"Fixing" Lunatic-Hai: A though experiment
In the last 4 months of 2016, Lunatic-Hai accumulated three second place and one top 8 finishes at offline events. With those, the squad stands out in most eyes as the clear choice for the receiver of the title 'best Korean Overwatch team of 2016'. In addition, half of the young men also finished first in the Overwatch World Cup. Yet, despite all the achievements and being widely considered one of the elite teams in the world, Lunatic-Hai didn't seem likely to pick-up the gold at a big international event in the future, as they had some easily discernible weaknesses in their game. They have attempted to address their problems with the recent additions of Zunba and Whoru and that will likely push the squad in a new direction with an eight player roster. The first has already proven himself as a top tier player and has been tested, but it is curious if the largely unknown Genji specialist will be able to perform at LANs.
Rather than addressing the recent additions, this article takes a look at the old roster, attempting to figure out if there were other possible solutions to the squad's silvery troubles, among the already established Korean talent. As with any problem, finding potential solutions begins by analyzing the situation.
The good, the bad and the controversial
The first notable thing about the six-player unit was its style. The distinctive aggressive play by Miro and co. made enemies confused and attracted numerous fans. However, their approach to the game was also marked by an overall lack of versatility and tactical adaptation. For the most part, they always played the same heroes in the same way, regardless of who the opponent was and the amazing part is that it worked. That was until the other elite teams started getting used to them and Korea's favorites are yet to show the ability to adapt in a response of their own.
But let's begin with their strong points in terms of individual players. In their performances, Ryujehong and Miro stood out as the two distinguishable best players and contributed a major part in Lunatic-Hai’s success in the last few months.
Ryujehong, or simply Je Hong as fans prefer to call him, is a solid off-tank player with good aim when he has to take over those for Dean, but it is on Ana where he truly shines. On that hero specifically he is one of, if not the best in the world. Everything about his play on the sharpshooter is exemplary. His aim is terrifying regardless of the range and whether he’s scoping or not. It allows him to both stay further back than others when possible and more importantly keep opponents guessing where he is located if not in plain sight, as the unscoped shots don't leave tracers. In addition to that he's arguably the best at landing darts and grenades on both long ranged and mobile targets.
Similarly to Ryujehong, Miro is also one of the finest players within his role. Most famous for his exceptional Winston, he is undoubtedly the best in the world on the hero. Precise movement and ability usage are what distinguish him from the other top players with the ape scientist. A couple of months back however - when he first emerged - viewers around the world were amazed by his creative platforming and usage of the terrain. Others have since added the same tricks to their game, but no one seems to be as precise and as quick at pulling them off as Miro.
To draw even more parallels between him and Ryujehong, Miro has also showcased certain level of mastery over secondary heroes, but not comparable to his 'main'. Whereas the Ana specialist diversifies by playing another role, Miro does so by playing more heroes under the 'tank' tag. Most recently he's been steadily improving his Reinhardt, but he's also shown impressive, albeit brief, performances on D.va and Zarya.
Unfortunately, this is where the lack of criticism toward the six individuals and the squad as a whole stops. The third player, who's been stellar individual performer on Lucio, tobi, has to take part of the blame for the lack of strategical and tactical depth as a shot caller. Individually, he's one of the most prolific supports in terms of damage and has one of the best Sound Barrier timings, but as the mind behind the team he's shown to be binary at best.
"Lunatic-Hai [...] had some easily discernible weaknesses."
The big one, already mentioned above, is the lack of effective hero pool depth and adaptation to the enemy. Another deficiency, which is just as crucial, is the lack of dependability in their DPS player Leetaejun. Ever since September he has been the definition of an inconsistent performer. For seemingly no reason his level can vary anywhere between a secondary carry and a walking ultimate charger for the opposition. The confusing part about it is that the array of possibilities is present even when he is controlling his signature hero - Genji. Furthermore, despite playing a lot of heroes, his effectiveness on the majority of them is limited against top tier opponents. Seeing as he is never the main cause for Lunatic-Hai's wins and more often than not, even on a good day, he is tertiary rather than secondary carry, it is hard to justify his presence on a team vying for the title 'best in the world'.
The second Lunatic-Hai player whose mediocrity I've been bothered by is Dean and funnily enough, he doesn't draw a lot of a critique. In fact, he doesn't draw much attention to himself at all. The difference between him and Leetaejun is that the tank and support player seldom lets his team down. However, he has been a reason they win games just as rarely. His play can be defined as average or, perhaps more accurately, the average of the team. Whenever Lunatic-Hai are winning he seems to be doing about fine, but whenever they are losing he has a poor game as a rule. Normally I wouldn't be so critical toward a supportive player of no particular strength or weakness, but there's a deal breaker with Dean - he will often switch to Ana and have Ryujehong take over the off-tank role. That puts what could be argued as the squad's best player in a position where he is considerably less effective, albeit still better than Dean in a role of more natural impact.
