At the end of the 2019 Overwatch League season, the Vancouver Titans were hands-down the second-best team in the league. With a Stage 1 title, a Pacific division title, and an appearance in the 2019 Finals, their year was eclipsed only by an unstoppable juggernaut in the eventual champion San Francisco Shock.
Just over half a year after they were swept 4-0 by the Shock in Philadelphia, the all-Korean roster is being slowly ripped fully apart. One-by-one, official social media posts and tweets loaded with leaked information are announcing departures of the team’s core players and coaching staff.
UPDATE (May 6, 2020): The Vancouver Titans organization announced that it has mutually parted ways with its entire roster and coaching staff.
The Warning Signs
Just over a week before April 30, reports and sources spread across the internet that the members of the Vancouver Titans were feuding with their management. In an act of defiance, they all removed Titans branding from their social media accounts.
Speculation is that the players are not happy with how Luminosity Gaming, the esports organization that owns the Titans’ OWL spot, have managed the players during the ongoing Coronavirus outbreak. This includes issues regarding communication and problems acquiring facilities for the players to play and practice from.
Like several other esports leagues and tournaments, the Overwatch League was forced to move to an online-only format after the global pandemic forced live events to be canceled. While viewership on YouTube hasn’t suffered much compared to numbers from earlier in the season, the Titans’ performance has, sitting at just a 2-2 record.
“Death By a Thousand Cuts”
On April 30, the official releases began to trickle in from the Vancouver Titans’ official Twitter account, which is managed by Luminosity. First, tank player Choi ‘JJANU’ Hyeon-Woo had mutually parted ways with the team. The team thanked him for his time and effort in the official release, but on his own personal Twitter, he simply stated, “I am free.”
This move was followed half an hour later by the release of Ji-Sub “paJion” Hwang. Both paJion and JJANU had joined at the end of 2018, just before the Titans’ first season as an expansion franchise.
Several Overwatch League personalities and media members posted after the first two announcements that more releases would trickle in throughout the day. But nothing else concrete would come in until the next day.
Jehong “ryujehong” Ryu posted on his Instagram that he was also leaving the Titans, and Chinese OWL caster Liu “Roy” Yuanyi leaked on stream that all the members of the team were leaving.
The Titans’ Twitter feed remained quiet until May 6th, when the organization announced in a letter to its fans that they were parting ways with the entire roster. The letter makes it known that there were communication problems between the players in South Korea and the organization in North America, and that the COVID-19 impact only made those issues worse.
What Does This Mean for Overwatch League?
As the sports world enjoys The Last Dance, a documentary series about the final championship run by Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, fans of competitive Overwatch are watching another title-contending roster get torn apart because of conflicts with management.
This slow, methodical destruction of one of the game’s best teams comes less than a week after arguably the game’s best player, Jay “sinatraa” Won of the reigning champion San Francisco Shock, shockingly retired from Overwatch to pursue a career in Valorant.
Between having to cancel several homestand events, the sudden retirement of the reigning MVP, and now the agonizing disassembling of the former second-best team, 2020 has not been a strong year for Overwatch League. The future of the scene may rest on the community’s reception to Overwatch 2, which may release some time this year.