When Stage 2 came to a close, the Vancouver Titans finally tasted disappointment for the first time. Sangbeom “Bumper” Park held his head in his hands while the joyous San Francisco Shock celebrated their triumph on the other side of the stage. It was a bitter end to what had been a phenomenal run to start their OWL tenure.
The Reality of the Moment
Halfway through, the Stage 2 Finals were playing out very similarly to Stage 1. After four maps, the teams were even at two apiece, and neither really seemed to have an edge. Last time, the Titans’ experience and fortitude pulled them back from the brink of elimination. This time, however, the Shock kept their foot on the gas and refused to crumble under the pressure.
San Francisco took over the series in the back half. They dominated the Titans on the final two maps, getting revenge and capping their golden stage with a well-earned victory.
Vancouver still had its moments of brilliance, but they were too few to overcome San Francisco. The Titans put in a gutsy showing on King’s Row, grinding the map back after giving up an insane attack round to the Shock. The full hold on Paris was masterful. Their opponents were just ready for what the Titans brought to bear, and Vancouver couldn’t find the same opportunities to punish mistakes that won them the Stage 1 title.
In the Stage 2 Finals, the Shock were the better team, plain and simple. They were locked in for the entirety of Stage 2 and carried that focus into the Finals. It was a redemptive performance for a team that took the Stage 1 loss so hard, and it gives life to the league’s best rivalry.
The Bigger Picture
No doubt, the Titans are reeling after their first loss of the season, but the disappointment can’t obscure the facts. Vancouver sits at 14-0 at the halfway mark, two games up on NYXL and three ahead of the Shock. Their +40 map differential is just six shy of the mark set by NYXL at last year’s midseason – and the Titans did it in six fewer games.
Even their Stage 2 performance was unassailable. They lost three maps during the regular stage and dropped just one playoff map before running up against San Francisco. It was overshadowed by the Shock’s golden stage, but it still ranks among the best stages in Overwatch League history.
The distance between the Titans and Shock is small, even as San Francisco surges ahead, but the gap between those two and the rest of the league is considerable. Even the NYXL, who sits between them in the standings, has fallen off of late. Vancouver finally got the chance to face the top team from Season 1 and crystallized this as a two-team race.
Stage 3 and Beyond
After the midseason break, Stage 3 promises to be the toughest test yet for the Titans. Two matches against the surging Los Angeles Gladiators and six games in the first three weeks will push Vancouver harder than ever. Can they maintain their momentum even after failing to clear the most recent hurdle?
The Titans have put themselves in the best position possible heading into the back half of the season. They are in the driver’s seat when it comes to the standings. The odds of missing playoffs are essentially nil at this point.
All of that could have been said of NYXL last season. They dominated the first three stages much like Vancouver has so far this year. Then they let their foot off the gas, and an unfavorable meta left them on the outside looking in as the Grand Finals happened in their backyard. The Titans’ mission is now to avoid that fate.
Massive meta changes seem unlikely for Stage 3, so the Titans’ GOATs prowess should be more than enough to carry them to another excellent record, even with a tougher schedule. Still, the uproar surrounding GOATs has reached a fever pitch. It’s tough to imagine a world where the meta doesn’t change before season playoffs. Once again, how the postseason shakes out could easily come down to how teams react to the inevitable meta shift.
Vancouver is situated as well as anyone to weather that storm. Players like Hyojong “Haksal” Kim, Juseok “Twilight” Lee and Seong jun “SLIME” Kim give the Titans an unrivaled core of talent to build around in any meta. Their experience as a collective is second to none, and they should be motivated to stay on top now that they know what it’s like to fail.
Featured image courtesy of Robert Paul for the Overwatch League.
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