The final player, the fangirls' favorite EscA, is more of a mixed bag of criticism and praise from my side. It is certain that he is skilled and has very high ceiling, but watching his play can be quite the rollercoaster. Often delivering for his team when it matters, he is one of the most clutch players in the scene right now. Additionally, he hits with regularity some of the most stunning flicks, but often enough one can also notice him missing some of the seemingly easier shots. However, that isn't the only critique that can be leveled at him - his effective hero pool is, similarly to the others', quite limited, even when counting the currently over oppressive D.va toward it. And whilst his highly aggressive play is defining of Lunatic-Hai's style one has to wonder if the team wouldn't have had better results, should the majority of resources dedicated to him had been given to Miro. In another team EscA could be the star of the show and it would make sense, given his perceptibly high skill ceiling. When you have someone as good as Miro at playing aggressively though, dedicating as much resources to EscA has to be at the very least questioned.
The 'What if..?' thought experiments:
Now that we have examined the old roster, it is time to search for possible solutions and try to figure out how they could have worked out.
The no-brainer solution:
Zunba and ArHaN come in to replace Dean and Leetaejun - we already know the squad decided to go in a similar direction, as supposedly Whoru is a one of the best Genji players on ladder. However, since he is still relatively unknown and unproven, it isn't outrageous to say ArHaN would have been a better pick and definitely is the player I would have preferred as a GM. We have already seen this combination of players work successfully together at BlizzCon- excluding tobi who is a superior player to TaiRong - and they seemingly enjoyed playing with each other as well. Zunba is, similarly to the tobi-TaiRong situation, a straight up upgrade over Dean. More importantly he adds an additional degree of playmaking and engaging. While ArHaN tends to require more resources than Leetaejun, he also brings a lot more damage output and consistency, even when he isn't the centerpiece. The move would definitely require playstyle adjustment from LH's current approach to the game - especially if ArHaN wants to be the primary carry - but it is certainly possible to have him and EscA as the star players. That would leave Miro receiving less attention than he does now, but he's shown he is a smart player and there is no reasons to doubt that he can continue being one of the most effective tank players, should that move have happened.
Recruiting Korea's dynamic duo:
BERNAR (on the left) and Bunny come in to replace Dean and Leetaejun - as BK lost to AF Blue, the appreciation for their star players within the Overwatch community seemingly took a hit, but they are still very much two of the best in what they do. During their semi-finals run in APEX they distinguished themselves as strong carries, showed great play even when the team is losing and constant evolution in their play.
The wins they accumulated might not seem like much on paper, given that none of the teams went to the finals, but they are still very much significant. Uncia, who they defeated 3-2, beat Lunatic-Hai 3-0 and were labeled the best Korean team for the bracket stage of APEX. There's slightly less value in the win over LW Blue, as they lacked their second best player from IEM Gyeonggi, but it was still 5/6ths of the LW that lifted the IEM trophy and BK put them away easily. And while admittedly BERNAR and Bunny had solid supportive crew for their run in APEX, they were the indisputable carries of the team.
A potential trouble of adding BK's stars is that the squad would be lacking solid projectile DPS, should the meta game shift. EscA has displayed some abilities on Mei and that is certainly enough on the current patch, combined with his McCree, 76 and D.va, but it is hard to know if he or Bunny can take on Genji, Pharah, Junkrat or Hanzo successfully. However there are a lot of potential benefits of adding those two as well.
The first and most obvious one is the firepower - adding Bunny and BERNAR to the mix would instantly put the squad in the talks for most stacked roster in terms of raw skill. A secondary benefit is adding more tactical diversity. For better or worse, Lunatic-Hai have been playing more or less the same style. Inserting a duo that is so reliable at landing devastating ultimate wombo-combos into the roster will keep opponents on their toes. They'd be constantly trying to guess if they are going to be dived, baited in by EscA's overly aggressive play or get a 'big bang' combo landed on them. A lesser benefit from adding the two players would be alleviating pressure from EscA and Miro to be the ones who deal the majority of the damage. While I've been one to criticize the cowboy specialist’s positioning and over-reliance on back-up, it is hard to deny he is the obvious threat to shut down in the squad's current form, especially given how much squishier DPS heroes are compared to tanks and how he's been favoring the less mobile ones.
A secondary concern for this imaginary roster is the hero pool depth when facing elite opponents. BERNAR and Bunny have been evolving, but are yet to show similarly high level of play on heroes that aren't Zarya and Tracer. If they were to join, the task of diversifying compositions, at least at first, would have fallen upon the other four and they have already shown (similarly to the duo) significantly better performance with their 'main' heroes. A tertiary concern, although still nothing to be looked over, is if the roster could work together. Adding more firepower and new stars to alleviate pressure is nice in theory, but one of EscA, BERNAR and Bunny will have to give up resources and we don't know if any of them will be able to keep up high level performances when they do. Admittedly, Bunny has already toned down the amount of attention his game requires from his teammates, compared to when we saw him first, but it is unknown if he can go even further with it.
