“I am the happiest man alive,” proclaimed Sangbeom “Bumper” Park, just moments after the Vancouver Titans were declared Stage 1 Champions. The journey to that moment had been a long one for a group that has toiled through every era of professional Overwatch. From the numerous APEX disappointments to their eventual triumph in Contenders Season 2, it had all culminated in the coronation of the Titans.
Even with all their dominance last year, NYXL never pulled off what the Titans accomplished – a perfect run through the regular stage and playoffs. It was far from easy, but Vancouver exceeded every expectation set for them. Questions surrounded the team entering the season. Would their success in Contenders translate to the big leagues? Had Vancouver made a mistake by bringing over a roster wholesale, rather than cherry-picking top talents as every other expansion team had done?
Those doubts, along with any about the individual skill of the Titans, faded quickly as they raced out to a hot start. When the playoffs came around, there was little left to prove, but Vancouver still had the drive to finish off an incredible run. A clean sweep of the first two rounds and a grueling final showdown with the San Francisco Shock left them as the last team standing, the undisputed top dogs after Stage 1.
The Titans were a well-oiled machine during Stage 1, where their cohesion and experience served them well in a meta where teamplay reigned supreme. Only twice did they come close to faltering, first in Week 2 against the Guangzhou Charge and then again in Week 4 to another Chinese expansion team, the Chengdu Hunters. Both teams threw a wrench into the Titans’ gears with their out of the box styles – eschewing the GOATs meta for DPS-led compositions that had Vancouver scrambling to survive. The Titans showed their mettle in those crucial moments and avoided the upsets that other top teams could not.
No matter the opponent, one thing was constant for Vancouver – they would be the ones dictating the course of the game. Nothing could stop the Titans from playing their all-out aggressive style, one that served them well by giving their players plenty of chances to pop off. Every single one of them made the most of the opportunity, whether it was massive Self-Destructs from HyunWoo “JJANU” Choi, pinpoint shots from Juseok “Twilight” Lee, or insane clutches from MinSoo “SeoMinSoo” Seo.
Every player on the Titans was among the best at their position in Stage 1. Bumper especially, along with Dong-Gyu “Mano” Kim, defined the way that his role was played. His Reinhardt was the instigator for everything the Titans did as a team – his borderline suicidal play forced enemies to react and gave his teammates all the room they needed to take over games. In the end, no team really found a way to deal with him, at least without letting the rest of the Titans run roughshod over them at the same time.
When it came time for the playoffs, everyone assumed the league’s two undefeated squads would roll through the bracket on the way to the inevitable clash that would determine the kings of Stage 1. Vancouver held up their end of the bargain with a 4-0 drubbing of the Boston Uprising, but unfortunately, their counterparts in New York found themselves on the wrong end of a quarterfinal upset, a 3-1 shocker by the Seoul Dynasty. Vancouver made quick work of the Dynasty in the semifinals and cruised into the title match unscathed.
In the end, it was the San Francisco Shock – upstarts who had rounded into top form over the course of Stage 1 – not New York that greeted the Titans in the championship game. Perhaps it was for the best because these two teams delivered an instant classic, the first ever seven-map series in OWL history.
It was a back and forth affair with neither team taking consecutive maps until Vancouver closed out their win on Rialto, where they shattered the OWL record for fastest attack round. The Shock matched Vancouver’s aggression at every turn, at times leaving the Titans on the back foot, a new and uncomfortable position. Matthew “super” DeLisi was a revelation for San Francisco, and his superb Reinhardt pushed Bumper and the Titans to the absolute brink. In the end, Vancouver’s mental fortitude lifted them over an inexperienced Shock team, and the Titans stood alone atop the heap.
Stage 1 MVP: Hyojong “Haksal” Kim
An almost impossible choice. The Titans operate as a collective, a unit that is so much more than the sum of its parts. Every member can claim to be the best in the league at their spot, but perhaps none distinguished themselves more than Haksal. During Stage 1 he led all Brigitte players in Eliminations and Damage, was second in Deaths, and third in Healing.
Brigitte is a thankless role in the OWL, one with little opportunity to light up the kill feed or make the flashy plays that populate highlight reels. As he has always done, Haksal sacrificed individual glory for the team. This is a player who has played multiple roles during his career, often at times when his team was struggling to find an identity. Now, at the peak of their powers, he has proven himself as the best Brigitte player in the world.
During the Finals especially, he carried the Titans to victory. His Armor Pack timings were immaculate, and he controlled the battlefield with expert Shield Bashes and Whipshots – saving his teammates in crucial moments while setting them up for big plays in others. The head-to-head matchups were even across the board against the Shock – except for Brigitte, where Haksal dominated his counterpart DonJun “Rascal” Kim.
Try as they might, no one knows exactly what Stage 2 will bring. A massive meta shakeup is on the horizon, making it hard to predict just how teams will stack up. The Titans seem well suited for nearly any meta thanks to a versatile roster that has seen success in nearly every era of Overwatch. More DPS would give a chance for Chunghee “Stitch” Lee and perhaps even Dong-eun “Hooreg” Lee to enter the lineup on a regular basis.
Regardless of the meta, the Titans remain poised for success thanks to their vast experience and excellent coaching staff. It’s hard to see this team falling off drastically no matter where the game finds itself in Stage 2. Even if the drop off comes, their hot start to Stage 1 leaves the Titans in great position to stay near the top of the league standings, and no amount of meta change can ever take away the ecstasy Bumper felt after their validating victory.
Featured image courtesy of the Stewart Volland for Blizzard Entertainment.
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