This article is part of our Overwatch series.
After finishing in fourth place in Stage 1, just one spot out the playoffs, the Los Angeles Valiant have been in a bit of a downward spiral. The team finished just 4-6 during Stage 2 and then went on a roster move spree that saw several players released, traded, or moved to other roles within the organization. From the outside, it’s seemed like many of these decisions were of the “panic button” variety as the organization desperately tried to right the ship on its multi-million dollar investment. Over the last week, however, CEO Noah Whinston has put himself at the forefront of the PR machine to explain just what is going on with this team. Through both the latest edition of “Inside LA Valiant” and an Ask Me Anything on Reddit and Discord, Whinston has demonstrated that there is a method to the madness.
The main point that Whinston has driven home over the last few days is that the Valiant are going all in with a full 12-man roster, and not just in the sense of having 12 guys on the team. Many teams in the OWL have plenty of bodies on their rosters, but oftentimes, only a handful actually see consistent playing time. In contrast, the Valiant want 12 players who will all share the limelight at certain times. There’s still a starting roster, but they want to have much more flexibility than other teams demonstrated. Whinston attributed a lot of this to the goal of preventing burnout with the team’s players. During his AMA, Whinston brought up the issue of burnout multiple times and made it clear that the team is aware of it and wants to do everything it can to prevent it from holding the team back. Being able to have a 12-man roster that is fully capable of beating any team on any given night will allow the team to keep its players fresh while remaining competitive throughout the season. It was this flexibility, though, that led to the departure of a couple key players.
In the last week, Valiant traded support Benjamin “Unkoe” Chevasson to the Dallas Fuel in exchange for Scott “Custa” Kennedy and released off-tank Lee “Envy” Kang-jae. In the case of Unkoe, he was moved at his own request since he wanted more of a full-time role instead of sharing the spotlight with Park “KariV” Young-seo. The Valiant were understanding of his feelings and initiated the trade. The trade ended up working out for both teams since Dallas could use a strong Zenyatta player while the Valiant could use the leadership and shotcalling from Custa. It’s also worth mentioning that the Valiant, according to Whinston, also tried to include DPS Terence “Soon” Tarlier in the deal since the two French players have played together for over a year now dating back to their days with Rogue and are somewhat of a package deal, but teams seemed to only be interested in a support or a Tracer player, not both. As such, Unkoe was off to Dallas while Soon stayed put.
One of the most surprising moves came with the release of Envy, the team’s talent off-tank. He was one of the few bright spots for the Valiant during a rocky Stage 2, which made the decision to cut him questionable at first blush. The Valiant, however, had already planned to acquire off-tank Indy “SPACE” Halpern in response, a move that had apparently been in the making for quite some time, with the team intent on grabbing him after he turned 18 near the end of March. With SPACE in tow as the de-facto starter, Envy would have likely been forced to take a backseat - an uncomfortable proposition for the off-tank which led to a mutual release. Additionally, Head Coach Moon “MBC” Byung Chul suggested on “Inside LA Valiant” that Envy lacked a certain tact when communicating with his Western teammates, which conceivably could have led to some internal strife.
The team also brought on Finnbjorn “Finnsi” Jonasson to fill the secondary/backup off-tank role, further adding to the versatility and flexibility of the team.
The roster upheaval continued with the Valiant opting to put DPS Brady “Agilities” Girardi as the starter, prompting the organization to give Ted “silkthread” Wang a shot as a starter elsewhere, which led to his buyout with the Gladiators. The Valiant also quietly acuired Chae "Bunny" Joon-hyuk, the Tracer specialist, to further bolster this DPS core. When it came to Christopher “GrimReality” Schaefer, however, it was a bit more complicated given he had been with the organization since the Immortals days. While a change was imminent, opting to release a longtime figure of the team would have reflected poorly on the Valiant, so the decision to tag GrimReality as the Assistant Coach became a brilliant stroke of a genius - someone capable of being a liaison between the players and management. Given the amount of turmoil this team went through in Stage 2, GrimReality’s shift to coach could be one of the biggest factors in the continued growth of this squad.
While the rampant offseason moves certainly elicited head scratching at first, it’s comforting to know there was a clear plan in place from the beginning. It certainly seems to have paid off since the Valiant played stronger and more cohesive than we’ve seen since Stage 1 in their 4-0 decimation of the Seoul Dynasty on Wednesday.
It’s perhaps even more reassuring that the team hasn’t come close to their peak. Following the aforementioned win over the Dynasty, both newcomers Custa and SPACE expressed doubts about their own performances when asked how they felt during the post-game press conference. Considering that their “shaky” debut led to a sweep of the Dynasty, the upside for this team could be incredible once the new pieces are fully acclimated.
The Valiant are set to take on the Shanghai Dragons Friday night in what should be more of an exhibition match for them given the state of the Dragons. Still, the best teams don’t only show up against other great teams. The Valiant have to treat the Dragons with enough respect and get work done to show that it truly has bounced back from its abysmal Stage 2.