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Know It OWL: End chapter

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With a few minutes on the countdown until the Overwatch League grand finals, I realised I had a problem: I didn’t know who I was supporting. Neither San Francisco Shock nor Vancouver Titans are my team, but usually in any matchup there’s a narrative I like more, players I’m fond of, some quirk or another that’ll push me in one direction. But Shock and Titans aren’t just matched at the top of the table, they’re matched in the power of their stories. Shock’s meteoric rise from a forgettable, middling team last season thanks to new players with big personalities. And Titan’s meteoric rise from a deeply storied history in tier two thanks to old players with big personalities.

It had to be these two in the finals. But whoever won and whoever lost, it was going to be an upset. With a season like this one, how could it not be?

Shock’s 4-0 victory was in some ways disappointing for fans on every side, who wanted to make their money’s worth with a dramatic slog of a battle, but it did at least feel merciful in its quickness.

Jay “Sinatraa” Won was understandably hyped as the Shock member to watch after being awarded most valuable player this season, and his Doomfist was a sight to behold on Lijiang Tower despite the Titans attempting to counter him by bringing back the much maligned Brigitte.

Though, notice the pull from Orisa player Yoo “Smurf” Myeonghwan that brings the members of the Titans together to be decimated in Sinatraa’s meteor strike. The Shock were consistently well-oiled, even as they switched in and out players between maps.

Park “Architect” Minho sometimes slipped under the radar as one of the Shock’s damage players, what with the beginning of the season focusing so heavily on tanks and supports and the Shock’s other damage dealers making their names in these new roles, like Sinatraa’s Zarya and Kim “Rascal” Dongjun on Brigitte and Baptiste. That’s probably not what motivated his memorable, high-flying Bastion play in the second map, Eichenwalde, but it certainly will stick in people’s minds long after the finals.

Of course, we couldn’t go much further without talking about Shock’s support players, the ignored backbone of any Overwatch team. Grant “Moth” Espe has played the most time for his team this season, and with Rascal back on damage dealing heroes he flexed through several of the supports in this match himself. He and fellow support Park “Viol2t” Minki covered all their bases, both playing some heroes like Baptiste and Moira to increase their flexibility over the Titans, and with Moth also transferring to Mercy and of course his standard Lúcio when necessary.

But the match’s most valuable player award ultimately went to another player whose subtle work is often overlooked: Choi “Choihyobin” Hyobin. Back in the regular season, his D.Va quietly held the team together, and with the introduction of Sigma he’s flexed into the role more successfully than almost any other player in the League. And as a D.Va player, eating the opposing team’s ult but then losing the fight horrifically anyway is too relatable.

Congratulations of course go to every member of San Francisco Shock, the winners of the 2019 Overwatch League season. But what about the Vancouver Titans?

During the match I took notes on what I thought the Titans were doing wrong, but I’m not going to publish them. The Shock deserve focus on what they did right. More than that, I don’t want to take away from what the Titans accomplished; second place is hardly anything to sniff at, especially after such a dominant run through the League after being picked up from the second rung of the sport.

Still more than that, I don’t think that esports is just about victory.

When I pitched this column back in January, I wanted to tell stories. And no one made me fall in love with esports stories more than the players who now make up the Titans, back when they were a team called Runaway.

I never got to watch as much tier two Overwatch as I would have liked, but I picked it up through other writers. Runaway’s story, of getting so close to victory before falling at the final hurdle; of manager Yoon “Runner” Daehoon not managing to get them the win before leaving for mandatory military service, but his wife Lee “Flowervin” Hyungah picking up where he left off; and of their ultimate victory finally coming just before being snatched up for Overwatch League as a complete team now called the Titans, was told in interviews and explanatory articles. But it really lived in writing that focused on the humans, their stories, and the emotions they brought. In one, one of the best writers in the industry, Bonnie Qu writes:

Fans are a huge part of what makes the industry run, and tapping into the narratives of individuals and teams will always be the most effective way to maintain fan interest. The success of parody accounts like Incorrect OWL Quotes and silly videos in which NYXL players do their best JJonak impressions should be proof enough that what fans want to see is content that shows us who these players are as people — goofballs, leaders, perfectionists, idiots who won’t cut their hair because they’re in a “transition phase” — rather than content that shows us the exact in-game settings they use.

When I told a friend about my dilemma in who to support for the match, they said the most “honest answer” was “whoever’s losing.” And they were right. I mean, clearly, I’m a Shanghai Dragons fan, I’m always here for the underdogs and upsets and reverse sweeps. But when it comes down to it, all that means is I’m rooting for whoever tells the best story.

Vancouver Titans didn’t win this season of the Overwatch League. But their story isn’t over. Next season, they and the 19 other teams will go all over again. But until then, here they are being goofballs.

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Jay Castello

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Jay writes about video games, falls down endless internet rabbit holes, and takes a lot of pictures of flowers.

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