The Vancouver Titans released a statement Wednesday announcing the release of all of their players, including 2019 Overwatch League Rookie of the Year Kim "Haksal" Hyo-jong.
Sources familiar with the team's plans told ESPN that the Titans will sign five players from Contenders team Second Wind: William "Caden" Loll, Abtin "ShRedLock" Shirvani, Dalton "Dalton" Bennyhoff, Colin "Higan" Arai and Randal "Roolf" Stark. They all are over 18 and eligible to compete in the Overwatch League. The remaining three players on Second Wind -- Zachary "iced" Hughes, Benjamin "UltraViolet" David and Nicholas "Speedily" Zou -- are all minors and not eligible to sign Overwatch League contracts.
The collapse of the Titans' roster came after friction arose from the players and management following the players relocating back to South Korea amid the coronavirus pandemic. Prior to moving back to their home country, the roster lived in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, starting in January and practiced out of a gaming facility at Adamas Esports Training and Performance at Fortius Sport & Health, according to a statement from the team.
Upon the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic and an increase of cases in Canada in March, the players asked Titans ownership Aquilini Entertainment to return to South Korea, an ask that was granted. However, Aquilini management told players they would not be able to obtain a team house lease or find a similar facility to Adamas in South Korea amid the pandemic and informed players they would need to compete and practice from home.
Once in South Korea, several players encountered technical difficulties and then boycotted practice and implied they would not compete for the Titans in official Overwatch League games. The Overwatch League began to investigate the issue, eventually moving the Titans' games back to May 9-10 and relocating the team to the Pacific Division.
Titans management and the players, however, could not resolve their differences, leading to the eventual release of the majority of the players and the Titans organization looking for a new roster.
"Our initial plan was for the team to join the Asian division and continue to play the new schedule from the comfort of players' homes, but it was quickly apparent that this created a whole new set of challenges," Aquilini Entertainment esports director Tim Holloway said in a statement. "The time difference made it difficult for management and the home fan base to connect with the team and technical challenges for the players playing from home further exacerbated the situation.
"With the organization unable to meet the players expectations in Korea, and after much deliberation and conversation with the players, the difficult decision was made to move the team back to the North American division and both the players and management agreed that finding a new home for the players would be in everyone's best interest."
Cutting ties with an entire roster in the middle of the season in a pandemic means that most of these players won't find homes this year, or potentially ever. I hope most don't end up retiring. Very sad day for Vancouver and OG Runaway fans.— Wolf Schröder (@proxywolf) May 6, 2020
The Titans have only played four series in the 2020 Overwatch League season and currently sit at 2-2 overall.
Last year, in the organization's rookie season, the Vancouver Titans started with a record-breaking 19-series winning streak, culminating in the Stage 1 title and a Stage 2 finals appearance. They won the Pacific Division title and had the best record in the league for all of 2019 at 23-3. The Titans took second overall after losing in the Season 2 Grand Finals to the San Francisco Shock in Philadelphia in September.
Prior to competing in the Overwatch League, the majority of the Titans roster competed in Tier 2 Overwatch competitions in South Korea as RunAway, a team led and financed by the couple of then-player Dae-hoon "Runner" Yoon and YouTuber and content creator Lee "Flowervin" Hyuna. RunAway was one of Overwatch's most successful teams outside of the Overwatch League in 2018, leading to the Titans -- who were founded after Vancouver Canucks ownership the Aquilini family purchased into the league in late 2018 -- recruiting the players.