In the end, just like we all knew it would, it came down to a rematch. The Vancouver Titans, winners of the Stage 1 Finals, had dominated the league, going 7-0. But their dominance was outshone by the even better performance of the San Francisco Shock, who went not only an undefeated 7-0: they became the first team ever to win every single map during the stage.

And in the Stage Finals, that tiny superiority shone through. The San Francisco Shock gave the Vancouver Titans their first-ever loss, a 4-2 defeat at the hands of an opponent who fully deserved it. This had to happen eventually, and while I wish things had gone differently, I’m happy that this first loss was an unimpeachable defeat. The Titans didn’t throw the game away or get surprised by something weird and cheesy–the Shock just plain played better. In beating the Titans, San Francisco have done more than make Vancouver bleed: they’ve incarnated what is sure to be a tremendous rivalry between these two teams, who are a class above the rest of the league.

Map 1: Lijiang

In the last Stage Finals, San Francisco had pulled out a close 2-1 victory, and with most observers thinking they had found another gear during this stage, that meant stealing a control map would be a huge win for the Titans. Starting out on Control Center, it was the Titans who took the first cap on the strength of Seominsoo’s Zarya. Kills flew fast and furious for both teams as they jockeyed to displace the opposing main tanks. Seominsoo seemingly built grav much faster than Sinatraa, but the Titans struggled to capitalize because of San Francisco’s support ultimates. Finishing kills on the slippery Choihyobin in particular seemed difficult, which meant Slime, Rascal, and Viol2t could rack up ult charge by healing their dva for 600+ hp. Viol2t also had no difficulty in finishing his own kills, as he found some pickoffs at key moments that blunted Vancouver’s attack, delivering the first round to his team.

On Night Market, both teams pulled off highlight plays before the point was even capped, with the Titans coming out on top. But in the very next fight, Bumper went too deep right after Seominsoo’s bubble was down, leading to his death and a point flip. Throughout the map (and in fact the match), San Francisco’s coordination looked slightly cleaner–Seominsoo had a grav countered by a Choihyobin dva bomb, but Jjanu’s attempt to do the same directly afterwards was unsuccessful. Vancouver did manage to retake and build to 99%, but San Francisco blocked both perfectly and took the advantage and the cap. Sinatraa used grav to block everyone off the point, no one could begin overtime, and San Francisco took the series lead.

Titans 0 : Shock 1

Map 2: King’s Row

A quick kill onto Haksal broke the Titans’ first-point defense immediately, and in a protracted archway fight they once again failed to finish off weakened targets. Seominsoo’s grav got nothing, while Sinatraa’s led to a team wipe, forcing a defense right in front of B. A flying Bumper shatter bought a moment of respite, but the Shock seemed to have ultimates on cooldown, which they used in the next fight to split Vancouver’s positioning and eventually pick off weakened Titans individually. That gave them more than 4 minutes to push through C, and San Francisco needed almost none of it, continually staggering Vancouver and finishing with a 3:20 timebank.

On the attack, a brilliant flank shatter from Bumper gave the Titans a first pick, and the Shock foolishly committed all of their ultimates to contest, which gave Titans a stronger ult bank for the snowball. The silver lining was that the first fight had taken nearly 2 minutes, but by essentially losing out on all of the Point B contest, the Shock were put firmly on the back foot. The payload arrived at Point C with the clock just below 4 minutes, and the Titans’ final timebank of 3:11 was for all intents and purposes identical to San Francisco’s.

That sent the map to timebank, where Vancouver attacked first. Seominsoo killed Rascal first, which should have set up the same scenario as the early pick on Haksal. Instead, Super snuck a shatter right past Bumper, who dropped shield at exactly the wrong moment. The Titans still had ult advantage, and ran directly in to win the subsequent fight, but time burned is always time burned. More sloppiness was on display when Twilight and Slime used their ults at the same time while trapped in Sinatraa’s grav. They won the fight, but in retrospect only one ult was necessary. Slime never built another barrier even after Vancouver won a fight at the end of Point B, so when Twilight died first on C without getting to use trans, the Titans had no tools to bring the fight back. It was still an impressive overtime push, but at this high level these little edges matter.

For their second defense, Vancouver dominated the poke battle, forcing Viol2t to trans before Seominsoo’s grav. San Francisco eventually won a fight by bare inches–Bumper’s shield was the slightest bit too small to block damage onto a shattered Haksal–but lots of time had been burned. Vancouver took an aggressive fight in archway, and despite losing they had enough time to return for an overtime defense at the end of Point B. Once again it was Seominsoo’s quick gravs that won it, as the Titans’ Zarya locked up half the enemy team so that Haksal’s flail could deliver the knockout punch.

