Photo by Robert Paul / Blizzard Entertainment
Jay “Sinatraa” Won is going to have to buy a bigger trophy case. The 19-year-old professional Overwatch player spent this year winning just about everything he possibly could.
It started when he was named MVP for the 2019 Overwatch League season, which he followed by winning the league championship as the driving force behind the San Francisco Shock. This weekend, he added to his accolades as Team USA won the Overwatch World Cup at BlizzCon, and Won was once again named the most valuable player. This level of success ranks among the best individual seasons in the history of e-sports — but when asked about it, Won doesn’t seem too surprised.
“It definitely exceeded my expectations,” he says of 2019, “but not by that much.”
Won has been part of the Shock since OWL’s inaugural season in 2018, and despite relatively high expectations, the team had a disappointing debut, finishing ninth in the 12-team league and missing the playoffs. 2019 was a different story. The Shock spent most of the season fighting for top place with the Vancouver Titans. They lost their first playoff round against the Atlanta Reign, but San Francisco then went on a dominating run, sweeping every subsequent team they played. Before the grand finals against Vancouver, Won predicted his team would win 4-0 — and they ended up doing exactly that.
Winning the World Cup was arguably an even bigger feat. While the OWL season lasts several months, the World Cup takes place over a single weekend, giving teams just a few weeks to prepare. Since the tournament’s inception, South Korea has been dominant, winning gold in three straight competitions. The USA, meanwhile, has largely disappointed, failing to earn a medal despite multiple star players. According to Won, what made 2019 different came down to how the team prepared before the matches.
“We had a larger coaching staff to help throughout the whole thing,” he explains. “No matter what match we had, we were always prepared. We didn’t care if it was a really weak team. We would fully prepare for them regardless. And I think that was a problem last year, and the years before. We were maybe too confident and only worried about Korea. This year, we did review on every team possible — every map, every comp, all that stuff.”
The Americans managed to knock South Korea out of the tournament in the semifinal round, and it was a particularly heated match for Won. The US squad featured three players from the Shock, while two more San Francisco players starred for South Korea. For Won, this added an extra incentive to beat the tournament favorites. “Every year, we always want to beat Korea because they’re always the best team at every World Cup,” he explains. But because some of his Shock teammates were part of the South Korean squad, he says, “I just wanted to beat them extra bad. There was definitely a lot of yelling during that match.”
Overwatch is a team game in which squads of six have to work together in order to complete a variety of objectives. Because of this, synergy and teamwork are arguably more important than pure talent. Still, Won managed to shine in both competitions, as evidenced by his dual MVP awards. He says that, while championships are always the ultimate goal, the individual accolades are also important to him. “It means a lot,” Won says. “My biggest goal was winning the championships, but my second biggest goal was to be known as a good player in the league.”
2020 will be a very different experience. For next season, OWL is moving to a new format where teams will play out of their respective home cities, which means a huge amount of travel. In addition to hosting matches in San Francisco, the Shock will also be playing games in China, South Korea, the UK, France, and multiple cities across North America.
It’s a dramatic change, with all kinds of new logistical challenges that could potentially make repeating as champions an even harder challenge. Won only has one very specific worry about the new format: he hates flying. “I just don’t like airplanes,” he says. “Maybe I’ll take some melatonin, I don’t know.”
For now, though, he’s taking some time off. After a long season of OWL, he was able to take a two-week break before heading straight back into preparation for the World Cup. Now that that’s over, Won says he’s spending some time away from the game in order to combat burnout and stay fresh for next year.
But all of his recent success has added a new complication: Won has become something of a celebrity. After the Shock wrapped up their championship season, he even appeared on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon alongside teammate Matthew “Super” DeLisi. Won says he’s regularly recognized in places like airports or in Ubers. Once, he was even spotted by fans while shopping at a drug store with some friends.
“It’s pretty weird every time,” he says.