While SLIME and Twilight never finished second with Runaway, they experienced a similar heartbreak when they were eliminated in the semifinals of Contenders 2018 Season 1 Korea after finishing first in their group.
Both SeoMinSoo and Hooreg are experiencing the crushing blow of a runner-up finish for the first time. rapel finished second with Element Mystic in Contenders 2018 Season 3 Korea, but this is the first time he has lost in the grand finals with these teammates.
A second place finish is devastating, especially for a team that dominated the competition prior to the finals and one that expected they would win. However, the Vancouver Titans Vancouver Titans OWL Rank #2 are a family. And overcoming adversity is a lot easier as a family.
“We look at this more as a family,” Titans CEO Francesco Aqualini said on the Friday before grand finals. “And it truly is, from the coaching staff all the way down to all of our players.”
That was the first description Aqualini gave the Titans at the start of the weekend. The tone had been set.
It’s no surprise that Aqualini would describe his team that way. Haksal, Bumper and Stitch have all been playing together since the very beginning of 2017. Eight of the team’s 10 players won a Contenders Korea title together before joining the Overwatch League.
Image credit: Blizzard Entertainment
Those eight players were signed as a unit from Korean Contenders team Runaway. It was on Runaway that the players became known as a family, it was simply how the team was run. Runaway’s owner, Flowervin, came to Philadelphia to see the grand finals live because she wanted to be there to support her family.
The players became known for more than just being a family while on Runaway. Aqualini thanked Luminosity Gaming owner Steve Maida because he “had the vision to corner in a pre-assembled team that’s always been that underdog that plays with a big chip on their shoulder.”
For once, the players on the Titans shouldn’t have been an underdog. They went on the longest unbeaten streak in league history during the season. They finished the regular season with the best record in the league. They were entering the grand finals from the winners bracket. Yet, once again, many saw them as the underdogs when the grand finals started.
And just like many times before, the team that has endeared so many fans for years ended up short of a title. Once again, some of the game’s most popular players had to endure the bitter taste of defeat.
Even with experience in finishing second and even when doing so alongside family, defeat is never easy. The extent to which the team’s head coach, paJion , answered questions in the post-match press conference was noticeable. Despite questions being directed at the whole team, paJion was always the first to jump in following the translation. The players were in no mood to talk, and when they did they kept their answers short.
paJion even answered a question about Flowervin’s impact on the team despite never working with Flowervin or on Runaway during his career. Still, his simple answer helped paint the picture of how important Flowervin is to the family that is the Titans. He said her presence was helpful and that she boosted the team’s morale.
It was clear throughout that press conference that the team expected more from themselves. paJion said he expected the Shock to switch their DPS around and he just failed to prepare the team enough. He spoke of learning what defeat felt like (paJion had little experience outside of title victories while coaching Fusion University). But most notable of all, the loss was completely in their control.
“As the point of view of the team that lost, I feel like everything I say right now might be a kind of excuse,” he said. And thus, he decided not to humor any questions in which his answers could have been misconstrued to be excuses.
In the few times the players spoke, their messages remained consistent with paJion’s: they lost because they were outplayed (or according to paJion, outcoached) and they expected better of themselves. "[The San Francisco Shock DPS] played a little bit better, and maybe that's why they got the win today. Other than that, I don't have anything else to say," said SeoMinSoo. “I feel like we lost too easily, so I’m a little bit angry,” Twilight said at one point.
Despite how unstoppable the Shock looked, the Titans played at every moment like they had a chance to win. "No one really gave up until the very last moment and everyone gave their all," paJion said.
Image credit: Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment
It’s clear. The Titans are fighters. They’re focused on redemption. They’ve finished second enough times in their careers--they don’t want to be runner-ups anymore. They’re angry and they’re hungry.
Defeat is no stranger to the Titans roster, but neither is victory. In 2018, Runaway finally claimed their first title when they did so in Contenders Korea. They became stronger with every heartbreak and were rewarded by finally getting to celebrate together as a family.
Now, heading into another season of the Overwatch League, their family is hungrier and angrier than ever before.
"We'll make sure to win next year," paJion said at one point in the post-match press conference. There's no doubt that sentiment was shared by every player on the team.