Sinatraa departure bad for Shock, catastrophic for OWL

The shocking announcement Tuesday of Jay "Sinatraa" Won's retirement from Overwatch to join the Sentinels' professional Valorant team has reverberated throughout the Overwatch League and left plenty of questions going forward.

Chief among them, how will the San Francisco Shock fare without their star leader and what does the OWL's future looks like now that its reigning MVP has quit midseason?

First and foremost, the Shock are going to miss Sinatraa. He was an elite DPS player with a deep DPS hero pool, including his legendary Tracer and Doomfist. He was also a more-than-capable tank player, with possibly the best Zarya in the league along with enough talent to play other tank heroes at a high level.

Even more than his hero pool, though, Sinatraa was an elite team fighter and playmaker. Star power is hard to quantify in a game with a large emphasis on team play, but Sinatraa was simply a star. His legendary exploits, like his demolishing of the Vancouver Titans in 2019, are just some of the reasons why Sinatraa captured the Overwatch League's collective hearts.

That being said, however, the Shock might be uniquely qualified as the only team in the league that can lose the reigning MVP and still not experience too much of a setback. Perhaps in anticipation of Sinatraa's departure, the Shock used their four other DPS players in their recent OWL outings.

In terms of pairings, Sinatraa always paired well with flex DPS Dong-jun "Rascal" Kim, who has possibly the deepest hero pool of any player in the league. Rascal has shown he can work well with San Francisco's other DPS players, such as Minho "Architect" Park and Nam-joo "Striker" Kwon, who can play some of the heroes that Sinatraa specialized in. What's more, Shock rookie DPS Seon-chang "ANS" Lee has shown himself to be a raw but talented hitscan prodigy.

With this combination of players taking DPS, the Shock will likely never lack for talent at that position. But with Sinatraa retiring, San Francisco captain and main tank Matthew "super" DeLisi will have to step up in terms of playmaking, which might hurt the Shock's explosiveness when super can't play his signature Reinhardt.

Still, the Shock possess one of the best-constructed rosters in the league and have a top-tier coaching staff backing them up. Even though losing Sinatraa hurts, expect San Francisco to recover and remain a premier team in the league.

While Sinatraa leaving Overwatch isn't too worrisome for San Francisco, it is catastrophic for the Overwatch League. After all, "Mr. 150K" retired before his MVP skin even came out.

This is just the latest in a series of bad omens for the league going forward. Viewership being sporadic is a bad sign, but with how hard it is to accurately track those things across all platforms, it's not the strongest indicator of league health.

The fact that so much developmental talent in Tier 2 and Tier 3 Overwatch leagues is retiring, though, should be a huge red flag. Think of it like this: Who is going to be the next Sinatraa? Think right now of a talented North American DPS player who isn't yet in the league. Is that person still playing in Overwatch Contenders? Probably not, considering almost every OWL Academy team has ceased operations.

Only one professional team still has an academy team to develop talent, the Boston Uprising's Uprising Academy. But Boston is far from a good position, currently sitting at dead last in the league standings at 1-8.

While some will point to the strength of Contenders Korea as a sign that there is still developing talent, it's ridiculous that a global league only has talent development in one region. European rising talent has been spurned for so long that it's unlikely that the EU, a legendary FPS region, will produce the amount of talented professionals it otherwise would with proper support.

For a long time, the most steadfast supporters of Overwatch esports have had to beg Blizzard to support the Tier 2 scene. Things as simple as advertising Contenders on Overwatch League broadcasts and in the game itself only recently started happening, but it's too little, too late.

It is simply unviable for aspiring professionals to spend their time grinding in Contenders or in the Open Division (Tier 3) unless they have a primary source of income that allows them to work it into their schedule without too much hassle.

Sinatraa retiring isn't just concerning because one of the brightest stars in the OWL suddenly quit due to a lack of interest in the game. It's concerning because there isn't much coming up the pipeline to suggest that the league will be able to cycle in new talent and provide opportunities for aspiring pros.

The state of the game itself has also hurt the standing of OWL. The Blizzard developers have been clear that their focus has been on the development of Overwatch 2, which comes at the cost of allowing Overwatch to decay and stagnate. The small, yet vocal, community of passionate players have historically been too eager to voice their opinions. When you take this and combine it with a game-balancing team that is slow to change things, burnout is inevitable.

The current state of Overwatch's balance is problematic, with a lot of the changes Blizzard made to combat GOATS still in effect despite GOATS' death with the introduction of 2-2-2 role lock. For example, Mei's multi-freeze on her Endothermic Blaster was designed to make Mei a counter to a group of tanks sprinting into her team. Now that there are only two tanks per team, though, it makes no sense why a 250 health DPS hero should have a get-out-of-jail-free card with her Ice Block, an insane utility ability in her Ice Wall, and the ability to chain-freeze the entire enemy team between her primary fire and her ultimate.

There are other examples of things taking too long to remove from the game throughout the game's history, like the introduction of the "Moth meta" with the reworked Mercy. Each time this happens, the player base cries out in frustration and burns out, turning on itself or seeing players (both pros and casuals) leave. This cynical cycle has gone on for a long time, and there's no apparent end in sight.

The frustration is palpable and understandable, because there isn't another game like Overwatch out there. Sure, Valorant has a similar art style, character-based interactions and team play, but it doesn't have anything close to Overwatch's high-octane gameplay.

Overwatch managed to strike gold with a game that was, and still is, unlike anything else on the market. Mishandling the game, pushing for the Overwatch League to perhaps grow too big too fast, and a lack of developer communication and new content have all contributed to OWL's decline.

The league itself will still be popular with die-hard OWL fans, but Activision-Blizzard hasn't done anything to keep the game interesting for the casual fans the league needs to stay healthy. Just as Sinatraa is leaving for Valorant -- a game that not only isn't proven as an esports title but isn't finished -- many Overwatch players have been leaving the game for years.

At the end of the day, the San Francisco Shock will miss Sinatraa, though they should be fine in terms of staying competitive. But the Overwatch League itself? There's a new meme that'll be spammed for months to come:

Jay Won

OWL Lost

--Noah Waltzer, Field Level Media