Dear fan of the future,
I am unsure who is dominating the Overwatch esports ecosystem when you read this, or who is quickly climbing the rungs of the competitive ladder, but I write to you today about a team, player, or organization that is long past your time. Something that is timeless in their story and their purpose. Something that dared you to challenge your perception of the current landscape of Overwatch. These are my letters from the past to help educate people on where the community has come from and to act as a Rolodex of info on just who these teams were so that their legacy might continue to live on through you, the reader.
Maybe I’m biased and am wearing rose-tinted glasses, but there was a history before the Overwatch League. There were stories, and teams, and star players that captivated an albeit small audience.
The pre-Overwatch League era doesn’t get nearly the credit it deserves and western Overwatch during that same era almost never happened. And without this time period in western Overwatch, we wouldn’t have the beautiful context to many of the players that are so beloved in the Overwatch League. History matters and it can–and often does–accentuate the experience you are a part of today.
So, that’s why we’re traveling all the way back to 2016 where a young Immortals brand was first getting their bearings together in League of Legends and was looking to extend their reach outside of the game they already participated in. They had a brand that was quickly growing in popularity, and at the time, Overwatch was the hot new esport ready to take launch. The two were a match made in heaven.
And it all started with one amateur team with a dream.
After defeating teams like Splyce, Selfless Gaming and Rise Nation, a young team by the name of Sodipop caught the attention of many organizations that were excited to enter Overwatch. The team had shown some level of proficiency even though they were not winning events and were hitting a plateau at around 3-4th place.
On September 12th, 2016, Immortals would sign the Sodipop roster after placing 3rd in the Alienware Monthly Melee: August, just in time to appear in ELEAGUE’s upcoming Overwatch Open, which was set to be on of the biggest events in Overwatch to date.
While we remember Immortals as one of North America’s better teams during the pre-Overwatch League era, they entered the space on a few very sour notes. Immortals entered the Overwatch Open in the North American group stage and were placed in Group B alongside Method, Cloud 9, and Fnatic. Unfortunately for Immortals, they didn’t win a single match and didn’t even take a map in either of matches against Fnatic or Cloud 9.
The team then failed to qualify for DreamHack Winter 2016. After beating Rise Nation during Round 1, Immortals then fell to Cloud 9 in the quarterfinals. This set them up to play against -bird noises-, who they defeated handily, but ultimately Immortals would hit another bump in the road during losers’ round three where they faced Team Liquid and were defeated, 0-2. It was clear the roster had some potential but were plateauing right outside more respectable placings. Starting your tenure in Overwatch with a 13-16th placing and a 7-8th placing wasn’t the best start in the world, but that would soon change for the better.
October 2016 would be a pivotal month in Overwatch esports history. Three of the top western teams were invited to South Korea to play in OGN’s Overwatch APEX Season 1. This exodus left a power vacuum in North America and Immortals tried to fill in the gaps the best they could. And Immortals performance at October’s Alienware Monthly Melee showed that matched their potential better than any placing they had put up since being signed.
Immortals was placed in Group B with Denial Esports, Method and FaZe Clan. Here they managed to secure the second seed from their group which allowed them to start the playoffs in the upper bracket. With group stage victories over Denial and Method, and even being able to take a map off of FaZe Clan, things looked promising for this young team.
During playoffs, Immortals upper bracket run was cut short by Kingdom Esports, Group A’s first seed. Sadly their losers’ bracket run wasn’t much longer. They toppled Tempo Storm NA, but in the rematch with FaZe Clan, they looked deflated and fell 0-2. This 4th place finish would inspire some hope going forward and Immortals took this as momentum in their next few events.
From here on out Immortals would see success at almost every event they played, garnering second place finishes at Carbon Masters October 2016, November’s Alienware Monthly Melee and Carbon Masters November 2016. The team suffered a bit of a slip-up during the Route 66 Cup, where they placed 4th, but this period still marked a great deal of success from their debut during the Overwatch Open.
And then it happened.
During December’s Alienware Monthly Melee, Immortals was once again placed in Group B with FaZe Clan, compLexity Gaming and Method. With a 2-1 match record and a 4-2 map record, Immortals advanced as the groups second seed heading into playoffs. There Immortals would coast past Kingdom Esports, 2-0, and would beat Cloud 9, who at the time was a top team in North America, twice in the winners’ bracket finals as well as the grand finals.
Immortals repeated this feat during the BaseTradeTV Cup where they toppled both Denial Esports and Selfless Gaming. Now, this is before Selfless Gaming became the powerhouse we remember them to be, but this repeat victory for Immortals is important. They’re a team that has struggled up until this point and now had two back-to-back wins against both sides of the competitive field. Immortals had shown they could handily beat teams they should and could compete with North America’s best. Now it was time to prove that fact.
