Ten coaches shared their opinion on Bumpers performance in 2019. The answers made me rethink what it means to be great in Overwatch.
On August 26th, the last day of the second season of the Overwatch League, Vancouver Titans’ main tank Sang-beom "Bumper" Park stepped off the world stage. Bumper had been a shining character across the regular season, trash-talking and styling on his opponents. The fans loved him for it and the Overwatch League highlighted his persona in several interviews and video features. Bumper became a spectacle every time he grabbed the microphone. With a cheeky grin and childish glee, he would address his opponents, waiting for the translator to bring his Korean jabs to the English audience so he could bathe in their reactions. The Titans remained dominant with him on the frontline, only losing three matches across the entire regular season. They were considered one of the favorites to win the title, with their rivals Shock on about equal footing. But when it was time for playoffs, as suddenly as it was unceremonious, he vanished.
The Titans addressed the situation, stating that the team had talented alternatives and they had decided to replace Bumper for TiZi. Here and there the truth value of that statement would be questioned in the wider community. However, Vancouver made it far enough in the competition for the point to never really matter. The fact that they did reach the final backed up the justification and TiZi’s performance didn’t seem to be the cause of their eventual collapse in the final against the San Francisco Shock.
For me personally, it raised big questions about the quality of Bumper as a main tank. Could the Titans have done better with the teammate they had built synergy with since 2016? Was Bumper not the top 5 main tank that I considered him to be?
Barroi had been one of the more vocal analysts during the early stages of OWL last season. On the podcast Oversight, he pointed out that he thought Bumper’s performance in pre-season trials had been so atrocious, that he might not even be Overwatch League level. At the time, coach of the Vancouver Titans Harsha, who is now with the Houston Outlaws, retorted that Bumper had chosen this particularly aggressive and at times tricky playstyle because it had worked in the RunAway system. Harsha’s point appeared difficult to argue against given that the team had just won Contenders Korea season 2 in 2018 and Bumper had been an outstandingly flexible player over the years on multiple roles. At least during the first three stages last year, his doubters were silenced by an impeccable season record, which eyed the perfect season until their win streak came to an end against the Los Angeles Valiant in the middle of stage 3. A slight but noticeable decline in in meta understanding crept into their play, missing the train on Sombra-GOATs first and eventually getting trounced by the Justice during the 2-2-2 meta in stage 4. Judging strictly by performance, Bumper hadn’t seemed like an obvious issue. He had perhaps not performed to a level of a role star like Mano or Super, but in my mind, he wasn’t much further behind.
Had I been off? Was Bumper just made to look this much better by his teammates or was he someone contributing to his teammates’ success in equal parts? I set out to ask 10 coaches anonymously across the league on their opinion of Bumper’s individual performance in 2019.
Coaches weigh in
“I think RunAway made him look a lot better than he actually was. In scrims, it was worse. He’s kinda troll,” one Overwatch League coach answered when asked about his evaluation on Bumper’s 2019 season. While it isn’t particularly new that some teams like to have fun in scrims if they feel that the opponent doesn’t offer a challenge, Bumper stood out to Overwatch League coaches for pulling all kinds of shenanigans during practice. A similar notion was shared by another OWL coach: “I think a lot of people thought he was overrated by the community, was too aggressive and made a lot of mistakes but had an insane team behind him. In scrims he would do crazy stuff all the time. It feels like he was a pretty flexible player but definitely the weakest link play-wise on that Titans roster.”
Over half the coaches I asked landed in a similar spot with him, though some made the caveat that they hadn’t taken the time to specifically analyze his play as they didn’t feel it would improve their fundamental understanding of Reinhardt in GOATs. One coach showed himself especially critical of Bumper’s ability. “I analyzed a lot of his play and found it to be poor, especially in terms of game knowledge like going for flank shatters when the enemy team has a Sombra and she just sees him.” Anticipating counterpoints that other coaches may have brought up to defend Bumper, the same coach explained his tank philosophy to be different from other coaches. “I think others will have a good opinion of him. Their argument will maybe be how he got a lot of focus and aggro which is what a main tank is supposed to do. I just don’t share that opinion.” Interestingly, this coach pointed out that he thought TiZi was the more promising prospect, an opinion that wasn’t shared by many other coaches I asked. As anticipated, another coach indeed based their opinion on a tangentially related point, stating that “we mainly saw him play Rein and he was really good at taking space and defending chokes.”
To the defense of Bumper
“I think the problem he had with his reputation was that everyone kinda knew that if he played the way he did with any other team, it couldn’t work. But at the same time, if it works, how can you argue against it?” one coach defended Bumper, raising the important point that we cannot conclude that Bumper was necessarily unable to play any other way. The same coach elaborated on his point further. “I think in sports there is often a thing where good teams make an average player look good, similar to how everyone looks at the Shock players as best in slot for every role,” later adding that “once [the Titans] start to lose, certain players will look like weak links. Maybe that’s where Bumper fits too,” expressing that it isn’t be out of the question for us to eventually realize which unknown holes Bumper filled in the Titans line-up if we were to see the team underperform without him in season 3.
Two coaches offered an entirely different viewpoint, placing Bumper as one of the best performing main tanks in 2019, showing themselves quite skeptical on the reasons why he had so suddenly stepped out of the limelight. One coach had little doubt about the quality of Bumper as a player and as a part of the former RunAway unit. “Bumper probably wasn’t kicked from the team for skill issues. He is an incredible player whose strengths were downplayed and whose weaknesses were tunneled in on. He’s a top 3 main tank from last season and though Fissure is quite talented, this feels like a side-grade from the team talent-wise and a step down in terms of synergy.”
A second coach also had high praises for Bumper. “I think it’s without a question the case that Bumper was a top 3 main tank in 2019. For me, it was obvious to see when he was playing seriously or when the Titans were toying with their opponent. When he was serious, he was great.” On top of the remark of Bumper’s performance last year, the coach offered a vague explanation for the lack of Bumper in 2020. “There is no way that Bumper isn’t Overwatch League level. If he wanted to play for a team in Overwatch League, he could.” The coach denied further clarification on whether his team had offered Bumper a contract or if he had knowledge of other teams doing so. During the offseason, Bumper had repeatedly been connected to the Shanghai Dragons, though the deal seemingly fell through and the Dragons opted to bring back Eui-Seok "Fearless" Lee to the main team.
Conclusions and Wittgenstein’s ruler
To me, talking to these coaches revealed just as much about them as teacher of Overwatch, as it did about Bumper as a player. Most readily gave up having any authority on evaluating Bumper, as they felt they hadn’t paid enough attention to him specifically and were mostly focused on improving their own teams and preparing for the next opponent.
That said, the arguments they gave me for their conclusions appeared reasonable even though they arrived at wildly different outcomes. It became apparent to me that coaches, even with comparable achievements in Overwatch, succeed by focusing on very different aspects of coaching to the point of holding diametrically opposed opinions. These professionals had rich and well-thought-out models to think about Overwatch that we too rarely get a glimpse of (instead merely asking them for a couple of names for the MVP vote without any further elaboration).
I learned that there are no optimal playstyles yet and that perhaps the average Overwatch League player could be made to look like a superstar in the right environment and conversely a top talent might look underwhelming on an ill-fitted team. The lines blurred between the average and the top individuals a little more.
I tried to find out if Bumper was a top 5 main tank in 2019. I learned that my question should have instead been “Is Bumper the right tank for the Titans?”
Image courtesy of Ben Pursell for Blizzard Entertainment