First you feel the tremor; tiny, and almost imperceptible, like the first ripples after a rock strikes water. Suddenly the trembles stop. The ground quiets and trembles no more. Barely noticeable, you don’t think you felt anything at all. Those foreshocks only herald the real show, the real earthquake where the ground trembles and splits beneath you, taking you by surprise.
This could be a description of an earthquake but it’s actually a fitting description of the San Francisco Shock’s first two seasons in the Overwatch League — now at an end with a well-earned Championship.
No one is surprised the San Francisco Shock are the Overwatch League’s Grand Champions. They themselves certainly aren’t.
They knew they would win. From Day One of the preseason, they knew they’d be the champions. A confidence that comes from the very top, staring with owner Andy Miller, trickling down into the coaches Daehee “Crusty” Park, Bumhoon “Ninek” Kim, and Jumpbuck, and into the players themselves.
“I knew we would 4-0,” Jay “Sinatraa” Won says with the blithe assurance of hindsight. And while I believe him, I can’t help but remember how, throughout the season, he always tapped his hands on the nearest hard surface. After every mention of winning, he knocked on wood to ensure that trademark confidence didn’t mutate into a hubris that would come back to bite him or his steam. Losing to the Atlanta Reign early in the playoffs might explain why Sinatraa and teammate Mathew “Super” DeLisi hedged their bets with a bit of superstition, but to hear them explain it, it only made them stronger.
“It definitely made us work harder, and that ended up paying off for us,” Grant “moth” Espe answers.
“It made us way looser, too.” Sinatraa agrees. “I think we were a little scared going into that first match because it was so different from the stage playoffs, so we played a lot more timid. But after that loss I told my team, ‘Just do whatever we do in scrims, whatever we want, and we’ll win,’ and that’s what we did.”
Also unsurprising is Hyo-bin “Choihyobin” Choi’s selection as the playoff’s MVP.
“Nobody would be here without Choi,” The Shock’s co-owner Andy Miller says, standing proudly behind him. “[He] is the most clutch player in the league.”
“Choi is probably the most selfless player on the team,” Super says, and Sinatraa agrees. “He’s the best teammate I’ve ever had.”
As his teammates gush about MVP Choihybin, another MVP in his own right, Minho “Architect” Park smiles quietly, unaware that at that very moment, his ceiling Bastion strategy on Eichenwalde is being attempted across the competitive ladder servers all around the world.
“Rascal was supposed to use a Mei wall to boost me up to the chandelier,” Architect explains with a shyness that seems at odds with the beastly play he’s describing. “But out of nowhere, I told myself I’d be able to do it with Bastion’s ultimate; I could get up there myself and it was like an instant decision, it wasn’t planned at all.”
Perhaps what is so surprising is the speed with which the Shock toppled their opponents. This was a blink and you’ll miss it finals. And yet, even though the goose egg in the Vancouver Titans column tells a very short, very sad story about the Titan’s performance, the score doesn’t tell the whole story.
“The players gave their all, 100 percent. I believe it was more coaching issues that we lost,” Titans head coach Ji-Sub “paJion” Hwang answers, acting like a shield for his team in this difficult time. “We expected a lot of the strategies the Shock used, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to prep well enough for them, and I think that’s why we lost.”
The atmosphere in the Vancouver press room is crushing. Understandable since nobody likes to talk after a loss like that. This is not the first time they’ve come so far only to fail. The curse of being eternal runner’s up, one that dogged them through their early days in the Apex League has followed them into the Overwatch League. After a dominant season, they are once again only second place. The irony stings, and their faces show it.
But Vancouver had moments to be proud of. Their unique walkouts on stage was something we haven’t seen since the Florida Mayhem mastered that art in Season One. If there’s a prize to win for style, it’s theirs.
When asked about his favorite moment, main tank Jang-hyeon “TiZi” Hwang perks up, flicking away the hair that was covering his eyes to beam about the play he made with Hyojong “Haksal” Kim, where his well-timed Orisa Halt dragged all of San Francisco into a team wiping Meteor Strike.
“I was most proud of that,” he says before falling back into stoic silence.
“This is the Grand Finals we deserve,” boasts Overwatch League commissioner Pete Vlastelica.
He’s mostly right.
The two best teams with the best stories made it to the end to play one Okay-ish game. This will be the second time a Grand Finals has ended prematurely in a complete blowout. We saw a better competition when these two teams clashed for a mere stage playoff title.
But if you subtract the actual game, and evaluate the Grand Finals as an event itself, Commissioner Vlastelica’s boast holds true. We deserved this. The music alone was a vast improvement over last year. Zedd’s opening performance (by the way, is there any way we can get his custom Widowmaker skin in game please?) energized the crowd and Questlove’s commercial break sets kept them going. Hearing chiptune remixes of popular Hip Hop tracks while a sold out crowd cheered and danced together is not easily forgotten.
Nor is the look on the Shock’s faces at the moment of victory. Nor is the roar of the fans at that same moment, shaking the roof off the Wells Fargo Arena like an earthquake–one long coming and one whose aftershocks will be felt long after.