NGE’s Overwatch Winter Premiere was set to be the event to close out 2016 and lead us into the new year. Some of North America’s best teams would compete in four qualifying tournaments to collect points based on placing. A 5-8th place finish would earn 20 points, 4th would gain 40, 3rd would receive 50, 2nd 100 and placing 1st at any of the qualifiers would earn you a direct seed into the main event.
The first qualifier saw Immortals in the top eight, but they fell to FaZe Clan in the first round.
The second qualifier saw Immortals in the top eight, but they fell to Fnatic in the first round.
The third qualifier saw Immortals within the top four, defeating Spicy Boys, but falling to Luminosity Gaming and Team Liquid in the 3rd place match.
The fourth and final qualifier saw Immortals securing a victory and their tickets to the main event. Through their first place run, they bested Kungarna, Luminosity Gaming, and Fnatic. Joining Immortals at the main event would be Kungarna, Team Liquid, Renegades, Luminosity Gaming, compLextiy Gaming, FaZe Clan, and Citzen7.
The next phase would be an eight-team round-robin group stage where the bottom two teams would be eliminated. Immortals came out of the group stage in first place, only dropping one match against Kungarna. With FaZe Clan and Citzen7 being relegated, the remaining six teams would compete in another round-robin where the bottom two teams would be eliminated and the remaining teams would travel to PAX South to play in the live playoffs. This time the only team to beat Immortals was compLexity Gaming. With Team Liquid and Renegades being eliminated as the bottom two seeds, Immortals walked into the PAX South hall as heavy favorites to win the entire event.
While they suffered from inexperience on LAN and were playing with a substitute main tank due to visa troubles, Immortals still reigned over the competition, besting Luminosity Gaming, 3-0, in the semifinals and then defeating Ghost Gaming, formerly Kungarna, 3-1. From this launching point, Immortals found roughly a two month period of prolonged success placing 3rd at February’s Alienware Monthly Melee and 4th at March’s Alienware Monthly Melee. This success would need to carry them into their next major; the Overwatch Carbon Series.
Immortals went into the Overwatch Carbon Series looking to repeat their performance at the Winter Premiere. They qualified for the playoffs as the second seed with a 6-4 match record and a 21-16 map record. From that, you can tell that things were not going well in Camp Immortals. The four series they dropped were against Luminosity Gaming Loyal, Hammers Esports, Luminosity Gaming Evil, and Renegades.
Heading into playoffs Immortals had a chance, but sitting as heavy favorites were Luminosity Gaming Evil, who ran the table going 9-1 through the group stage. And after Immortals quickly dispatched a floundering compLexity Gaming, the two were set to face off in the finals. Overcoming the odds, Immortals managed to topple Luminosity Gaming Evil, 3-1, and capture their second major title in 2017.
While Immortals did win the Overwatch Carbon Series, things were not as they once were. They weren’t as clean, they weren’t as decisive and that was prominent in their gameplay and results. This would follow them heading into April’s Alienware Monthly Melee where the team fell to a surging Selfless Gaming. This would mark a downswing for Immortals and the rise of a handful of highly competitive teams in North America. For the next three events, Immortals would not place within the top four. Something needed to change.
Enter South Korean flex support Park “KariV” Young-seo and main tank Koo “Fate” Pan-seung.
Both players would bolster the team’s morale going into the final major of 2017; Overwatch Contenders Season Zero. During the first qualification round for Overwatch Contenders, the team placed 9-16th; however, the following day, the team managed to run the entire 32 team event and come out the other end in first place, beating teams like Prestige Worldwide, Virtue, Tempo Storm, CLG, and Toronto Esports.
The roster would next be tested at the BEAT Invitational Season 2 where Immortals sprinted to the winners’ finals and would face off against the French superteam, Rogue. Immortals still felt shaky but would score a map win against Europe’s best team in a 1-3 loss; however, their rematch wouldn’t be too far off.
Dropping to the losers’ bracket, Immortals quickly did away with Arc 6 to pair up with Rogue for the grand finals. While this match was much closer than before, Immortals still came up short against the French superteam but managed to take them to a final game seven where they fell, 3-4.
In their next outing during Overwatch Contenders Season 1, Immortals sat among the elite. This also marked the return of another western giant, Team EnVyUs. With two of the best western teams in attendance alongside a handful of other top teams, Immortals had their work cut out for them before the Overwatch League was set to begin. Sadly Immortals only managed a meager match record of 2-5 with their only wins coming from Renegades and Kungarna.
Between October and November of 2017, Immortals announced that it had signed the entirety of their Overwatch roster to form the season one Los Angeles Valiant and would be competing in the inaugural season of the Overwatch League.
Not only did Immortals capture the hearts and minds of the North American viewer base, but it helped to propel many players’ esports careers along the way.
Jeremy “Jer” Santacruz would leave the team roughly after signing with them and would enjoy a roughly nine-month run with Renegades to finish out the year. 2018 saw Jer have brief stints with Kungarna, Mirage Sport Électronique, Karasuno, and Skyfoxes with little success. His experience and tenure with the game have brought him to New York in 2019. Jer is currently a part of the New York Excelsior’s academy team XL2 Academy.
