The Grand Finals will be a symbolic battle of the old guard versus the new: Veteran squads versus expansion upstarts. But who are the veterans and who are the upstarts? Fans who know only the League side of Overwatch esports will tell you the San Francisco Shock are the old guard, defending the honor of the 12 inaugural teams while newcomer Vancouver Titans seek to put all those old teams out to pasture. But fans who are familiar with Overwatch esports from its infancy will tell you differently.
Though the Vancouver Titans are one of the eight new expansion teams formed for this second season of the League, their players are from one of the most successful and longest serving teams in Overwatch history. They are legends in the scene, their wins spanning two continents and their former team name synonymous with champions even now. In the battle of veterans versus upstarts, the Vancouver Titans are gods.
The Story of RunAway
Their story could fill a novel, one that’s part sports documentary, part romance, and part rags to riches fairytale. Once Upon A Time…
A man named Dae-hoon “Runner” Yoon chose a handful of young talent and created a team he named partly after himself: RunAway. Defined by their trend-setting pink jerseys, Runner and his team competed in what was then the premier Overwatch esports tournament: the Apex tournament. All your favorite players (and a few of your favorite casters too) got their start in Apex. RunAway played against the teams that became the Seoul Dynasty, the London Spitfire, and more. And though they were good, they were always a runner up and never a winner. Second place was as high as they could go.
With the formation of the Overwatch League, a lot of Apex players dispersed among those first 12 teams. Some teams remained, sending players to America and filling the vacant slots with new talent. Other teams, like Lunatic Hai, dissolved completely to the lament of fans everywhere, forever. Find an old Apex fan and ask them about Lunatic Hai then watch as their eyes glaze over in fond, bittersweet remembrance.
RunAway stayed behind that first year, competing in the tournament that replaced Apex — the Contenders tournament. Think of Contenders like AAA baseball. Seven regions across the globe each hold a tournament where up and coming talent fight for their chance to get scouted by the Overwatch League.
With the bulk of Apex talent gone, RunAway was confident they could fill the hole left behind finally becoming champions in their own right. But they didn’t win the first season of Contenders. Again, they got as far as the playoffs but lost early on to X6 Gaming, a team that would send Hyo-bin “ChoiHyoBin” Choi to the Shock and whose core would form the foundation of the Hangzhou Spark.
Down but not out, RunAway returned to the second season of Contenders where they finally got their trophy. In a match believed to be the greatest match in Overwatch history, in a match of seven maps that required an unprecedented eighth to finish, RunAway finally triumphed. Watch the video, watch fans burst into tears at the moment of victory, listen as the casters choke up as this team finally — finally — earns their win. Everyone in that arena, everyone watching at home, was in tears. That’s the power of this team, and that’s the power they brought with them to the Overwatch League.
Arrival in the Overwatch League
It’s rare that a team gets picked up en masse to join the League. RunAway’s manager Hyun Ah “Flowervin” Lee — a woman under whose management the team won their first championship and who deserves a novel in her own right — ensured these players stayed together. More than a team, they are a family, one that’s been through hardship and happiness in equal measure.
Runner’s ability to pick talent and Flowervin’s ability to manage it resulted in a team largely resistant to turnover. Hyo-jong “Haksal” Kim — the League’s Rookie of the Year– Chung-hui “Stitch” Lee, and Sang-beom “Bumper” Park have been with them since they first arrived in 2016. Hyeon-woo “Jjanu” Choi and Ju-seok “Twilight” Lee, two players considered for the League MVP award, started with the team in early 2018, present for, and critical to, their Contenders Season 2 win.
The Vancouver Titans first season in the League is an extension of that Contenders championship run. In the regular season they only lost three games. In the various stage playoffs they only lost two. In this playoffs proper, they haven’t lost yet. They play like a team that’s been together long before the Overwatch League broadcast its first match because they have. And the trust that comes from so many years of service wins them fights no other team could win.
They’ll have a hard time against their rivals the San Francisco Shock. They haven’t beaten them in the new role lock environment, but their experience grants them an edge. This is the first time the Shock have ever made it to the postseason while the Titans know intimately what it’s like to claw through playoffs bracket after playoffs bracket. The Titans also know what it’s like to lose so close to the top, and after seasons’ and seasons’ worth of near misses, they’ve honed their playstyle and teamwork to ensure they don’t miss again.