Spirits were Soaring
Eight long months ago the Overwatch League’s second season kicked off. With eight new expansion teams and a flurry of off-season trades, this new year was anyone’s game. But, the Los Angeles Valiant and their fans had reasons to be hopeful this season.
The Valiant had managed to end up as the Pacific Division Champions and had taken home the Stage Four Title. With a slightly changed roster, losing Terrence “SoOn” Tarlier on DPS but gaining the new flex DPS Min-chul “Izayaki” Kim, there was no reason to believe the Valiant wouldn’t repeat their success this year. In fact, most analysts during the pre-season were predicting Valiant to be a top ten team in their Power Rankings.
Infamously, after retiring Young-seo “KariV” Park’s number seven jersey to declare their fans as their “Sevens”, the Valiant went 0-7 during Stage One. The games were all incredibly close, with the Valiant losing by a point on map five many times. After this Stage, the Valiant looked absolutely emotionally and mentally out of it. Not only would making the end of season playoffs be incredibly tricky, but the Valiant seemed Wing-Less and Win-Less.
Many fans were upset by this Stage’s results due to team captain and fan-favorite Scott “Custa” Kennedy being benched for, according to the Inside Valiant YouTube Series, having too high-level play for the rest of the team.
Because of this disappointing Stage and rumors of internal strife on the split roster between Korean and Western players, Coach Byung-chul “Moon” Moon was released, and the team was left with interim head coach Mike “Packing10” Szklanny.
Stage Two was more of the same. Although, with a win against the Atlanta Reign and a somewhat close Battle for LA, there was hope that the Valiant might claw their way into mediocrity before the season’s end. But like the inaugural season, the coaching staff and management had a different plan.
Despite rumored attempts to fix the split roster, Panseung “Fate” Koo was traded to the Florida Mayhem. In exchange, the Valiant received Russel “FCTFCTN” Campbell and Johannes “Shax” Nielson from Mayhem’s Academy team along with Florida Mayhem Alumni Caleb “McGravy” McGarvey. The Valiant also gained a new assistant coach, Marvin “Promise” Schroder at this time. Soon after these trades, Junhyeok “Bunny” Chae and Izayaki also departed the team.
Shortly after this rebuild in the stage break between Stage Two and Stage Three, the Valiant started picking up speed. With three strong wins, including one over the Shanghai Dragons, Masters of the Meta this stage and the eventual Stage Three title holders, the Valiant handed the first loss of the regular season to the Vancouver Titans with some commanding Sombra GOATs play.
By all accounts, the Valiant seemed back. With a 5-2 record in Stage Three, the Valiant soared into the Stage Three finals as a dark horse. Some analysts were predicting them to win the stage even though they had been winless two stages prior! The Valiant won in a close series to the Hangzhou Spark, but unfortunately lost 4-0 to the San Francisco Shock.
Stage Four was, record-wise, an excellent stage for the Valiant, as they went 4-3 and won against some tough opponents. Unfortunately, this stage had the threat of play-offs looming over it. Because of their earlier struggles, the Valiant needed five wins to lock up a spot in the play-ins.
Love and Valiance
Despite their best efforts, due to a 3-2 loss to the Seoul Dynasty, and losing to both of their rivals, the San Francisco Shock and the Los Angeles Gladiators at their own Kit Kat Rivalry Weekend Homestand, the Valiant’s anime redemption arc was ended. However, the Valiant was one of the teams who truly lived up to their name this year. Although they had lost so crushingly, and so many counted them out, the Valiant worked hard and rose again to fighting form. And despite their disappointing homestand, the fans stuck by their team, chanting “We still love you!” as the Valiant walked off the stage after a season-ending loss to the San Francisco Shock, the eventual 2019 Overwatch League Grand Champions. Its events like these that remind us why we love esports. There is no sweet victory without the bitterness of defeat.
This season teaches us a valuable lesson. That no matter how hard you fall, there will always be people behind you cheering for you, and telling you that they still love you, encouraging you to stand up and keep fighting. Truly, that is what it means to be Valiant.