Titans 1 : Shock 1

Map 3: Paris

San Francisco decided to go to Paris, where they have the two fastest completion times. Vancouver threw out the first curveball of the series, putting Bumper on Winston instead of Reinhardt. Both teams unleashed a storm of ultimate after ultimate, trying to gain a tiny edge or to nullify an opponent’s attempt. The Titans weathered three of these assaults in a row, draining the clock nearly to nothing. A desperation charge from Super started overtime, but the final fight was more of a whimper than a bang. Vancouver, somehow, managed to hold San Francisco to just over two ticks, setting up a very winnable attack phase.

The Shock had to know a victory was unlikely, but they gave it their best effort. Their standard 3/3, after all, is the equal of Vancouver’s–maybe they could pull off the greater miracle. But the Titans showed us something amazing: that quad DPS composition they run is a serious strategy. Needing only two ticks, they elected to blast San Francisco off the point from a distance, and everything went according to plan. Haksal popped up over the rooftops on Pharah, snuck a concussive blast in between defense matrix uses, and knocked Choihyobin off the map while his boosters were on cooldown. Dva might have been the absolute worst hero to lose in that situation, as the flurry of damage could now be directed into the Shock without any nullification. Kill after kill followed, putting the Titans in the lead for the series.

Titans 2 : Shock 1

Map 4: Gibraltar

Reeling from a crushing defeat on Paris, and needing a victory to bring things back, the Shock opted next for Watchpoint Gibraltar. Attacking first, they pushed the cart within a meter of A before any real fight was joined. The Titans finally engaged,but took heavy damage. With Seominsoo and Bumper taken low and forced to retreat into a corridor for health, Haksal was left to stand alone on cart, and Super jumped on the opportunity to delete him, earning the Shock a cap without requiring any ultimates. That signaled the beginning of an ominous trend for the Titans: San Francisco stopped being afraid of their ultimates. Midway through B, Seominsoo caught nearly everyone in a grav, but Viol2t determined it wasn’t even necessary to use transcendence. As it turned out, he was right, and the Titans were unable to engage and get kills despite having locked up their opponents. Vancouver nearly stabilized with a scrappy fight at the end of B, but that unused transcendence came into play for San Francisco and barely let them push over the line into C, with more than 5 minutes on the clock.

Despite briefly stabilizing on C, Vancouver threw it all away in the very next fight. Twilight’s aggressive use of trans didn’t net any kills, leaving Seominsoo to die in an enemy grav, and Slime’s sound barrier dropped too late, as the fight was already lost. One last rabbit was pulled out of a hat to prevent the capture at 3:00, but Vancouver’s supports were constantly having to use ults first, and the Shock got the third point with about 1:30 remaining.

The Titans tried a bizarre loop around strategy which only resulted in two consecutive team wipes, whose only redeeming feature was Seominsoo building a grav. Once again, though, the Titans hardly even engaged into the clumped up enemy when it was used, and it required a monstrous shatter from Bumper to finally get the payload away from spawn. A perfunctory fight at the end of A was an easy cleanup for Vancouver, but San Francisco started holding strong inside the hangar. A shatter from Super, a grav from Sinatraa, and San Francisco won two easy fights before Vancouver broke through. Even so, the timebank was already going to be better for the Shock, and the Titans weren’t able to get kills until the last fight with 30 seconds remaining. A scattered final defense was easily run over, giving Vancouver the cap–but it was only in overtime, meaning the Shock would have a 2:38 timebank against the 1:00 of the Titans.

The timebank round was where the series turned. A series of mistakes from the Titans lost them the map, and put the Shock in a driver’s seat which they would never thereafter relinquish. The first mistake was a lack of target focus: Haksal stunned Choihyobin into a wall away from his team, but not everyone threw their damage into the enemy mech, allowing him to escape. The Titans nonetheless won a fight in the car wash, but they failed to peel for Twilight, who was taken out late by Rascal, denying him crucial percentage towards trans. At the gates of A, Bumper found a first pick onto Rascal, but the rest of Vancouver was caught in a grav by Sinatraa. Without healing from trans, the low-health members of the team tried to rotate around a corner, which broke line of sight for both Slime’s sound barrier and the trans that Twilight finished building right as Haksal and Seominsoo were taken out, ending the push.

It was a tough ask, but Gibraltar is known for full holds, and the Titans were certainly still capable of getting the win. Unfortunately, the mistakes continued on the defense. Bumper was roasted to death in the car wash, putting Vancouver in a difficult position. They had to regroup and return, but Moth was ready: he spotted Seominsoo trying to take a high ground position a fraction of a second too early and booped him off the ledge, leading to another immediate kill and the map win for San Francisco.

Titans 2 : Shock 2

Map 5: Oasis

Oasis was a statement map. Things started on Gardens, where things started out dire for the Titans. The Shock absolutely crushed two fights, then were barely displaced in a third, by which time the control progress had built to 91%. Worse, the Titans had had to invest everything to get the flip, which meant they had no ultimates to cycle for the long hold. Instead of holding an advantage, the Titans had to play on even footing, and quickly lost it. Bumper was taken low, forcing an early trans just to keep him alive, which then wasn’t available for the full engagement. Seominsoo was dropped low, tossed out a grav, but was firestruck down just before Slime’s sound barrier was used. There was no recovering, and the Shock took a clear-cut win in the first round.

