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48 Hours Before Shock Took On The Storm

Volamel 2019-10-03 05:30:56
  The San Francisco Shock are now the best team in the world. However, 48 hours before their decisive victory over the Vancouver Titans, I spoke to four of the Shock’s brightest minds to gauge where their minds were at heading into the most important match of their careers. With Sunday looming like pitch-black clouds, the players confided in me what their journey to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania meant to them. And it began with a name people often overlook when talking about the Shock’s impressive roster.  Andreas "Nevix" Karlsson is the ironman of Overwatch. His career dates back all the way to some of the first online competitions happening in the Overwatch beta in 2015. With such a long and illustrious career, his journey to the finals had to be something special to him. “It’s a dream come true for me,” he said. “Going into Overwatch, I knew I wanted to be a professional player, so I put all my time into the game. It’s been a long ride with a lot of ups and downs and good moments, but it’s definitely been worth it. I wouldn’t take it back.  “Getting to the finals is amazing,” he said with a big smile and a small chuckle almost leading into his next thought. “I wish I would have been starting of course, but I’m still happy to be here.”     We chatted for a moment about what his future held, but understandably he was reserved. He told me that to have a healthy career, he needed to play on stage and have his name out in the ether. But he reassured me that his off-season plans would depend on many different variables, one being the grand final. And with his final match against the Vancouver Titans ruminating in his mind, I asked him what was the one word he hoped encapsulated his experience on Sunday.  “Victory,” he said grinning.  His teammate Grant "moth" Espe sat quietly next to him. As a large part of the in-game leadership, Moth has been pivotal all season long in the Shock’s dominant run through the league and more importantly the losers’ bracket in the playoffs. However, leadership comes in different shapes and sizes.  “I’m definitely not on the emotional side of things but I do a lot of macro plays and ultimate management stuff,” Moth explained. “For this season, I’ve gotten a lot better about going on stage and not being nervous at all and treating it like a scrim and going through the plays in my head. ‘Where are we positioning, what ultimates are we using’ things like that. I’ve gotten a lot better at just replicating what I’ve been doing in scrims and just staying calm and focused on the stage.” I constantly have been told that Moth was a brilliant mind, not just for the game he has made a career in, but just in general. He’s been described as an extension of the coach’s will and I wanted to know what could have possibly lead him to this place. “I was a really good student,” he explained. “I wasn’t valedictorian, but I took a lot of AP classes and I was on a full-ride scholarship in college. I worked really hard to maintain a high GPA and get good grades. I was a good student, but I had to drop out for this.”     “Once in a lifetime kinda thing,” he laughed, which was a surprising twist. Moth kept a serious demeanor throughout the interview and the interviews prior to mine but cracked a rare smile as our conversation trailed off.  Next on the docket was Philadelphia's own, Matthew "super" DeLisi. However, I changed my approach. Moth and Nevix had shown a serious and calculated tone, which read as if they had almost preparedmuch like they were undoubtedly doing for the Vancouver Titansfor the same, drony questions they had heard time and time again. They both seemed very practiced on how they would approach questions about how much the finals meant to them and their road here. So, I drew upon a muse. First We Fest’s hit interview series, Hot Ones, takes its guests and throws them for a loop. Not only does the host, Sean Evans, do a fantastic job of preparing in-depth questions that his subjects hopefully have not heard beforebut he also has the guests eat delicious chicken wings glazed with hot sauce that might as well be made from rocket fuel. As I didn’t have any wings nor did I have any spare Uranium isotopes, I had to improvise. Nostalgia would have to do. Much like the aforementioned show, before I began speaking to Super, I threw out three key memories from his past that hopefully would bring down his guard.  It was a massive success. Each memory seemed to immediately invoke a sense of joy and nostalgia in both players, which was much more than I could have asked for.     Sitting in awe, after each line, they became increasingly more surprised, almost as if they were reliving the moments in the cinema of their minds. They were reliving the uncertain hope they had for the future back in 2017 during the Overwatch Carbon Series, the careful execution of the quad-tank meta, and Superin particularrelived a moment where a former teammate of his had to leave in the middle of a tournament due to a tornado warning.  Quickly interjecting, Super flattered me with a kind remark.  “Well, first I can tell you’re an OG,” he laughed, repositioning himself at the table. “That team, -bird noises- then Hammers Esports then Luminosity Gaming Evil, those are the boys. I was in my room, in Philly, just chilling, playing games with my friends having a good time and we were better than most teams at the time as well...” His teammate and comedic partner in crime, Jay “Sinartaa” Won quickly amended Super’s statement for him.  “Except us,” Sinatraa remarked with a mischievous grin, referencing back to his former team, Selfless Gaming. “...better than most teams at the time,” Super turned and shot his teammate a reluctant nod.  “We enjoyed it. We didn’t think too far into the future, we were just having a good time. And now that I’ve obviously gone way past that and now we're back in Philly at the Wells Fargo Center is a crazy, crazy journey.” “I would have never imagined because Overwatch League wasn’t even a thing back then, it was just a third party running tournaments.” Sinatraa chimed in again, “Yeah it all happened so fast.” “And then all of a sudden, here I am,” Super closed, folding his hands on the table. With both players alight, I had to act fast, so I turned to Sinatraa to see what mulled about in his memories. After winning the 2019 T-Mobile MVP and having such an impressive season, Sinatraa undoubtedly was caught up with what was in front of him, which made him a perfect target for a lethal dose of nostalgia.      We traveled all the way back to March of 2017 where he and his team at the time, Selfless Gaming, were in their prime and had a match against the darlings of South Korea, RunAway. This drew an audible gasp from the two young upstarts.  Surprised, they both leaned in on the small cocktail table and were transported again back in time and a wash of memories acted as fuel for their bright smiles.  But suddenly Sinatraa was taken back and glanced at Super.  “Wait...” confusion took over, “...did we play RunAway?” “Yes, yes you did,” Super answered back, nearing a tone of a parent reassuring their child that for the millionth time, that they were indeed going to Disney World and no they were not there yet. “Wait, really?” Sintraa remained dumbfounded. “Yeah, I remember watching.”  And like a light switch, the memory finally came to him.  “We spawn camped them!” Through some laughter, we worked through the details of the match and after a few moments, the jigsaw puzzle seemed to finally piece itself together and the memory was reinstated. What Sinatraa said next was almost a stream of consciousness directly from that time in his life. With a bright smile, he recounted what it was like in that match and just what Selfless was like behind the scenes.  “No, I didn’t read any of their names,” he chuckled. “Selfless was just a pick-up team like we were playing ranked every day. Even in scrims, our motto was literally ‘do not say what you are doing, do whatever you want. If you’re communicating what you’re doing your getting benched,’” he laughed. “So we were just a ranked team and we were just spawn camping kids.” Even though I knew the answer, I doubled back to see if I could draw any other memories from the well that I had tapped. Did he respect Haksal after playing against him? Surely Sinatraa had seen his performance during his time in OGN’s APEX league. After facing him for the first time, perhaps he saw talent sitting across from him in the in-game lobby.  “No,” he said bluntly, but with a cheeky smile. “I didn’t even know he was even on that team. We didn’t do any Korean scouting.” Hearing what sounded like heresy in the public court, Super quickly absolved himself of any criticism. He leaned in close to the microphone to make sure the folks in the back could hear this one.  “I watched APEX, for the record,” he said, fighting back laughter.  As we returned from our trip to not-so-foreign soil, the final was still looming on the horizon. The thunderstorm approached them and they sat there with smiles the entire time. Their lives were about to be changed, and they embraced it. As our time dwindled down, Sinatraa explained what preparation was like going into their match that Sunday at the sold-out Wells Fargo Center.  “We haven’t done anything special,” he said. “We’ve kept things normal. I mean recently we just went on a 4-0 streak in playoffs and so we don’t want to stray away from what we’ve been doing. We just want to keep everything the same so everyone stays comfortable because we don’t want to treat it like a really big match. It is a really big match but you don’t want to keep ingraining into the players that it’s this huge match because then they’re going to get super nervous.” This resonated with me quite a lot. Going back in my mind, even now as I write this to you, I look at the responses that each player gave me and nothing stands out as odd or rushed or uncharacteristic. Things were just as they were during the first day they walked on to the Overwatch League stage. And that was the key.  A key the Shock successfully turned to convincingly defeat their rivals. With four maps and a handshake, the San Francisco Shock toppled the Vancouver Titans. The Shock now sits not only as the Season 2 champions but the undisputed best Overwatch team in the world, and 48 hours before they knew that as a fact, they exuded the same attributes they had equipped all season: confidence, playfulness, and charisma. There was never any nerves, and if there was, they killed that demon a while ago.  If I had to guess, they may have buried the fiend called “Jitters” once they became Stage 2 champions defeating the aforementioned Titans after playing second-fiddle to them during the Stage 1 final. The Shock laughed and carried on like the weight of San Francisco wasn’t bearing down on their shoulders. To them, this was already a foregone conclusion, a mere formality they had to go through to lift the trophy and they wore it on their faces. Each member spoke with conviction and genuine certainty.  In their heart of hearts, they knew. No matter what road took them to Philadelphia, they knew. No matter their history, they knew. 48 hours before the storm, the San Francisco Shock knew they would be world champions. 
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.

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