Team "DO DIVE!!!":
EVERMORE and Haksal (on the right) come in to replace Dean and Leetaejun - if you hadn't noticed by now my hypothetical rosters have been moving from a point of "I don't see why this wouldn't work" to this
insane creative suggestion in which the possibility of failure is perhaps higher than the chance for success. Nonetheless, it is an interesting direction, for a thought exercise, that was potentially available to the squad.
The theoretical strengths and weaknesses here are fairly obvious to anyone who's seen the involved players for a few games. The team would be working as an incredibly explosive diving force and potentially similarly skilled, although not as battle tested, to the previous variant. And if BK's stars were supposed to alleviate pressure from EscA, then adding these two would have probably make him feel as if opponents barely care about him, even with his forward positioning. Which leads us into the potential downfall of this roster. Both the Roadhog master and the Genji specialist have been performing best when their team plays around them. Adding both at once would not only mean that one will have to give up some comfort and resources, but EscA would also have to tone down his own aggression and spend more time on D.va, at least for the time being, as EVERMORE has shown to favor Roadhog over Zarya.
The result of this could be quite interesting if it works out, but similarly to the previous suggestions and the original roster, the line-up would have hero pool concerns along the considerable potential for things to blow up, due to having 'too many cooks in the kitchen'. Which leads into the final option I'm going to explore in this thought experiment.
3+3=6, the "RadoN" fix:
If I was the GM of Lunatic-Hai, I would have made a different selection to the one they did or any of the three I've listed so far. My first choice for a roster would've been a combination of arguably the three strongest players in each team from APEX's last quarter-final. Panker, birdring and DNCE would have come in to replace Dean, Leetaejun and EscA. The idea behind the move is to combine Uncia's reliability and versatility with Lunatic-Hai's exciting star-powered play. This potential squad is definitely not as sure to work out, as skilled or as explosive as the previous suggestions I listed, but it makes up for it with how well-rounded it is.
birdring and DNCE bring increased amount of firepower from the DPS positions and outside of Sombra there isn't a hero they haven't shown effective play on. birdring, the less versatile of the two, has showcased the ability to do huge amounts of damage, while maintaining safe positioning, even on heroes like Reaper. He hasn't been the biggest star or the most flashy player, but he's definitely one of the most reliable dealers (that's what they call DPS in Korea, short for damage dealer) within the professional scene. To top it off, what he lacks in terms of explosiveness on offensive and defensive characters, he more than makes up when playing Roadhog, as we saw in the APEX playoffs.
The final player in my suggestion is Panker. Throughout the OGN season, the Reinhardt master has distinguished himself as the best on the hero in Korea. On the scale of aggressive to patient play, the top Korean hammer swinger is much closer to someone like cocco, rather than Reinforce. Similarly to the Swedes he is great at landing multi men Earthshatters. However what makes him truly unique as a player is his ability to regularly get his opponents within a hammer's swing range. That particular skill is what also makes him so incredibly dangerous, despite playing a hero that's supposed to be primarily a defense for his team.
"The idea behind the move is to combine Uncia's reliability and versatility with Lunatic-Hai's exciting star-powered play"
The addition of another Reinhardt player to the team will render Miro's recent efforts, of improving on the former crusader, to be somewhat of a waste, but he'd be freed up to get back on Winston and D.va. That would let him return to the more aggressive playstyle he's shown to have so much impact with. As DNCE plays similarly to EscA, although not as forward possitioned in general, Miro still won't be the sole beneficiary of the resources within his team. However, having Panker and birdring as an additional, albeit not as flashy, high damage threats should automatically dissuade even elite opponents from taking upon the, currently popular, option of focusing the less mobile DPS. Should that happen to DNCE, the enemy would have wasted a good amount of resources on him, yet still have three more highly skilled and reliable damage threats as opposed to only Miro currently.
The final component in my mix would have been the person who is the brain behind Rhinos Gaming Titan. The squad didn't perform well in APEX and even got relegated to challenger, but during their brief matches against AF Blue and Rogue they were ready for everything the two squads threw at them. Not only did they expect how and what the two squads would play, but also had the right idea of how to deal with it. Unfortunately for them they lacked the ability to execute, but whoever did the scouting and preparation would be the perfect addition to my star-powered and versatile roster.
Of course, slight adjustments in individuals' playstyles would be required for this to work, but such always are whenever a roster change happens. Regardless, after seeing both of those trios operate in the last couple of months I've come to the opinion that they can come to work together well, having the versatility and firepower needed to go against the best of the world and come out victorious.
Photo credits: OGN, Banana Gaming & Media.
About the author:
Hello readers! I go by the ID RadoN and probably similarly to many of you, I’ve been playing video games for years. My introduction to esports happened in 2009 and ever since, I’ve been following different titles within the industry. Other games I currently follow are CS:GO, LoL, QL with the occasional SFV and DOTA2. If you wish to provide feedback, support and follow future content, or simply know more about my thoughts on gaming and esports, follow me at @RadoNonfire on twitter.