The fastest match in Overwatch League history took place over the weekend, with last year’s champions, the San Francisco Shock, beating the brakes off the Vancouver Titans in a blisteringly fast match that ran just 19 minutes and 23 seconds.
The extremely brief match surpassed a record set just the week before when the Los Angeles Valiant trounced our team of perpetual sadness, the Boston Uprising, in 22 minutes.
Overwatch has been boring of late, with lots of lopsided matches ending in a clean 3-0 sweep. In this regard, the San Francisco match is unremarkable. Another “3-0verwatch” match, as the casters say, added to the pile of 3-0verwatch matches that have dominated the League — or at least the North American division — for the last few days. The match was painful to watch and made me wish for the existence of some kind of Overwatch mercy rule. (No, not that Mercy.)
But it wasn’t always this way. There was a time when a matchup between the Shock and the Titans would be the highlight of the week. Where, whether or not you were a fan of either team, you knew you were going to get good-arse, white-knuckle Overwatch.
When the Vancouver Titans arrived as a part of the League’s 2019 expansion class, they immediately became the team to beat. They tore through other teams, expansion and inaugural, and ended the first stage undefeated — a feat only one team, ironically the Boston Uprising, had accomplished before. The Titans ran into their first true test when they played the San Francisco Shock — a team quickly rising from their sub .500 inaugural season to top-tier — in the Stage 1 Playoffs. The Titans had already defeated the Shock 3-1 in the regular season, and they did it again (4-3) in the stage playoffs, thus sealing the rivalry pact in earnest.
That first playoff showdown between the Shock and the Titans was a beautiful thing. It was the kind of competition Overwatch now struggles to recreate (the shuffling of divisions, players, and teams due to the pandemic can account for some of the anemia). The two teams traded maps like blows. San Francisco won a map, then Vancouver, then San Francisco again, on and on until the final map in a best of four that came down to overtime on the final point.
The second stage escalated the rivalry. This time, San Francisco joined Vancouver in the “zero losses” club, but became the first team in history to complete a golden stage: 28 straight map wins. Not only did San Francisco never drop a match, they never dropped a single map. That’s like Kobe’s Lakers winning every single game while never letting their opponents score a single basket. The Sasuke and Naruto of the League met again in the Stage 2 Playoffs; this time it was San Francisco’s turn to win in a match that was not as close as their first one, but exciting nonetheless.
(And in Stage 3 both teams were humbled by my Shanghai Dragons — making them the last team to ever win a Stage Playoffs, thus cementing them as Eternal Stage Champions. This is a name I made up just now because fuck yeah Shanghai!)
For the second season of the Overwatch League, SF and Vancouver danced a perfectly balanced ballet of death. Whenever they met, the games were razor-thin close, 3-1 and 3-2, but never a 3-0verwatch. The two teams were mirror images of one another: 1-1 in the regular season, 1-1 in the Playoffs, with perfect stages for both.
The Grand Finals broke that balance. San Francisco won handily in the first-ever clean sweep between the two teams. A 4-0verwatch. It was an anticlimactic ending to what was the Overwatch League’s first true rivalry.
That special rivalry has never been the same since, and now, after the RunAway team of fan-favourites and Overwatch legends is just gone now. Scattered. Some found homes on new teams, most haven’t.
This week’s painful, 19 minute and 23 second exercise in abject cruelty was the first time the two teams have met since the Grand Finals. Where once this matchup represented the pinnacle of competitive Overwatch, it’s now a very sad shadow of its former self. San Francisco, while not undefeated, is still the king of 2020 Overwatch and are favoured to show up yet again in the Grand Finals. Vancouver’s roster of rookies is still struggling to find its footing.
I have hope that other teams can rise to meet the Shock. The Paris Eternal, the Florida Mayhem, and the Shanghai Dragons come to mind. But part of what makes competitive Overwatch so thrilling for me are the storylines. While most of this can be blamed on covid-19, the story that made the Vancouver Titans versus the San Francisco Shock so special just isn’t there anymore. We, the fans, are worse for it.