Many teams have been great, but the 2019-20 Shock are different
With their win at the May Melee, the San Francisco Shock have solidified themselves as our first dynasty in the Overwatch League. They truly stand in a league of their own. However, the best teams in each era always look like they have the best pieces, but this wasn’t just San Francisco stumbling into a good roster. It was meticulous iteration that has given us the San Francisco Shock, a calibre of team that we will never see again.
In many ways, 2018 fertilized the soil so that the Shock could grow into the team we know today. Let’s make no bones about this, the 2018 iteration of the San Francisco Shock was not amazing. That’s why they added Park "Architect" Minho and Choi "ChoiHyoBin" Hyo-bin in April. That’s why they restructured their coaching staff in May and took Park "Crusty" Dae-hee off the market when he left the Boston Uprising and promoted Kim "NineK" Bumhoon from their academy team. If something didn’t work on the Shock, they quickly iterated and improved their situation, but take a second and look at that amount of time. In the midst of competing in 2018, it took the San Francisco Shock months to design an incredible roster that came into season two with tons of potential.
That potential was realized quickly as the 2019 Shock qualified for the Stage 1 playoffs as the 6th seed. Their performance here would set the tone for the remainder of the season as the Shock steamrolled their quarterfinal and semifinal opponents. However, they’d match up with their future rivals the Vancouver Titans in the grand finals and would fall, 3-4 in one of their legendary matches from their trilogy that season.
Stage 2 saw this team complete the first “golden stage”, an undefeated stage with a spotless map record. On top of that, the San Francisco Shock then went on to convincingly take the stage title, beating the likes of the Shanghai Dragons, the Hangzhou Spark, and the Vancouver Titans. The following stage again saw the Shock rise to the occasion but fell short against the Shanghai Dragons in a memorable seven-game-set.
Now 2020 started a bit shaky with surprisingly close performances against teams like the Dallas Fuel, the Toronto Defiant, and an 0-2 week 8 against the Los Angeles Gladiators and the Los Angeles Valiant. However, this uneasiness comes from an understandable place. Hero Pools has changed the game again and they’ve seen some unfortunate departures that undoubtedly has hurt the team. With all that said, the San Francisco Shock still bounced back to take home the May Melee tournament with relative ease, only facing hardship in the grand final against Florida Mayhem.
Since March of last year the Shock have not placed outside top 2, reaching second place in Stage 1 playoffs of 2019, first in Stage 2, second in Stage 3 and finishing second in the regular-season standings. They won the 2019 championship and have continued their streak by winning the May Melee in 2020. As such, their achievements stand tall above the 2019 Vancouver Titans who had a fantastic track record, though most of it happened in Overwatch Contenders. Even the ever-so-solid New York Excelsior, who had a great first two seasons, don’t have the cherry on top and the degree of success that this Shock roster has had. Shock's achievements are unprecedented and have legitimized their claim as the first dynasty in the Overwatch League.
To dethrone the Shock, the next team would have to win every major event, stage playoff or monthly tournament equivalent, and then go on to win the championship. Obviously the Shock can fall off on their own, but to cement the stronger legacy, you’d need to perform something akin to a perfect season or even a “golden season.” That’s the benchmark they’ve set.
The Shock stand as exceptions, outliers among a strong 2020 Overwatch League roster list.
Looking at their transfer history, the San Francisco Shock always seem to be future-oriented with their acquisitions. They signed Matthew "super" DeLisi and Jay "sinatraa" Won knowing they won’t be eligible to play until partway through the season but knew they’d mature into stars. Architect and ChoiHyoBin were added midseason to improve the roster. They snatched Kim "Rascal" Dong-jun up shortly after he left the Dallas Fuel, incubating him on their academy team, even though this move wasn’t seen as a direct improvement at the time. Now the Shock signed Lee "Twilight" Jooseok, arguably the best flex support in the world. To say they have an eye for talent would be an understatement.
The Shock have also shown that they can adapt to vastly different metagames, rulesets, and formats. Not only were they a dominant force in the GOATS metagame which was focused around ultimate trading and coordination, but they also won their 2019 title in the playoff metagame that asked more from the individual’s mechanics. With Sinatraa and Architect leaving on top of adapting to the new revolving metagame in 2020, which they struggled with initially, they’ve still managed to perform well in the regular season thus far. Now with the monthly tournament structure, somehow the Shock still manages to topple the west’s best teams. It's a trend that has spanned the course of nearly two full seasons.
The planets have aligned and gave birth to the dynastic 2019-20 San Francisco Shock roster and to say it will continue into 2021 is hard to call, but right now, they’re simply the best team and it is going to be difficult to replicate this success. We are witnessing our first dynasty in the Overwatch League era and it’ll be a long time, if ever, that we see a team of this calibre again.
Images via Blizzard Entertainment