Grant “Moth” Espe was enjoying spicy pork and rice at a Korean BBQ restaurant in Seoul after winning the Overwatch League Grand Finals late last year.
“We stayed until 5 a.m., eating,” Moth said. His team had just beaten the Shanghai Dragons in a series that went until 1:00 a.m. He was tired and it was early in the morning but the Minnesota native was perfectly content after the trip across the Pacific from Los Angeles. “I was living in the moment.”
Moth, widely known as one of the best support players in the league, was in a contract year. There was a chance he wouldn’t play with the two-time championship winners the San Francisco Shock again once the team flew home. He didn’t know it then, but he would later be a part of the league’s power rankings powerhouse: the Los Angeles Gladiators.
Moth’s journey to the Los Angeles Gladiators
Moth and the Shock flew back to Los Angeles, where they were based for the 2020 season. Eventually, they went their separate ways for the offseason. Moth immediately began exploring his options in free agency.
“I was in touch with everyone, in touch with my agent constantly,” Moth said. “I was talking to [general managers] and coaches about what their plans were; everything from housing and food to their plans with their roster.”
Moth spoke to a number of teams, including the Houston Outlaws and his previous team about playing for 2021. He declined to clarify what other teams he spoke with. However, he added that several of them weren’t serious with their offers.
“They backed off after they learned what other teams were offering,” he said.
The San Francisco Shock
The San Francisco Shock roster had changed over Moth’s tenure there. Minho “Architect” Park left to join Hangzhou Spark in 2019. Both Dong-jun “Rascal” Kim and Jaewon “Junkbuck” Choi left for new teams in 2021 as well; the former joining the Philadelphia Fusion and the latter joining Houston Outlaws.
“I was really close with everyone,” Moth said about his teammates on the Shock. “The player that came to mind was Architect but he was already gone. I took into account everyone who left the team. I knew Rascal and Junkbunk were probably going… Shock’s roster’s been constantly changing,” he added. “But as long as Crusty’s there it’ll always be a strong team.”
Los Angeles Gladiators’ head coaches David Pei and Brenda Suh convinced Moth that their team was primed for a deep playoff run in 2021. They told him of the team’s plan to add Jinseo “Shu” Kim and Kim “MuZe” Young-hun to the roster. Moth has a deep respect for both players.
“I was really excited to see what they did with their roster,” Moth said. “I was keeping an eye on Shu, I played with them in the past. It showed me the Gladiators were willing to make big signings.”
Moth had played with Shu on Toronto Esports. They didn’t get to play any live matches together. However, they had been practicing together months before the signing went public in March of 2018. He knew that Shu was a mechanically talented player but he mentioned that he admires him for his mindset.
“He has a positive attitude,” Moth said. “That’s the type of environment I’m looking for.”
The Los Angeles Gladiators
The Gladiators have been the talk of the Overwatch town for the last few months, rolling through the Florida Mayhem and Atlanta Reign at the Winter’s Ball and performing well in scrimmages against other teams. They were widely believed to be one of the best teams in the league alongside the San Francisco Shock.
The season didn’t begin as planned, though. The Gladiators lost to both the Dallas Fuel and San Francisco Shock during the Overwatch League’s opening weekend. It took the team by surprise, but they are currently focused on bouncing back. The chance to qualify for the May Melee tournament will slip away if they don’t dominate in future matches.
“We down bad, but not out. Just need a clean ass 2-0 next week. Sorry guys,” Indy “SPACE” Halpern tweeted after the match. He wasn’t buying into the hype before the season, even though he believes in the Gladiator’s potential this year.
“Our roster is the strongest we’ve had on paper in our whole franchise [history]. I don’t think about past seasons; like on Valiant I almost go to the playoffs,” SPACE said before opening weekend. “We’ve got to take it day by day.”
The LA Gladiators finished with a 17-11 record in 2019 and a 11-10 record in 2020, never getting far into the postseason. The team has seen some success and roster consistency, however. SPACE has been on the team since leaving the Valiant in 2019. “Moth has been through the whole thing,” SPACE said. “He can guide us.”
The last time that Moth received such early praise, his team had been rolled twice in a row by both the Los Angeles Valiant and the Gladiators. The two teams had faced off early and the Shock were overconfident. They weren’t keeping up with the meta after winning the championship in the previous season. Luckily for them, it was the preseason.
“It was more of a wakeup call for us because we were coming off our first champs,” he said. “Losing two games back to back was a big deal for us.”
The loss to Dallas and San Francisco could be a similar wakeup call for Moth, but this isn’t the preseason. Moth will have to find a way to beat his former teammates if they want a chance to fly to Hawaii for one the Overwatch League’s regular season tournaments.
It’s been a long offseason amid the pandemic for Moth. He has spent his time playing Bloodborne on PS5, streaming and getting to know his new teammates. Meanwhile, he’s been thinking about winning another championship as well.
“I would not have come here if I didn’t think we could win a championship,” said Moth.