There is no doubt that the Shock are strong, but could they fall short?
The San Francisco Shock are your defending 2019 Overwatch League champions. However, with the league undergoing changes and becoming more and more chaotic, eyebrows have been raised on their 2020 season title defense. Should the Shock be worried about how chaotic this season is slated to be and how quickly teams are progressing up the ladder with regards to defending their title?
Hero Pools, in the regular season, favors flexible teams over teams that are good at refining specific metagames. Now, the game is more of a marathon than it ever has been. Now the regular season is about cardio, rather than strength training. You could argue that their loss to Shanghai last year during the Stage 3 playoffs could point towards some volatility in gear shifting, but that also is in a different game. Hero Pool fundamentally changes how coaches look at the game and Crusty isn’t a slouch. He is of the highest caliber and would adapt his systems to the landscape. However, more generally speaking, I do think it will take time for the Overwatch League as a whole to find their sea legs and adapt to Hero Pool effectively, the Shock included.
When we look at 2019, we can see a strange tendency plays out. Stage 1 began with a loss to the Los Angeles Gladiators, Week 2 was a loss against the Vancouver Titans, and Week 4 saw the Shock drop a match to the New York Excelsior. However, when stage playoffs begin, the Shock turns it around and coast to an incredibly memorable match against the Titans. Stage 2 was their perfect stage, topped with a strong performance in the stage playoffs.
However, in Stage 3 we return to the throughline. The Shock takes the Atlanta Reign close, while not concerning on its face, it illustrates my point. They then lose to the Houston Outlaws and then the Chengdu Hunters the following week, two very big losses. Then in playoffs they wake up and look back to their normal dominant selves. To cap the regular season off, the Shock then struggled to put away the Gladiators again in Stage 4, but otherwise had a fine showing.
Next are the seasonal playoffs, where, if we go back and watch, the Shock in all rights should have won their first-round match against the Atlanta Reign, but ultimately did not. The fact that it was close, to me, crystalizes this theme perfectly. This Shock roster starts slow and needs time, or a tough loss, to ramp up into their playoff form. The problems could have reared their ugly head again in their 2020 debut against the Dallas Fuel. While they didn’t lose to the Fuel, could dropping a map to a team that many analysts posed as a bottom-five team be a smoking gun to this theory?
Now that we’ve at least set the stage with the core of the argument, how do the new features of the 2020 league play into the Shock’s title defense?
With Hero Pools, this could duplicate the feeling of always having to start over. Does that take away from their playoff potential? Absolutely not, but what it does affect is their regular-season snowball. If you’re taking close games week in and week out against teams that wouldn’t hold a candle to you in the previous season, I’d wager that it affects your confidence and your mentality. I can’t and won’t speak on how much it could affect you, but it is a factor worth talking about.
The competition is much closer as it stands now.
San Francisco bested the Titans both in the mirror but exposed them when they ran the Bastion pick. They were the two teams that started the 2019 season strong and ended trading blows, obviously, the Shock had their knockout finish in the grand finals, but the point still stands. Looking at the Shock last year, there aren’t too many metagames where they look bad, especially with their playoff performance last year.
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Dealing with two simultaneous metagames, the Sigma/Orisa/Doomfist/Reaper composition and the Bastion bunker style, in such decisive fashion only compliments that narrative. They dealt with GOATS in the regular season and added a twist on it with Rascal on Baptiste. They easily could have played in a metagame dominated by Sombra GOATS, they have the pieces to pilot Dive well, and they have talented marksmen to take double-sniper to the limits. It’s safe to say they have the staff to do it all.
Now we look at 2020.
Not only can the Philadelphia Fusion make those same claims of versatility, but their strong start to the season also makes them a title threat. Take the Paris Eternal. With Spr9k1e waiting on the wings and their powerful finish over favorites, the Atlanta Reign, in Week 4. This puts them as contenders to sit among the top teams especially with an ocean of potential to grow into. While New York has not looked the same, the season is long and their roster is very deep. With Libero finally seeing stage time, NYXL could easily return to form.
And you cannot forget about the Vancouver Titans, who don’t boast the same versatility per se, but they make up for that with brute force. With aces like Haksal, Twilight and now Fissure, this is a team that at any point can put anyone away. Obviously their fatal flaw is team cohesion, but that doesn’t take away from their potential knockout power. The Titans this year remind me of a 2018 London Spitfire core and that team’s history should speak for itself.
This season is much more challenging compared to 2019 where the Titans and the Shock were the only atmospheric teams. Nonetheless, if the Shock wants to cement themselves as the Overwatch League’s first true dynasty, the first title defense, the first repeat champions, the first champions to deal with Hero Pools, all would look gorgeous on their resume.
I take no pleasure in saying this, but the Shock should be alert and aware of those who are nipping at their heels. With their tendency to start slow, take their foot off the gas or need a loss or setback to seemingly motivate them, Hero Pools, and with how strong the league is getting, the Shock are not obvious favorites this season. This also doesn’t take into account the added stress of travel and practice efficiency that 2020 has brought along as well. As it stands right now, the Shock still are still the odds-on bet to defend their title this year, but it is a safe call to say the gap is closing.
They are the odds-on favorite, but that does not necessarily mean that it is obvious.
Should the Shock be worried? No.
Can the Shock afford to tumble into the losers bracket in the playoffs this year? No.
This will be a pivotal year for San Francisco’s system. While the team may have to stay on their toes, the fans should be very excited for the future of this franchise.
Image via Blizzard Entertainment