ANAHEIM, California -- A two-day slog ended in an unprecedented victory Saturday at BlizzCon.
Cheers erupted inside the Anaheim Convention Center Arena as the six American players leapt out of their seats and were swarmed by their staff and substitutes. After four years of early-bracket exits at the Overwatch World Cup, Team USA had done it. They were the champions.
Team USA featured arguably the best North American players in their roles: three from the reigning Overwatch League champions, the San Francisco Shock. The four others were standouts, if not stars, on other OWL teams.
The talent translated into dominant performances, with the U.S. dropping only one map en route to their title. That loss came to three-time defending champion South Korea in a 3-1 semifinal series victory. After that win, Team USA went on to a 3-0 sweep of Team China.
After a sloppy performance against Team United Kingdom in November 2018, the Americans avenged themselves this weekend with an 18-1 record on maps and not a single series loss.
"Well, we actually thought we're gonna 3-0 everyone," Overwatch World Cup MVP Jay "Sinatraa" Won said in a press conference after the team's win. "But we dropped a map to Korea."
This BlizzCon was an important moment for Blizzard Entertainment, which had a year beset with controversy, and for Overwatch, which on Friday announced its second installment after interest in the game had slowed down. The fourth-annual Overwatch World Cup and Team USA were the marquee draws on the esports side of BlizzCon.
Another disappointing exit or upset loss in the quarterfinals would have certainly dulled the electric atmosphere in the Anaheim Convention Center Arena on Saturday and dampened Blizzard's annual celebration.
"This year was like a different mentality: Third time's the charm, and everyone works super hard," Team USA and Houston Outlaws support Shane "Rawkus" Flaherty said. "It feels so good actually finally do that. Like, I don't, I don't really have words to really explain how I feel right now. But it was something that I wanted to do no matter what."
In their first match on Saturday, Team USA served South Korea a quick defeat. That match served as the largest hurdle for the American squad, one that has haunted some of them since their loss to South Korea in November 2017 at that world cup. The victory provided a large confidence boost for the team heading into the final, where they'd meet a less heralded but still dangerous Team China.
Team USA credited the Shock players for leading by example and the coaching staff, led by Dallas Fuel head coach Aaron "Aero" Atkins, for preparing the Americans far better than they had been in past years. Sinatraa was a big part of that message, too: The 19-year-old said he messaged all his U.S. teammates after rosters were announced and made sure everyone took this year's preparation seriously.
Sinatraa took MVP honors at the end of the night in Anaheim, and he and teammates Matthew "super" DeLisi and Grant "moth" Espe join an exclusive club that previously included only one other player. Those three are now among four players who have won both Overwatch League and Overwatch World Cup titles. The other is London Spitfire off-tank Kim "Fury" Jun-ho, who won the Overwatch World Cup and the Overwatch League final in 2018.
But Team USA's players didn't want to focus on their singular accomplishment Saturday. They want to focus on making this a regular occurrence, where the American team remains competitive and World Cup titles are in excess in the future. Super said the gap in skill between South Korean players and American competitors remains noticeable and wide but that's it's closing.
The seven USA players will begin to compete in Overwatch League Season 3 in three months. They'll travel the world -- something Sinatraa said he's looking forward to, despite his discomfort on flights -- and compete in their home markets for the first time for most. It's a big ask, but the next three months of preparation will be a little less taxing for the victors with BlizzCon in the back of their minds.
"Season 3 Overwatch League is going to be like a whole new challenge for us," moth said, "but we're going to keep working really hard. We will never get complacent."