hold for them? And would they ever all be in the same place at the same time? While chaotic, the post-season moves were exciting for a myriad of reasons.
One of the largest was their brand new roster packed to the brim with fresh talent.
“The main thing you want to understand is that it comes from the top down,” Flubby said. “We’re painting a portrait, but from the top down—they choose the pencil or what brush. But from there, but we got to paint the picture. I think we had a particular idea of what we wanted from the offseason, particularly from the young calibre of the players available.”
“We wanted people who are, I guess the best term is those who just grind out of their mind. It’s very easy to see who is committing their time properly and you can tell. If you go look at hours played or people who stream, you can see who is committing their time to a game that a lot of players [openly criticise].”
“We wanted the people who, despite all that, who really give an [crap] about the game, and that play the game, and who are also very good at the game. All the while, keeping in mind all of the past lessons we learned from the last two seasons especially when it came to the team dynamic.”
“That’s not to say people last season didn’t grind, don’t get me wrong, but that’s just one thing that we were looking for at the beginning of our roster construction.”
Every season, across the variety of esports that are consumed worldwide, the offseason is a time of change. Roster moves, coaching regimes ending and beginning, the chaos of the post-season is equal parts stressful and enticing. However, leading into 2022, the Overwatch League faces a significant variable that truly cannot be accounted for as it stands now; what about Overwatch 2?
“Overwatch 2 brings about a lot of variables that we can’t control,” Flubby explained. “So the main thing that we can focus on is core fundamentals. How the game should be played, how flexible these players are, and going off of that.”
“Obviously there is only one tank, the other two roles will change—but they won’t change as much as we’re expecting.”
“We’re looking for flexibility across all roles. We’re looking at controlling the variables we can because we can’t really understand what’s going on until you get the game in front of us. It’s really odd to build for a game you don’t really know because it’s ‘a different game’.”
“It’s not like Overwatch: 2022 Edition—it’s Overwatch 2.”
“That’s the best way to put it.”
“It’s weird to build for something that you’re not entirely sure how it’s going to play.”
It was these fundamental strategies that were established throughout these last five years that Flubby and the Titans were leaning on. That was sure not to change too drastically. That’s what they were sticking to as a philosophy, but the personnel was where optimism truly shined for Vancouver.
“The lad!” Flubby exclaimed as a familiar name was brought up.
Originally one of the key fixtures to Vancouvers 2020 rebuild, Niclas "sHockWave" Jensen would be making his return home to play alongside the Titans in 2022.
“[I’m] excited to see him. He was also so funny,” Flubby explained. “I think I’ve said it before but he’s such a bright spot on a team and that is something that is a really redeeming quality in anyone and I’m excited to have that return. And seeing him in person. It won’t be online—that’d be great.”
The excitement was palpable in Flubby’s voice and for good reason. After facing a logistics nightmare with the Philadelphia Fusion in the midsts of the COVID-19 global pandemic, sHockWave was practically absent from the 2021 season. Now, he’d finally get to showcase all the improvement, which Flubby made sure to note, he had made during his time away from the league. However, that wasn’t the only thing that stood out to the young coach.
When it came to some of their acquisitions, it was flex support Park "Aztac" Jeong-su that stuck out the most and surprised Flubby during their initial interactions.
“I won’t disclose what he said, but his motivations, things that he wanted to do to be here now,” Flubby said. “Obviously, the gameplay is important to us and he is a great player, but at that same time, that personality, that grind mindset, like what are you playing for? Everyone can have their own way, it doesn’t matter? Like what do you want to play for? Money? Glory? Twitter followers?”
“No one has said that, but I’m just saying. It doesn’t matter what your motivation is, as long as that motivation keeps you going through and through. When people talk and you tell you what they motivated, and they keep going, then you can tell it’s legit. Hearing him talk about these things was very interesting and that was definitely a standout interview.”
Rookie Nick "False" Wiseman was also another person to receive praise from the Vancouver Titans head coach. Watching him from a distance, Flubby appreciated his rise through the ranks with famed amateur team American Tornado. After replacing longtime flex tank Colin "Cucumber" Arai and still being able to make a name for himself? Flubby was impressed, to say the least, and was excited to get the season started.
Flubby explained that this iteration of the Vancouver Titans was like a V8 engine, something loud and powerful and that it stood apart as a big change from Titans’ rosters in the past. Immediately flanking any talks of skill and gameplay, was an emphasis of health and wellness for both the staff and the players. Flubby explained that making sure everyone is in fighting form to battle the stress of the 2022 season is a high priority on the list.
“From a staff perspective, I think for us, we still have so much to prove,” Flubby asserted when asked about season wide goals. “At this point, the way we perceive it, we survived the purge. There is a negative connotation around that like there is something keeping us here. It just feels like crap when you know the players went through the same things we did and they left and we’re still here.”
“That guilt definitely builds up.”
“I’d like to say that I matured a lot these past months. There were a lot of humbling experiences. A lot of stress I never thought I’d have to go through in my life. I think that’s just the change from our end—just to be a winning team and make sure we’re learning from our mistakes.”
“For the team? I can get back to you on that because I will be asking that to them personally and individually and as a team once we have our first team meeting,” he chuckled.
“I can assure you that it’s winning.”
“When it comes to Overwatch they want to win. They got a taste of it, and they want to keep going.”