A force of nature sweeping through the OWL
By Brittney MacDonald, Life & Style Editor
Back in September of last year it was announced that the Aquilini Investment Group (AIG)—the same entity that owns the Vancouver Canucks and Rogers Arena—had invested between $35 and $60 million dollars in purchasing a team slot in the Overwatch League (OWL).
The OWL is Blizzard’s professional competition league for their first-person shooter of the same name. At the time, no one knew really how AIG’s acquisition was going to work. Could Vancouver have a professional video game team and not have it be regarded as a joke? This seemed like a tall order. Esports, or electronic sports, isn’t taken very seriously by much of the general public—and in a hockey city like Vancouver? What business does some Canadian metropolis have in the land of computer games?
Well, we certainly got our answer—we’re there to win.
Currently, the Vancouver team—now officially dubbed the Vancouver Titans—is ranked second in the league, right under the New York Excelsior. At time of writing we are undefeated, and we only trail because the Excelsior has played more matches than us.
Before getting into Vancouver specifics, it might be important to understand how an OWL match works. Two teams play to the best of five games, though they must play a minimum of four. Each game consists of a best of three rounds. These games are varied in how they are played because Overwatch has different maps and the win conditions change with each one. One game could be a payload objective, which is essentially escorting a cart or car as far as you can before the time runs out while the enemy team attempts to stop you. Another game could be a “King of the Hill” situation where two teams attempt to capture and control the same point for a set period of time.
An OWL team is expected to learn and master all of this. That might give you a better perspective when I say that the Vancouver Titans are currently undefeated. They have lost rounds and the odd game—but they have never lost a match.
That begs the question: Who is this Vancouver team and where have they come from? To put it very bluntly—Korea. AIG, and their partner Luminosity Gaming, made it very clear that they were in the OWL to win when they essentially bought an entire starting lineup (plus subs) from the Korean Contenders League (KCL).
All six of the Vancouver Titans starting lineup, as well as two of their subs, used to play for a team in Korea called RunAway. However, in October of 2018 all of the players left the organization during the Contender’s League—the Overwatch version of the semi-pros—offseason. This is after they completely dominated in Season 1 of the KCL. During a livestream, RunAway team manager Hyun Ah “Flowervin” Lee confirmed that all eight members had left after it was announced that RunAway would be holding open trials to fill their now-vacant player slots.
Most of the former RunAway players had been playing as a team for the better part of two years. Team Captain Sang-beom “Bumper” Park, as well as team members Hyo-jong “Haksal” Kim and Choong-hui “Stitch” Lee, had all been playing with RunAway since 2016; with Hyeon-woo “JJANU” Choi joining in 2017, and Ju-seok “Twilight” Lee, Sung-jun “Slime” Kim, Min-soo “SeoMinSoo” Seo, and Dong-eun “Hooreg” Lee joining in early 2018—prior to RunAway taking the KCL Season 1 by storm.
However, Flowervin could neither confirm nor deny the specifics of her former players joining the OWL. Though the roster being signed as a unit was a possibility, it was a very far-fetched one due to the pure cost of signing that many high-profile players. Many fans believed that due to their performance in the KCL, it was more likely that the former RunAway team had been headhunted individually.
As time went on and no established OWL team announced an addition of any of the familiar names, people began to speculate that a full roster signing might be the case. But what team would need an entire starting lineup and subs? More importantly, what team had the bankroll to afford the best team in the KCL?
After specifics regarding the Vancouver team slot purchase were announced—such as AIG’s involvement—it became pretty clear where RunAway had gone. The player reveals for the Vancouver Titans on December 1, 2018, merely confirmed it. This announcement also saw the addition of Jung-geun “Rapel” Kim, another fan favourite from the KCL.
Now I’m not saying that good teams are no fun to watch—but it is nice to have a personality behind the wheel. I’m talking about shit-talkers, everyone’s favourite part of organized sports. Bumper wasted no time in establishing himself as such. As captain of the Vancouver Titans, Bumper was a main focus when the Titans made their debut in the OWL on February 6. Prior to their match with the Shanghai Dragons, Bumper claimed that he believed the KCL teams were better than many of the teams signed to the OWL. After the Titans steamrolled the Dragons 4-0, Bumper was asked if he had anything to say to the other OWL teams. His answer—“We will beat you, 4-0.”
Now, this wasn’t actually the case. The Titans went to game five in their match against the Guangzhou Charge, and their final score against the Los Angeles Valiant was 3-1. However, this didn’t stop Bumper. After the New York Excelsior’s Tae-sung “Anamo” Jung claimed that his team was the best at GOATS—a style of play currently popular in which the six-player team splits down the middle, three playing high defensive while the other three players play healer roles—the Vancouver Titans tweeted out a photo of Bumper laughing hysterically in reaction.
One OWL analyst and commentator claimed that the Vancouver Titans would probably have more 4-0 matches if Bumper would stop “throwing” during game four by taunting the enemy team after the Titans secure a three-game win.
However, when you’re called one of the most exciting “tank” players (a class of high-defense meat shields that seek to guard their teammates) in your first season in the OWL, you can probably afford to be a bit cocky.
Seeing as the OWL is currently broadcast out of Los Angeles, with the intention to move teams to their patron cities eventually, the vibe of the broadcast is very “American.” I say this as someone who has watched enough other, more traditional sporting events like the Olympics and the NBA. There is definitely a bias when it comes to Canadian teams.
Currently, Canada has two teams in the OWL—the Vancouver Titans and the Toronto Defiant. Despite both teams doing pretty well, commentators often refer to them as “underdogs” or question their ability to win against even underperforming American teams. As a side note, positive plays made by the Titans often went “unnoticed” by the commentating staff, while plays made by American teams were duly noted every time.
To give an example: In their match against the San Francisco Shock, the Titans went into game three 2-0 in their favour. However, commentators played up the possibility of a reverse sweep after in game two, round two, they claimed the Titans were defeated in a payload map prior to the final stage of the round even beginning. In their opinion, the Shock had moved the payload so far during the tie-break that the Titans would not be able to compete with them. Needless to say, the Titans overshot the Shock and went on to win the match 3-1.
It wasn’t until the Titans secured their third match win out of three that the OWL commentators even began citing them as a possible threat to the New York Excelsior’s dominance—despite the fact that out of 20 teams in the League, the Titans are one of only two teams that remain undefeated.
On one hand, it is nice that they’re finally acknowledging it—but at the same time, why did it take so long?
If you’re looking for an explanation, I don’t really have one. I’m just as confused as you are. The moral of this observation is to always be critical of possible bias. Personally, I am fully aware that I am biased towards the Titans—because I am from Vancouver, and they’re MY team.