Every now and then, in competitive games, there are matches where it feels like nobody lost. Yes, San Francisco Shock fell agonizingly short of dethroning the season two heirs apparent the Vancouver Titans.
And yeah, they failed to snag $US200,000 ($282,385) in bonus cash, having to settle for a second-place prize of half that. But both teams played like they’d been possessed by the roaring, never-say-die spirit of anime itself, and even if they replayed that same match 100 times, I think both would pull off 50 victories.
Each Overwatch League season is broken up into stages punctuated by mini-finals; winning these gets you bragging rights and bonus cash prizes. Vancouver entered yesterday’s stage one finals on an absolute tear, going undefeated through the regular season so far and only occasionally showing cracks in otherwise pristine armour. San Francisco Shock, on the other hand, had won four and lost three, but as Vancouver would quickly learn, San Francisco walked into the arena with a chip on their shoulder.
It was San Francisco, not Vancouver, who took the first map Nepal with tank play that matched and at times exceeded the trademark aggression of Vancouver’s own Sang-beom “Bumper” Park. This forced Vancouver into an uncomfortable reactive position. But even then, things were still close.
Vancouver took the opening round of the map, and while SF picked up the other two, the latter only succeeded thanks to clutch plays like this last-second Earthshatter ult from Reinhardt player Matthew “Super” DeLisi:
On the second map, Numbani, Vancouver came back with a vengeance, stopping SF from taking a single point and making Nepal look like a fluke. Super once again gave it his all and landed some great ults, but Vancouver adjusted and neutralised his stuns with well-timed attacks of their own.
Map three, Temple of Anubis, was barely-contained chaos. SF once again found themselves on the back foot, nearly getting full-held on the first point again. But when all hope seemed lost, they managed to take both points thanks to some positively wild Reinhardt and D.Va ult combos from Super and Hyo-bin “ChoiHyoBin” Choi.
The power of that duo straight up levelled Vancouver. Vancouver went on to take both points during their attack run, sending the match into an additional time bank round. This was an absolute nail-biter that saw SF pushed to the brink, but ultimately, SF’s smart picks and a bonkers ult from ChoiHyoBin pried another round from the Titans’ angry, gnashing jaws:
Even with the score at 2-1 in SF’s favour, Vancouver didn’t look the slightest bit rattled on map four, Dorado. They denied SF’s attack with relative ease and only had to push the payload a portion of the way past the first checkpoint to even up the score once again at 2-2.
The two teams, ensnared like Gandalf and the Balrog, next took their tussle to Ilios, where both teams looked strong and took a round apiece. During the third round, Vancouver brought out Orisa and McCree, a potent combo in close proximity to the giant well in the middle of the point. For most of the ensuing skirmish, SF had no answer, and it looked like Vancouver would use their newfound yeehaw energy to close things out.
Then, with Vancouver closing in on 100 per cent, SF shifted to a more mobile, Winston-based composition, finally dislodging Vancouver’s less adaptive composition from the point. Forced to switch to the same composition as SF but with less ult charge, Vancouver faltered. In the end, SF just barely snatched victory from the brink of defeat.
With the score at 3-2, it was match point in SF’s favour. But one thing became abundantly clear during this match: Vancouver is good when they’re winning and fucking monstrous when they’re about to lose. On the next map, King’s Row, the team weathered a storm of Reinhardt ults, Zarya lasers, and even some cheeky Lucio boops, but still managed to stop SF in their tracks before they could reach the final point.
Then Vancouver charged to the final point during their own attack run, only to be denied at the last possible second by yet another brilliant Reinhardt-D.Va ult combo from Super and ChoiHyoBin:
In the end, however, Vancouver returned with too many ults and too much time in the bank for SF to turn away, once again tying the match at 3-3.
For the final map, the two teams ended up on Rialto, city of dreams and gondolas. There, SF made a scrappy but efficient push to the end of the map with a minute left to spare—seemingly setting up the big upset win they fought so incredibly hard to earn. But, true to their name, the Titans surged forward, heedless of anything standing in their way, and finished the map in record time:
On their time bank round attack, SF pushed as hard as they could, but they couldn’t even reach the first checkpoint. With four minutes to accomplish the same goal, Vancouver took it slow, and though they encountered plenty of resistance along the way, they did ultimately take the point, finally turning away their most insistent OWL rival to date.
This really was a triumph for both teams. Vancouver, a former top Korean team that came into their first OWL season with a lot to prove, ended up proving quite a lot. Not only are they terrifyingly good, but they can battle back from adversity miles away from home and under shoulder-buckling pressure.
SF, meanwhile, has completed their transformation from half-assembled, back-of-the-pack season-one team to potential season two champs. Thanks to a new hero and a bevy of balance changes, stage two will almost certainly throw the rankings into disarray, but Vancouver and SF will remain teams to watch for the rest of the season.