Next up was City Center, where Vancouver were nearly bullied off the point before making a last-second contest. Despite all being low health, they kept the Shock at bay long enough to recover, and in fact found the first kill onto Super, which eventually snowballed into a surprise first cap for the Canadian team. But Super found his revenge in the next fight when he jumped to a side angle and hit nearly a full-team shatter to give his squad the flip. That’s the only way to take this point quickly, as the Titans found to their dismay. Despite a first kill onto Sinatraa, they were unable to press home the advantage, and the Shock wrested back the upper hand in what turned into the final fight of the map.

Titans 2 : Shock 3

 Map 6: Blizzard World

The Titans were one defeat from a loss, but they had been there before. Last Stage Finals was also a 2-3 situation, but in that case Vancouver had managed to win maps 6 and 7 to get the victory. Backs against the wall, needing a win on a hybrid map, they went for… Blizzard World.

I’m not a big fan of this decision, nor were a lot of the people I watched with. Just the day before, New York had put up their best performance against the Titans on this very map, and Eichenwalde was the other option. Nonetheless, I was hopeful there was a plan developed since the previous day.

The first two fights were encouraging, with the Titans engaging aggressively from the high ground and building ultimates faster than their opponents. But all that advantage was for naught. Seominsoo caught the whole team in a grav, but Super hit a brilliant counter shatter that laid low most of the Titans roster. Twilight was killed before being stunned, preventing him from using trans, and the Titans were wiped in the blink of an eye.  

The pattern of strong fights then a wipe replayed itself on second point. On the strength of a few team wipes, the Titans drained the timebank from 4 minutes down to a final fight with 30 seconds to go. But Haksal was picked early, and the Titans invested the entire ultimate bank to no avail, giving the Shock another lease on life. Sinatraa did his best to throw that away by whiffing a grav directly onto the back of the cart, a mistake that should have cost his team dearly. It appeared it would when Moth was taken down first, but Choihyobin and Super bailed him out by eating Seominsoo’s grav and landing a monstrous shatter in quick succession. Instead of holding early in Point C, the Titans finally evicted the Shock right before the end.

Vancouver’s attack looked strong until Viol2t intervened. His discord orb dropped Bumper terrifyingly low, forcing the Reinhardt to retreat. Seominsoo rotated to the other side of the point, giving Viol2t an easy angle to snipe him with a right-click volley and snuff the first push. Next up, it was Sinatraa’s turn. The Titans once again took an advantage in the fight, this time bringing things all the way down to a 3v2 scenario, but Sinatraa built his grav at lightning speed. That let him lock up Slime and Seominsoo, turning a fight that looked lost into a victory for his team. Finally Vancouver broke through in the third and last attack, but the lost time hurt dearly.

Sinatraa, though, was still feeling the pressure, once more whiffing a grav onto a wall. Suddenly, though they had time for only a single fight, the Titans were in an ultimate advantage situation. At the cusp of Point B, they pressed Q one after the other, a storm of ults which needed only a single kill to deliver them the victory. Alas, it was not to be. In a fitting end to the series–Vancouver had struggled all night with following up on ultimates–San Francisco survived the onslaught, found kills, and turned the fight. A last-second contest felt futile in the extreme, and for the first time ever, the Vancouver Titans had been defeated.


Titans 2 : Shock 4

Player of the Match

I believe two things simultaneously. One is that the San Francisco Shock deserved this win, because on this day, they were the better team. The only weirdness that happened, when Seominsoo’s grav on King’s Row somehow dropped through the floor, didn’t matter because the Titans still won that map.

The other is that the Titans massively underperformed. Jjanu in particular was nearly silent, I suspect a result of the food poisoning he disclosed he was suffering from against NYXL. Twilight and Haksal, too, had less impact on the game than they normally do.

But there was one player who played, if anything, better this series than he had in the previous Stage Finals. Faced with an opponent every bit as talented on his signature role, this player stepped up and delivered.

Seominsoo was not only the best Titan today, but also the best Zarya on the field.

Sinatraa’s stats on Zarya are, there is no other word for it, incredible. His damage dealt has ouptaced even the most talented players in the rest of the league. He’d done the same in the Stage 1 Finals. But in these Finals, Seominsoo answered the call. His damage dealt was neck-and-neck with Sinatraa’s at all the key moments, and he seemed to find another gear when the team needed a fast graviton to save their bacon.

Unfortunately, a lot of those gravitons were not followed up on by the rest of the team. But it’s not Seominsoo’s job to play everyone else’s roles, and his teammates’ inability to secure kills doesn’t invalidate the impressive job he did in setting up those opportunities in the first place.