Coming into Stage 3 of the Overwatch League’s inaugural season, the LA Valiant were a team at the forefront of preseason conversation for all of the wrong reasons. Valiant CEO Noah Whinston’s In-n-Out tête-à-tête with DPS player Brady “Agilities” Girardi had nearly progressed through the entire viral life cycle of popular social media meme and was in its final stage of becoming passé.
In its wake, the conversation led to debates regarding the nature of team content and the overall state of the Valiant. The team had also shaken up its roster again between Stages 2 and 3. Most pre-Stage 3 discussion didn’t quite know what to make of the Valiant and assumed that the team would land mid-to-bottom of the table.
Valiant’s first match of Stage 3 was against the Seoul Dynasty. Salome Soe Gschwind Penski kicked off the analyst desk segment on the Valiant with a rundown of the team’s roster changes. As they moved into looking at the starting lineup, conversation quickly turned to the new flex/off-tank on the Valiant: Indy “Space” Halpern.
”For the Valiant, a lot of the time we were highlighting Fate and envy, the tank and flex duo that was always hand-in-hand, killing everybody,” Alberto “Crumbz” Rengifo said. “Then out of nowhere, bam! Envy’s gone, Space is in. He’s a young guy but a vocal leader.”
Separating the Valiant tank line of Koo “Fate” Pan-seung and Lee “envy” Kang-jae was met with community criticism, but was hardly a random decision: Space was waiting in the wings. One of the League’s most recent talents, Space’s debut was highly anticipated by coaches and analysts who had watched or even scouted the flex/off-tank during his amateur days before he became age-eligible for the Overwatch League. Throughout the roster shakeups and general turmoil of Stage 2, Space quietly waited as a trainee on the Valiant for his time to come.
”Once we decided to make some swaps and pickups, that was exactly when I started practicing,” Space said. “I pretty much started practicing at the same time Custa did, that same week. I had already been feeling around to what the communication was like. I knew Fate was the main shotcaller and I just added myself in. It’s been good.”
In his first series, Space and the Valiant were the underdogs. They shocked the Seoul Dynasty and Valiant fans alike with a 4-0 sweep. At the post-match press conference, Space wore a toothy grin. Visibly happy, he was calm and thoughtful with his answers, and highly self-critical.
”Personally, I didn’t perform as well as I wanted to, but I knew coming into this that this roster was going to do well,” he said. “Whether we won or lost, we would improve from it,” he said. “Our mentalities are all good on this team.”
In all appearances on and off the broadcast cameras, Space is an easygoing and affable young man. It’s easy to see how he not only would gel with a team quickly, but also earn the respect of his older peers. He lacks the nervous energy that young players often have, even when they’ve been a part of team activities as a teenaged trainee. Space reiterated that he knew if he continued to perform well, he would definitely start for the Valiant when he came of age. Yet, this doesn’t mean that his nerves were completely vanquished by the time he first stepped onto the Blizzard Arena stage.
”I was really nervous,” he admitted. “I had seen it so much, I’ve been in the back watching like, ‘Oh, I’m going to do it and it’s going to be whatever.’ But when I was finally walking out it was like, ‘I’m actually here playing.’ I was nervous but the crowd was all LA Valiant fans which was comforting.”
A week and a half after Space’s professional debut with the team, the Valiant are off to an impressive 4-0 match start. The team nearly set a record for straight maps taken before the Dallas Fuel snapped the win streak with a 4-4 tie on Volskaya Industries.
”We were coming in with changed strategies and didn’t know what to expect from them,” Space admitted after the match.”Our playstyle was definitely not on point. After we lost on Ilios, we went back into the player room and changed up our playstyle.”
With Space in the starting lineup alongside Valiant’s latest acquisitions of former Seoul Dynasty DPS player Chae “Bunny” Jun-hyeok and former Dallas Fuel support player Scott “Custa” Kennedy, the team’s overall playstyle has shifted. Known for his high-risk, high-reward, chaotic Tracer, Bunny has been a remarkable addition to the team’s DPS line that includes both,Terence “SoOn” Tarlier and Agilities, adding a dash of extra aggression.
”Fate is our main shotcaller, and then secondary caller is probably Custa,” Space said. “Then me looking over everything, making sure we’re tracking ults and me and Bunny keeping track of everyone’s positioning. [Bunny] is an amazing player. He consistently always gets the job done and he’s just a funny guy. I like him a lot.”
This new Valiant clicked almost immediately and continue to take match wins, but the team’s task of making a run at Stage 3 playoffs and rising in the overall standings is still a tough one. The Dallas Fuel, who gave Valiant a difficult time this past Friday, going to five maps, mark the last match of the Valiant’s softer introduction to Stage 3. Going forward, the Valiant will face tougher opponents, and their newfound coordination will be tested. Space isn’t worried.
”At first, the vibes on the team really weren’t good,” Space admitted. He echoed similar statements expressed by the team as a whole at the end of Stage 2. “We were a team divided at the beginning coming from Stage 2, but going into Stage 3 we’re a completely new team. We’re all united with one goal, which is to win.”
”All of our mentalities are on the same page as a team.”