After getting dominated by the Seoul Dynasty in Stage 2 of the Overwatch League in 2018, the Los Angeles Valiant rallied in their Stage 3 rematch and swept the talented South Korean team.
They knew the despair that came from getting dismantled on the big stage and refused to let it happen again.
For the LA Valiant, the inaugural season of the Overwatch League didn’t start until late in the year, until after that second matchup against the Seoul Dynasty. The Valiant’s addition of Australian player Scott “Custa” Kennedy and the presence of Moon Byung-chul, who had been coaching remotely from South Korea and relocated to LA midseason, gave the team a boost. And with off-tank Indy “SPACE” Halpern reaching age eligibility for the Overwatch League, the team hit a stride that took it deep into the playoffs.
“Everyone had a big question mark over our name at that point, but our focus and commitment to strong team-play shined through,” LA Valiant general manager Mike Schwartz said. “Custa and SPACE’s performance was just on point and helped us hit that stride. It proved that the team was better than the sum of its parts.”
Now, with the League’s second season kicking off on Thursday in Burbank, California, the Valiant are ready to chase success by continuing to focus on their core roster, team fundamentals and becoming more flexible.
“All the pieces are here now, so we don’t have to worry about a lot of the basic structural things,” Schwartz said. “These guys have played with each other for a decent amount of time and have the experience needed to continue to win.”
The biggest offseason change to the Valiant’s roster is the loss of Terence “SoOn” Tarlier to the Paris Eternal. He was the LA Valiant’s star DPS last season, and without him Schwartz’s culture of teamwork-focused play over the acquisition of top-tier talent will face its toughest test yet. The Valiant’s remaining DPS core, including Chae “Bunny” Joon-hyuk, Kyle “KSF” Frandanisa and Brady “Agilities” Girardi, will need to fill in the gap left by SoOn.
The DPS player’s departure has affected how fans, other players and journalists view the LA Valiant, as most power rankings have the team placed outside the top five because of its lack of a superstar who will help push the Valiant over the hump. Schwartz and Custa are well aware of the lowered expectations, but it hasn’t deterred them one bit. All the new factors in Season 2, including eight new teams, roster overhauls for existing teams and a new metagame, lead the Valiant to believe that their fundamentals-centered approach could give them a leg up on the competition.
“A lot of people rank us lower than we really are; we had a successful season, and they are still ranking us low because we don’t have that one star player,” Custa said. “A lot of people are putting a lot of emphasis on new additions to teams. You see that with the Gladiators, who we were better than, adding a lot of players and people thinking that makes them better than us.
“We’re better though. We have the stronger core.”
Custa said he believes having a flexible core will be even more important this year now that a more diverse meta will put pressure on teams who can’t adapt. The GOATS composition, one that includes three support characters and three tanks, will not be the only strategy.
“In my opinion, before GOATS was dominant, a lot of teams were using a 2-2-2 composition with an even split of healers, DPS and tanks. A lot of people weren’t messing around with fundamentals,” he said. “I think we’ll start to see weirder things now with teams trying to surprise each other.”
The approaches teams will take won’t be clear until Blizzard Arena lights up for opening weekend, but SPACE believes a faster meta with more heroes mixing things up is on the horizon.
“I think people have started to realize that GOATS isn’t the be-all, end-all,” the off-tank said. “I really feel when GOATS was first discovered, teams got lazy and didn’t want to try something new. If you have a cohesive team that you can play anything. It just matters how hard you are willing to change the meta.”
For Custa and SPACE, the top priority is clicking earlier in 2019 than they did in Season 1. Although the Valiant played well for the majority of the year, they didn’t start to dominate until Stage 4.
“That whole stage confirmed the idea that if you find your identity as a team and you click, the game becomes incredibly easy,” Custa said. “It made us feel comfortable in our play and it gave us a peace of mind. That’s when I knew it’s where we needed to be and I know it’s where we need to get this year as well.”