If you had to best team in the world, what could you do?

18:00, 23 Jun 2020

The San Francisco Shock are establishing themselves as one of, if not the best team in the world. Riding off a high from their 2019 championship run and their victory at the May Melee, the Shock don’t give teams much room to breathe. They adapt quickly and can find success in almost any given metagame. They have one of the most talented lineups in the game and the matching coaching staff to lead them. Catch them if you can and strike when the iron is hot because the San Francisco Shock is not going to give you many opportunities to beat them, but if one presented itself, as unlikely as it sounds, what might it look like? If you were to design a way to beat the Shock, what would it be?

First, you’d want the environment of the match to be very chaotic. Ideally, you want to wish for a very strange Hero Pool or a metagame that has multiple interpretations. That particular metagame also would have to be so open that it would be difficult to find a through-line throughout all the matches that week. That is going to be infinitely more difficult to reproduce currently with the 2-week Hero Pool change. The previous 1-week Hero Pool system was the silver bullet in toppling the Shock. So much chaos was inherent to the system that it felt like it was a guarantee that, at some point in the season, even the best teams were going to have the wrong take and suffer because of it.

That time has passed and the majority of the Overwatch League missed their turn. However, that’s not to say that no one got a chance to battle with a San Francisco team backed into a corner.

Shock players after their victory in the season 2 stage 2 finals, celebrating.

Week 8 of the Overwatch League is an interesting time frame to try and decipher with the Shock suffering surprising losses to the Los Angeles Valiant and the Los Angeles Gladiators. Tank variability seems to be a pattern in both of these losses. From Wrecking Ball and Reinhardt to Orisa and Sigma, the Shock seemed to be pinned against the ropes when gauging what their tank lineup should have been. Now it’s difficult to say whether they had a wrong read that week or if there were other underlying causes that created such a shuffle, but if there was to be another metagame, perhaps with the removal of Hero Pools in the Summer Showdown alongside a patch change, you could see them slip a bit. 

Lucio being banned was an interesting point to levy against the Shock looking at Week 8 in particular. However, with the recent acquisition Lee "Twilight" Jooseok their woes when it comes to compositions that require double flex supports or Hero Pools that force Brigitte seems to be quelled. While the Shock have found a solution to a problem people haven’t even properly started to abuse with their support line, there is a very real question when it comes to the flexibility of their DPS lineup in its current state.

Striker, focused on stage playing in front of a big crowd.

With the departure of Jay "sinatraa" Won and Park "Architect" Minho, the Shock are going to have a difficult time with certain flex DPS picks. That’s not to say they don’t have a strong flex DPS, there are few players who trump Kim "Rascal" Dong-jun in how many heroes he can play at a high level. With that said, take for example a metagame that might feature Mei and Doomfist a premier DPS duo. Both your ideal Mei player and your Doomfist player are forced to play one or the other. This also pigeon holes them and restricts how flexible they can be on the fly.

Another great example of how teams could leverage this into an advantage would be how telegraphed their lineups would be. When Rascal comes in, you can expect traditional flex DPS picks like Genji, Mei and Pharah. If both Kwon "Striker" Nam-joo and Lee "ANS"  Seonchang are on the starting lineup you know that hitscan is going to be on the menu. There are points and even entire maps in Overwatch that can call for vastly different compositions or in the very least are more open to different strategies. Leveraging this idea of their DPS telegraphing their intentions to your advantage and attempting to lean into a more creative interpretation of the metagame seems to be successful as well. Recall back to San Francisco’s 3-2 victory over Dallas in Week 11.

Shock huddle after winning the season 2 grand finals. Also pictured, CEO of Shock's parent company NRG Esports.

On Rialto, Dallas throws San Francisco a curveball as they opt out of the Mei mirror match. Instead, they play a very Pharah-centric poke composition and pressure Rascal to swap heroes. This either forces them to mirror the Fuel’s composition, which might not have been scouted or prepared ahead of time, or forces the Shock’s DPS line to shift and adapt on the fly. The merit to either of these outcomes is it puts the opposing team in the driver’s seat. The Shock no longer are dictating the pace of the game. That said, you can see how stark the inverse is as the Fuel roll into Point B and lose steam with the poke composition on their attack round and move into a Doomfist and Reaper composition. The Shock responds by returning to their Mei composition and stonewall the Fuel at the turn.

With that said, look at how the stars have to align to give a team a fighting chance at beating the Shock. To reiterate, Dallas took them close, but they still lost. That is how unlikely this whole scenario is. 

Your best chances to beat the Shock most certainly would not be in a tournament or playoff structure. Not only are they a team that rises to the occasion, see their 2019 championship win, but with how well they do in the regular season they most certainly will have a bye-match and will have more time to prepare. Ideally, if you want to beat the Shock, you want to face them sooner rather than later. Reducing the amount of time they can prepare and refine their game is pivotal, but your team also has to be somewhat near their level—which is no small feat.

Beating the San Francisco Shock is going to take a “Swiss-Cheese” approach. There won’t be one single thing that you can best them at and take a series win, it’s going to be a layered system that leans on many little instances that hinders and limits them. To beat the Shock you’re going to need a very open metagame, one where they can’t or don’t have the time to prepare, you’re going to need to be a step ahead of them compositionally, and on top of that, you’re also going to need to be one of the top five teams in the world. 

That is how unlikely it is that any team, outside of the seasonal playoffs, is going to beat the Shock. 

Images via Blizzard Entertainment

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