But in the end, it wasn’t enough. For every great play by Seoul, the Shock always had a response, ultimately winning them the league title as well as the $1.5 million grand prize.
The San Francisco Shock came into this third season of Overwatch League (OWL) as one of the clear favorites in North America, though much has changed since those first matches in February. The coronavirus pandemic forced matches to move online, the league introduced rotating character bans to change how the game is played week to week, and Jay “Sinatraa” Won, the reigning league MVP, left the Shock to pursue a career playing “Valorant.”
Andy Miller, chief executive of NRG Esports and owner of the San Francisco Shock, told The Washington Post the Shock were able excel through it all because of the intrepid leadership and direction from their head coach, Dae-hee “Crusty” Park. Despite everything this season, the Shock finished the regular season at third place overall, with a record of 25-3.
“We never thought we didn’t have a chance to win this whole thing,” Miller said in an interview after the Shock won the finals. “A lot of people weren’t talking about us so we felt a bit disrespected."
This year, because of the pandemic, there were no sold-out crowds in packed arenas. The Shock traveled to Seoul to play the Dynasty online, with thousands of fans instead tuning in from home. Despite the odd Saturday morning hours for North American audiences — the match started at 6 a.m. Pacific time — the battle between the Shock and Dynasty garnered up to 120,000 concurrent viewers on the league’s stream from YouTube.
The Shock had a strong start to the series with the first map, Oasis. Namju “Striker” Gwon came out swinging, breaking down the Dynasty’s back line, taking away the chances for Jin-mo “Tobi” Yang and Young-wan “Creative” Kim” to heal their teammates. At the end of the match, Gwon was awarded the league’s grand finals MVP for his ability to poke and prod Seoul’s players throughout the series.
San Francisco then carried their early momentum into King’s Row, one of the league’s hybrid maps, steamrolling to the final few dozen feet of the map. That’s when the Dynasty started to push back in earnest. The team’s two deadly DPS players, Profit and Dong Eon “Fits” Kim kept the high ground and pulled off a lethal last stand, almost turning the match into a draw.
Down by two maps, close to losing it all in a sweep, Seoul selected the map for the third round: Hanamura, on which the Shock happened to be undefeated, with an 18-0 competitive streak over the past two seasons. At a news conference after the match, Seoul Dynasty’s coaching staff told reporters the team picked Hanamura to counter the Shock’s Minki “Viol2t” Park, a damage-dealing support player who single-handedly won fights for his team as Zenyatta.
The plan worked out for the Dynasty. Seoul won the map and the team started to find some steam of their own. In one of the most spectacular plays of the series, Profit sliced through San Francisco, bringing the series to a 2-2 tie. With Profit leading the charge, the Dynasty looked alive. Jae-hee “Gesture” Hong began to connect more eliminations together as Roadhog and, for a few moments in the series, Seoul looked like they could win it all.
The only problem: San Francisco always had a response. The Shock didn’t have one player who rallied their team to victory Saturday. At certain moments, the Shock’s captain, Matthew “Super” DeLisi, would outperform Seoul’s Gesture as Roadhog. In other key moments, San Francisco’s Seonchang “ANS” Lee, a South Korean DPS player who joined the team in the offseason, would respond to with one, two or three eliminations to fend off a Dynasty advance.
“I proved to all those doubters that I deserve to be here. My mom and my dad will be super proud of this moment and of me right now,” Lee told Danny Lim, an Overwatch League emcee and translator, in a post-match interview.
For San Francisco, winning the title for a second time meant they could be more than champions for the moment, or even the year. The players said they wanted to make a name for the franchise — not just for Overwatch League but for esports.
“It goes beyond Overwatch,” DeLisi said. “You can talk about us with the best esports teams of all time now.”
After San Francisco won, Lim asked the Shock’s head coach if he had anything he’d like to tell fans watching from home.
Park then looked at the computer screen with a grin and just asked: “Hey guys — Are you shocked?”