Few people have coached and played for the same team, but Zac “Chance” Palmer was the first I remember. Chance played for Immortals for roughly two months before stepping away in December of 2016 to coach the team. Both while coaching and playing the team, they found massive success at events like the Alienware Monthly Melee: November, the Overwatch Winter Premiere and the Overwatch Carbon Series. Since leaving Immortals, Chance had a short stay with NRG Esports in 2018 as a coach.
Athen “Aythen” Zhu was the veteran flex support for both Sodipop and Immortals. In June of 2017, after around 11 months of playtime with the core of the team, Aythen was moved to Immortals’ inactive roster. He reemerged at the beginning of 2018 as a part of the team Sleeper Picks and was a substitute for Grizzlys Esports later that year. Since leaving sometime last spring, Aythen has been inactive.
Much like Aythen, David “nomy” Lizarraga was with the core of the team when they were coming up on the Sodipop roster in 2016 and he also was moved to the inactive roster around the same time. He then moved to Virtue, a project team created by former Immortals coach and player Chance. After about a month with Virture and brief appearances on teams like EclipseGG, Hard Retweet, and substituting for 123 during Overwatch Contenders 2017 Season 1, he was drafted into the Overwatch League as an inaugural member of the San Fransisco Shock. He parted ways with the team after season one and has been seen on GOATS, Second Generation and, most recently, on the Toronto Defiant’s academy team, Montreal Rebellion. He’s now a free agent.
Current self-proclaimed “game player” for Team Liquid, George “Hyped” Maganzini, was another early member of the Sodipop roster that was signed to Immortals. Hyped left the team weeks before their official roster announcement for the Overwatch League was supposed to take place. Currently retired from the game, Hyped has gone on to find success playing Artifact and Auto Chess.
Brady “Agilities” Girardi has been with Sodipop and Immortals core forever. Known for his outstanding Genji play, Agilities was pivotal in Immortals early success. He is still with the team even after they migrated into the Overwatch League as the Los Angeles Valiant.
Known for his outstanding McCree, Christopher “GrimReality” Schaefer played with the team since their days on Sodipop. He also transitioned with the team as they went into the Overwatch League as the Los Angeles Valiant, but moved to an assistant coach during stage three. During the fall of 2018, GrimReality retired from Overwatch and is now a professional Apex Legends player for Gen.G Esports.
After outstanding performances on Mighty AOD, Park “KariV” Young-seo, joined the Immortals squad shortly before they left for the Overwatch League. While his role has changed countless times, he remains a key member of the Los Angeles Valiant to this day.
Stefano “Verbo” Disalvo trailed with the team during Alienware Monthly Melee: December and seeing how they won, it would be weird to not see him added to the lineup at the time. During his stay with Immortals, he’d enjoy a great deal of success and was lauded as a large voice in leading the team in-game. Verbo played with the Los Angeles Valiant for the first season, but unfortunately, his contract was not renewed for season two. He then would move to the North American Contenders team, Skyfoxes as a player for about two months before becoming the team’s manager.
Lee “envy” Kang-jae joined Immortals shortly after Kariv. He also stayed with Immortals as they transitioned into the Overwatch League, but departed the team during stage three. He left to return home to South Korea and joined Overwatch Contenders team, Meta Bellum. There he and Bellum placed at a respectable 3-4th place during Overwatch Contenders 2018 Season 2. After the conclusion of his Contenders seasons, envy returned back to Los Angeles to compete for the Toronto Defiant during Overwatch League season two.
Alongside Kariv, Koo “Fate” Pan-seung joined Immortals in June of 2017. He too joined the team as they became the Los Angeles Valiant and played with them through Overwatch League’s inaugural season. During the mid-season break during season two, Fate was traded to the Florida Mayhem for three western players from their academy team.
And as an honorable mention, you cannot omit coach Aaron “Aero” Atkins. The current head coach of the Dallas Fuel began coaching a handful of amateur teams before joining Immortals as they prepared for the Overwatch Winter Premiere. He would later lead FNRGFE and Fusion University before joining the Dallas Fuel during stage four of Overwatch League season one.
If you adore Los Angeles Valiant or vehemently hate them for whatever reason, we need to remember where we came from, and Immortals was an important and storied team. In many ways, they were the proto-Valiant. They built the careers of a number of players that are beloved and are still around to this day and they helped shape the narrative of the game we all love.
Joseph “Volamel” Franco has followed esports since the MLGs of 2006. He started out primarily following Starcraft 2, Halo 3, and Super Smash Bros. Melee. He has transitioned from viewer to journalist and writes freelance primarily about Overwatch and League of Legends. If you would like to know more or follow his thoughts on esports you can follow him at @Volamel.
Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment and Immortals.