With such a strong resume, it would be wise to not bet against the Valiant.
It’s strange to remember a time where the Los Angeles Valiant finished the first quarter of their 2019 season winless. To think they would bounce back, do the impossible, rebuild, and continue to perform was unlikely, to say the least, but here we are. The Valiant has clocked in a win over the 2019 Overwatch League champions, the San Francisco Shock, and look to be a strong candidate as a dark horse if they continue to keep things close. This isn’t the first time they’ve done something many people thought undoable. The Valiant takes the term “winnable” to a whole new level. The Los Angeles Valiant has always stood defiant against the odds the community applies to them.
2019 saw the Valiant start their season 0-8. A team that made the playoffs the year previous was now winless after Stage 1. Something drastic had to change for the Valiant to course correct. It was also during that season that, like seasons past, the team suffered a coaching change where head coach Byung-chul "Moon" Moon was relieved of his coaching duties and assistant coach Mike "Packing10" Szklanny was promoted in his stead. This was the catalyst for the team to return to form and a fantastic example of how quickly the organization can triage problems. Nearly a month later the Valiant would record their first win in Overwatch League second season ironically against the Atlanta Reign and from then on out, the Valiant slowly climbed back to becoming a league threat.
One major moment in their redemption arc was a key upset. On June 20th the Los Angeles Valiant played with the odds. That Sunday, the team was set to play the dominant Vancouver Titans, who were, at that point, undefeated in the regular season. The only team that could rival them was the San Francisco Shock. This was nearly impossible for the Valiant to come away with a win, but they found a way to topple the Titans in shocking fashion.
Wielding a GOATS style composition which included Sombra and preying the Titans tendency to remain flat-footed when their opponents would change styles and compositions, as highlighted by their close wins over teams like the Guangzhou Charge and the Chengdu Hunters, the Valiant did the unthinkable. From a team that started the 2019 season 0-8 to beating a team that was arguably the best in the world. This victory would finally bookend the narrative of a team haemorrhaging wins. The Valiant were finally back in form. However, their unfortunate start to the 2019 season would haunt them as playoff spots dwindled and their back-end schedule would be strong enough to push them just out of play-in contention. The team would have to wait until 2020 to continue their winning ways.
Season 3 began with a slew of roster moves that left the community high sceptical of if the Valiant would even be in contention of a play-in slot. Staples like Indy "SPACE" Halpern, Young-seo "KariV" Park, and Brady "Agilities" Girardi had departed the team and their replacements were, at the very least, unproven. The term “budget team” was constantly thrown around as the roster slowly took shape, while budding talents like Kai "KSP" Collins, Rick "GiG" Salazar, and Jung-won "Lastro" Mun all sat patiently to prove the world wrong again. Even taking someone like Sanglok "Dreamer" Song, who effectively was a workhorse in the Pacific region with very little competitive experience, directly from their open tryouts was viewed as nonsensical.
Pegged as a bottom-five team, the Los Angeles Valiant, for all intents and purposes, sits among the mix of teams that make up the middle of the pack with their most recent upset being against the favoured Atlanta Reign. Much in the same way they dismantled the Titans, the Valiant and their ace coaching staff made an audible to adapt to the situation at hand and moved their star hitscan player, KSP, onto one of his signature heroes in Ashe--and it worked phenomenally.
Even when you look at their more recent match record and see their losses against teams like the Dallas Fuel and the Los Angeles Gladiators, you could very logically view that as a knock against the team. However, look at their rosters with a fine-tooth comb and as yourself this; which of those teams probably spent more money on their roster? The Dallas Fuel had to trade away some massive players to sign a talent like Gui-un "Decay" Jang.
The same thing applies to the Gladiators, I doubt someone like SPACE or Ji-hyeok "birdring" Kim is being underpaid. The Valiant are doing incredibly well for their perceived expenditure. Here is another introspective question; why is it that we look to the Boston Uprising for their “system” and their “moneyball approach” when a team like the Valiant arguably has done a better job?
This is not a team you want to bet against.
With what he’s worked with and the success he has garnered, Mike "Packing10" Szklanny should be placed in the elite category of coaches. Standing next to Packing10 is the general manager for the Valiant, Mike Schwartz, should be held in high regard within the space due to how well he has handled the management of the team.
And credit to the players that few saw coming. The organization puts the team in a position to succeed but ultimately, they have to show up on the day and perform. And they have risen to occasion.
Through coaching staff debacles, through player transfers, through rebuilding for 2020, Mike Schwartz seemingly has been the mastermind of the team’s operation. They along with their coaching staff have built a team of star amateur players that not only are fantastically skilled but showcase what lies in the tier 2 scene that is often forgotten.
It is time we start putting some respect on their names. Not only for the players but for the organization as well.
Images via Blizzard Entertainment