An OWL team’s letters in the sand

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    The Los Angeles Gladiators’ 2023 dreams in the Overwatch League are officially over. With no hopes for play-ins, an uncertain future, and a parent company disillusioned, the waves ahead may be too much for this shield to guard.

    With the post-season looming in the game, what footholds, what little truths are hidden in the Gladiators tale and how will their legacy be remembered? 

    Rising action

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    It’s a strange profile of emotions attempting to recount the Gladiators’ run because when you look back, you see so much good. 

    In spite of the ending we’re far too acquainted with, the Gladiators were a threat. Not often the biggest kids on the block, but one that you’d want in your corner if push came to shove. Even their lineage of former players, like spidery purple veins crawling across the history of the Overwatch League demand respect. 

    Benjamin “BigG00se” Isohanni and Jonas “Shaz” Suovaara, for their time, were a bulletproof backline. They felt like a standard set for the league. 

    Lane “Surefour” Roberts will always be a legend of the game, half because of his innate talent for Overwatch, but half thanks to his clutch factor. The number of times he pulled the Gladiators over the line on sheer will and skill alone? 

    While Kim “birdring” Ji-hyeok owns a championship title with another team, you can trace a large portion of his time in the league back towards the Gladiators. 

    Los Angeles was never short on good talent and maybe that’s what earned them their perennial gatekeeper status. Hell, if a few dice roll differently, maybe Baek “Fissure” Chan-hyung stays, maybe it all works out, and just maybe they’re the ones at the Barclays Center?

    For years, the Gladiators would position themselves just off the podium with 4th place finishes and the like. They had moments in the sun, like when they led the league during Stage 4 of Overwatch League’s inaugural season, only to then be brought back down to earth by their regional rivals in the semifinals of the stage playoffs. 

    The Gladiators were a good team – one you could not ignore, but one that would often not be featured in the race for a title. The potential was always there, but it wouldn’t be until the tail end of 2021 that the wider Overwatch world would see that catalyzed.

    • Wondering which Overwatch 2 Heroes are currently sitting at the top? Here’s our OW2 Hero tier list

    Time at the top

    The Los Angeles Gladiators team

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    When you sit with reality for a second and consider, from a third-party point of view, how absurd it is that because of one man’s actions, success sprouts in Los Angeles.

    Without Kim “Shu” Jin-seo’s title-winning play to dispatch the Chengdu Hunters during the final moments of the 2021 Countdown Cup, history would be perceived very differently. If they don’t finally achieve that level of success, at least once, does 2022 play out the same way?

    In Season 5, they perfected the metagame in the Kickoff Clash and coasted towards a dominant performance for that stage title only dropping a single map to the Dallas Fuel.

    While their midseason run wasn’t as spotless, being able to best the San Francisco Shock in their rematch was nothing short of legendary. And that discounts the road the Gladiators had to walk to even get to that point at this event.

    The addition of the Junker Queen, Corey “Reiner” Scoda’s departure, and the playoff patch obfuscates things, that’s clear, but the Gladiators felt different by the end of the year.

    A team that was cusp-ridden, always just shy of getting the respect they deserved was making headway at an evolution. A breakthrough felt imminent for this edge-case team. 

    Surely the year to follow would only see that more flowers bear that same fruit, right?

    Descent

    Image of the Los Angeles Gladiators at an event

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    Some entered 2023 with measured expectations for the Gladiators. Few saw the magnitude of their downward spiral. They still housed such great players, ones that not only had a taste for gold but felt destined for it. 2022 showed us that. 

    We saw Dante “Danteh” Cruz become a north star for the Outlaws in their bronze medal finish. He now called Los Angeles home. Fans and pundits we’re familiar with how strong a pair Kim “Yaki” Jun-ki and Kevin “kevster” Persson were. 

    The mean was to be expected, an average placing, something akin to the same hurdle they embodied for teams on the ascent toward a title. However, right after their closest brush with glory, the floor buckled beneath them, as week after painful week, they tumbled down the rankings. 

    Their floor would be 11th, just narrowly evading a lifeline to grant them enough air to survive until the play-ins. A team that was set to man the gates once more now was buried beneath them. 

    If news pans out as it usually does, their parent company, Kroenke Sports & Entertainment (KSE) will be exiting the esports space by the end of the year. 

    Six years, memories abundant, now locked within an increasingly dim liminal space, the Los Angeles Gladiators are likely to take a quiet exit from a space they helped forge. 

    That house, built on the horizon of glory, won’t be moved again, for better or worse. In that way, we all knew this was it. We just hoped things would be different. And as the final note resolves in L.A.’s swan song, perhaps that’s the grand takeaway.

    Choosing to remember the warring chants of Valiant and Gladiators in the Blizzard Area of Los Angeles.

    Choosing to remember the highs of 2022’s midseason and beyond. 

    Choosing to remember to smile and be thankful we got to witness this at all. 

    We’re rich with memories, emotions, and times, both good and bad. Thankfully, those can’t fade like letters in the sand.

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