The San Francisco Shock are on the verge of a three-peat, and these playoffs prove to be their most challenging run so far. Everyone knows how good the Shock are, but they aren’t the top dog anymore. However, just like the other seven teams in the 2021 season playoffs, the path to their third consecutive grand finals is clear.
“To be honest, I think this is going to be a really tough postseason,” returning star DPS Lee “ANS” Seonchang said. “It’ll be hard to match what we did in previous years, but we will do our best for San Francisco Shock to get their third championship.”
The rookie returns
Last year’s Shock were coming off a rise to glory in 2019, and ANS went from being a relatively unknown streamer with tons of talent to a starter on a championship squad. This made it all the more of a surprise when, as a Rookie of the Year candidate, he retired and made the move to VALORANT. He still kept up with his old squad, especially when the Shock’s goal for a three-peat started off a little slowly.
“I feel sorry for retiring kinda last minute going into the season,” ANS continued. “I watched the Shock play while I was away and saw our slightly worse results. Things aligned and I returned, and I’m just happy to play for them again.”
The Shock have become a gatekeeper in 2021. Teams had to get past them in order to make it to Hawaii. San Francisco needed another piece to make it to the finals again. The surprise retirement of Kwon “Striker” Nam-joo was rough. But, on the same day, ANS returned to the Shock.
The Shock adjust and improve
The team took a number games to readjust to their new normal, going 5-3 with a close loss to the Los Angeles Gladiators in the Countdown Cup play-ins. Considering the Gladiators ended up winning that tournament, the Shock looked much improved compared to earlier in the 2021 season. The 2021 squad was wildly different considering plenty of core players had left, either for retirement or to a different team, including Grant “Moth” Espe. The star Lucio player now rides the bench for the Gladiators.
It feels like the old Shock are back, storming into the playoffs with a dominant 3-0 play-in win over the Toronto Defiant. The new players that joined the team in the offseason started to click, with Charlie “nero” Zwarg and Brice “FDGod” Monsçavoir playing at their best. That made it all the more surprising when Shanghai Dragons coach Moon “Moon” Byung-chul chose the San Francisco Shock as their first playoff opponent.
“Well, Shanghai didn’t forget about what happened last year,” ANS said. “Maybe they want revenge.”
Since the 2019 season, the Dragons and Shock have both improved drastically. They were set to meet back in the 2020 Grand Finals, but it never happened. The Dragons lost in the semi-finals to Seoul. The Shock then beat the Dynasty and ANS got his first title. ANS thinks that the Dragons are making sure that they can beat the champions.
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A lot of what leads to a champion usually focuses on the meta and how it fits with specific teams or players. ANS in particular isn’t a fan of this playoff meta, but probably not for the reason you’d think.
“I want to play high-risk high-reward, but in this meta, I can’t play like that,” he said. “It’s always 60/40 or 50/50 for being aggressive and passive. I like playing 100 percent aggressively at all times.”
Out of the remaining playoff teams, the Shock have plenty of interesting possible matchups. Only one team — besides the Dragons — looms over them.
“I think the most underrated team is the Chengdu Hunters,” ANS continued. ”They had a rocky start but continued to show top performances in the Asian region, and people just see less of them over here in NA despite them being so good.”
Even with all the changes and tough enemies along the way, ANS remains confident in his and the Shock’s skill.
“I’m not looking to face anyone in particular,” he said, “I think I can do better than a lot of the players left.”