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San Francisco Shock Lead the Overwatch League

Nikhil Kalro

There are teams whose mere mention sends down a few chills to the opponents. Brazil’s football team of the 1990s elicited that feeling, as did the Australian cricket team or Ferrari in the 2000s.

san francisco shock

Image Credit: San Francisco Shock Twitter Account

Every year, the mantle either remains with an outfit or passes on to another. In Overwatch, this mantle has firmly remained with San Francisco Shock for a while. They have been, by a mile, the most consistent and feared team. Glistening trophies and unparalleled success – others would give anything to be in their position.

Twice they won the Overwatch League championship. The world was their oyster, and then suddenly, without any warning, came a huge fall. A turbulence turned into a full-blown crash, and the team fell from grace in 2021 – for the first time in seven years, they failed to make the grand finals. Shanghai Dragons, whose rise coincided with the Shock falling, snatched the top-billing to become the league’s most consistent and unbeatable outfit.

This is bound to have hit the Shock harder than they would’ve liked. It may have even felt like a rude shock, and it’s with this shock that they entered the regular 2022 Overwatch season. On the evidence of what we’ve seen so far, they have managed to channel that hurt and hunger to win back what they’ve lost in a positive way. Six games into the West Standings, they have emerged as the early pace-setters, having surged to six back-to-back wins to top the table.

Teams can get emotional, and when that happens, it’s likely you let the heart rule over conventional wisdom. From the outside, it appeared as if this was the case with the Shock too. Seemingly wanting no trace of their debacle in 2021, they rehashed their roster. All of their players were told to find opportunities elsewhere.

Whether right or wrong, it was clear they hadn’t taken too kindly their failure to qualify for the finals. Teams yearn to qualify for the finals – some consider it a massive win. In this case, a mere failure to go to the final was deemed a failure. It tells you two things: their high standards and benchmarks, and their definition of success. It’s almost as if they deem a season unsuccessful if they don’t at least make the final, forget about winning it.

It wasn’t like they fared ridiculously poorly – a 11-5 win-loss record in the 2021 Overwatch League is still reasonably impressive. But a team that had won the championship back-to-back in 2019 and 2020 weren’t going to be taking it lying down. That they didn’t make any of the four tournament brackets throughout the year may have been the last straw.

Being knocked out of Grand Finals contention in the postseason may have sealed their fate. It’s still just one season’s failure that had many wondering if they were being a tad harsh. Critics questioned their style of functioning – whether there was respect only in victory. Didn’t the vanquished deserve another chance?

The problem with winning teams can be when victory is inscribed so much into your DNA, it can be a shock to accept losses. And such a thought process – one that focuses only on wins and the process to get them  – has the capability to put immense pressure on the players. And this could lead them to wilt or soar higher. In 2021, it was the former.

The Overwatch League off-season can be a bloodbath at the best of times, and it holds true for even one of the most successful franchises. Ahead of the season, they parted ways with seven players. This long list included DPS players Sean “ta1yo” Henderson, Charlie “nero” Zwarg, Lim “Glister” Gil-seong, and Lee “ANS” Seon-chang, flex support Lee “Twilight” Ju-seok, main tank Yoo “smurf” Myeonghwan, and main support Brice “FDGoD” Monscavoir.

This offloading of their roster coincided with multiple players posting free agency tweets – that is, expressing their intention to join the team, or look for newer avenues. The main tank role was, however, with Matthew “super” DeLisi, flex support with Park “Viol2t” Min-ki, and off-tank with Choi “ChoiHyoBin” Hyo-bin, even as the others left.

They were now looking to manufacture a new formula, and so far, whatever they’ve said and done seems to be working. There seems to be a clear distinction in roles, plans have been role-specific, players showing the hunger to roar back – while this isn’t to say this wasn’t the case previously in 2021, the rehash has merely added more spotlight on an already popular outfit whose every move has been scrutinised to the hilt, by experts, fans and opponents. They’re yet to find any cracks this season. Forget cracks, no flutters either. That’s how strong the bounce back has been.

Having the best talent from one of the most successful teams in South Korea within the last year, the Shock have set a rock-solid foundation to rebuild a championship team. Hitscan DPS Jung “Kilo” Jin-woo and flex support Oh “FiNN” Se-jin looked massively impressive in a star-studded lineup coming out of Overwatch Contenders Korea last year alongside O2 Blast. Consider how impressive that is for a moment; amazing talent from a region spawns success.

Kim “Proper” Dong-hyun, hailed as one of the rookies of the year, was also now part of their roster. Having someone who has already earned the distinction of “hyper-flex” even without debuting in the League seldom happens, but the Shock knew what they were doing. Then their coaching staff united with Kim “NineK” Bumhoon.

As if to say this was just a teaser, they also went on to acquire O2 Blast as their official academy team. The Korean moguls were well on their way to being signed by the best. Some questioned this to be a monopoly; others simply marvelled at the daredevilry.

Teams upgrade, some significantly better than the others. This wasn’t a mere upgrade, but a massive statement. The Shock were determined to go back to where they belong and that they would do anything – even if it meant digging deep into their pockets – to do it. Every year, they’ve found ways to impress. This was a new way of telling the world “we mean business”.

Having built an undefeated streak this season, they have so far walked the talk. They look invincible,  shades of the dominating past slowly resurfacing once again. The 2019-2020 Shock rosters will be forever remembered as some of the best to ever do it, but in this new era, the new-look San Francisco can easily give them a run for their money.

Another three weeks could define their journey for the immediate future. Have they taken small steps or a giant leap? Either way, it’s a new chapter in their history.