The San Francisco Shock have done the unthinkable; they completed a golden stage. With their 4-0 victory over Shanghai on Sunday they completed every one of their matches in stage 2 without dropping a single map. This roster has moved into Overwatch League history due to their individual talent, teamplay, and incredible coaching staff. How did a team scraping by in the lower half of the rankings in the 2018 season catapult into bonafide perfection?
In the third stage of the 2018 season, the Boston Uprising didn’t have a golden stage, but they were able to go undefeated, the first team to ever complete that feat. A lynchpin for the team at the time was their head coach, Crusty. There are rumors and unconfirmed reports of internal issues pushing Crusty away from Boston towards the end of stage 2, and the disgraced departure of core player DreamKazper seemed to have put success outside of Boston’s reach. Instead, they began playing some of the cleanest dive we ever saw during that meta.
The team was disciplined and coordinated amidst chaos at the organizational level. Their teamplay was second to none, relying not on individual play, but on working together to stay at the top. Striker often popped off, his individual skill on Tracer being one of the recognizably superior aspects of the squad. While kudos to the player are deserved, much of the success here should be attributed to the coaching staff. Crusty as the head coach was able to pull a rabbit out of his hat, and under his guidance Boston became a legitimate contender for the top. After his departure, Boston next victory would be against the (at the time) winless Shanghai after seven straight losses, a sad slump for a team which seemed to have greatness on their horizon.
His new team, the San Francisco Shock, came out of their shell in the fourth stage, being able to go toe-to-toe with the top teams in the league. While Crusty had much broader oversight on the Shock, the roster wasn’t built by him, so he was for better or worse working with one hand behind his back. During the off-season was when the Shock began to shape into something more formidable. Nevix stopped splitting time with Choihyobin, as the Korean flex tank became a starter for the team. Crusty brought on Smurf, the main tank from the collapsed GG Esports Academy. Rascal the fan favorite DPS formerly of London Spitfire and Dallas Fuel was called up from NRG Esports. Viol2t, a shining spot on O2 Ardeont, was pulled from underneath the nose of the Toronto Defiant, who picked up the rest of the Contenders Korea squad. Finally, Crusty was able to reunite with the Uprising’s secret weapon by buying out Striker from his former team.
Shock’s collection of DPS players seemed ill-advised going into the season, especially as GOATS still maintains its dominance. Super wasn’t super bad, but he seemed like one of the main tanks in the league with the lowest peaks in his performances, and Smurf didn’t seem like a massive upgrade. Viol2t’s relative obscurity made it seem like he would be riding Sleepy’s bench. As is often the case with flex tanks, Choihyobin’s incredible talent was concealed by the less honed edge of the 2018 roster (as well as his splitting time with Nevix). The flexibility and talent of Sinatraa, Rascal, Babybay, Danteh, and Striker seemed like a waste of funds in the unflinching face of Brigitte and Zarya.
While Babybay and Danteh were traded away, Sinatraa’s transformation into one of the most distinctive Zarya players in the league, with a trademark aggressive style, is without a doubt a sign of Crusty’s influence on the squad. Finding a player’s strength and structuring to highlight that instead of trying to mitigate weaknesses is trademark Crusty. Super became a spear for the Shock, his mechanically talented Reinhardt finally playing with the quality teamplay consistent with a top tier main tank. These massive improvements from Sinatraa and Super have turned the frontline of the Shock into the most formidable in the league.
Transforming talented but underperforming players into powerhouses seems like the secret to instant success in the Overwatch League. How did the Shock do it? A great advantage to having a large/full bench is the onus it puts on starter players to constantly improve and stay on that coveted starting six. I’m certain that Shock would’ve been just as happy to have Striker or Babybay start as the DPS if they were able to play in their role better than Rascal or Sinatraa. And since every player wants to start, both Sinatraa and Rascal are fighting to constantly improve and stay on the main stage.
One of the reasons I originally rated Shock lowly going into the season was that I thought the huge collection of players could lead to internal strife and infighting, and internal drama can lead to worse players starting, or good players demanding to be traded. It seems as if Shock has avoided this by giving Crusty primary decision-making power on the team, and he is able to lead it fairly and without causing issues. This is not a solution that will work for any team, as some coaches will either naturally shift towards a more democratic process or will cause that strife via their executive decisions. The Shock has made the perfect moves they could, spending a lot on an off-season gamble that has paid off handsomely.