Meet the Koreans - the 'Who’s Who' of Korean Overwatch

RadoNonfireRadoNonfire 2017-02-12 16:42:25

We are already nearly a month deep into APEX, a tournament featuring twelve Korean and four Western squads, but we have more than two weeks to go until the group stage is finished. I took the opportunity to do a sort of power ranking in which I look at the teams' recent performances and history as well as what might await them in the near future.

The squads are divided between several tiers that are explained below, but the order of listing within a tier is completely arbitrary.

Ro8 locks:

The squads in this tier have made it to the Ro8 or find themselves in circumstances that makes it extremely unlikely for them to end up not making it to the draw, be it as a first or second seed for the playoff draw.

KongDoo Panthera:
Current record: 2–0

Players:
Support: Bling*, Luffy
Tank: EVERMORE, Fissure
DPS: Rascal, Wakawaka*

Originally the squad was formed around multiple highly ranked ladder players, most notable of which EVERMORE - first (and only) player to reach 5,000 rating on the global ladder. Despite finding a decent amount of success in various online tournaments, the squad failed to perform offline in both of which they attended before this season of APEX: APEX S1 and IEM Gyeonggi. The individual ability of their players was obvious, but the teamplay, strategy and tactical adaptation were lacking. On the occasions of landing a good engage, they would often overcommit. More often than not, Burcherr and EVERMORE would go looking for opportunities to make plays, rather than playing a role and assisting the rest of the squad. By their final match in APEX S1, both Rascal and Wakawaka had figured out how to be effective within their roles, but the rest of squad was still lacking synergy, even after roster changes for IEM Gyeonggi.

This season, however, after several more changes, they’ve finally found a working formula. There’s obvious synergy in the team -- EVERMORE has finally found a resemblance of balance between being the hero and playing as part of a system, Wakawaka has grown even more effective within his role and Rascal is getting just about enough space made for him to perform at a superstar level.

Before getting carried away though, it is important to note that their new-found synergy is yet to be tested versus a championship level opponent. And while overwhelming opponents so easily, based on the firepower and teamplay alone, has kept their effective map pool largely a secret (outside of Numbani and Temple of Anubis), it is also unknown to them if their playbook will work against top opposition.
For now, however, the squad finds themselves in the enviable position of facing the weakest team in the tournament in their next match, while having a 2–0 record. This makes them practically a sure lock as a first seed team for the Ro8 draw.

Players to watch: EVERMORE, Rascal.

Meta Athena:
Current record: 2-0

Players:
Support: Kris, NUS
Tank: Alpha, Hoon , ChangSik**
DPS: Libero, Sayaplayer

When the squad is at its best, they are often playing around Hoon's aggressive Zarya. His mechanical prowess and forward positioning allows him to have Graviton Surge ready quicker than the opposition, and his excellent use of the ability in-turn translates into objective advantages for Meta.
The second piece, that is crucial to the team's success is Sayaplayer. He is the secondary star in terms of resources distribution and the squad's dedicated hitscan DPS. While not getting as much resources and attention as other DPS players limits his effectiveness, it also gives him more freedom to act based on his individual decision making, rather than play for the team, as the team doesn't rely on him to hard carry. Of course getting the freedom to do what he wants is a team ‘resource’ itself, but as long as he doesn’t require much extra help, Meta Athena’s system is working just about fine.

The final player that stands out in the line-up? NUS. Primarily an Ana player, he's yet to reach a level comparable to the elite supports, but during the promotions and the two matches in APEX, he has shown promise. His effective range of landing Sleep Darts and Biotic Grenade is above average, but where he's shone is in terms of positioning. While it is yet to be tested by an elite level opposition or a strong dive team, it is good enough to put him a step closer to the great Ana players like ryujehong, Chipshajen and uNKOE.
After an impeccable 11-0 record in APEX's Challengers Season 2, and wins against BK Stars and MVP Infinity, Meta Athena is now a lock for the next stage of the tournament. Yet regardless of the good performances in the recent past, it is unlikely that they'll be getting past the Ro8. Unfortunately for Meta and their fans, the squad's map pool seems to be tailor- made to lose to nV. A loss versus the S1 champions would put them in the position of a second place seed for the Ro8 and that would make it improbable for them to get past the Ro8, barring extreme changes to the metagame.

Players to watch: Hoon, Sayaplayer.

KongDoo Uncia:
Current record: 2-0

Players:
Support: Bubbly, Lucid
Tank: Butcherr, Panker
DPS: birdring, DNCE*

After qualifying for APEX S1, Uncia quickly emerged as the better performing of the two KongDoo squads in LAN environment. Despite exiting the tournament in the semi-final, they were regarded as the best Korean team in the playoffs and had recorded a 3-0 -- albeit a close one -- win over Lunatic-Hai (best Korean team for 2016) and close 2-3 losses to BK Stars (top 4 APEX S1) and EnVyUS, the eventual champions of the tournament. As their online form was shaky before and continued being after their run in APEX ended, many assumed that they just overperformed. Similarly, after adding Butcherr to the squad, many thought that whoever is in charge of the roster has no clue what's going on; however, their dominant wins over Afreeca Freecs Blue and CONBOX Spirit are suggesting otherwise.

Having two wins in the group stage means that the worst case scenario for them is a three-way tie with Cloud 9 and Afreeca Freecs Blue if their form disappear when facing the North American squad (C9). It is much more likely though, that they grab the win over Mendokusaii and co. and finish the group stage as a first seed team and enter the Ro8 as favorites for making the semifinals.

The transfer of Butcherr to Uncia from their sister-team Panthera seems to have made the team that was touted as the best from Korea during APEX S1 even more dangerous. As him and birdring have taken on a more proactive playstyle, DNCE has curbed his recklessness, but surprisingly has been able to continue delivering high impact plays. While the squad is definitely not the most stacked in terms of individual ability, they make up for it with cohesion, smart play and versatility. In addition Burcherr joining has increased the overall skill level and made them one of the most well rounded teams, as now they have four players that can carry a game.
That, coupled with seemingly being able to play almost any map makes them an incredibly dangerous opponent to face, for anyone in the tournament.

Players to watch: birdring, Panker.

Almost made it, but remain alert:

The squads in this tier are strong teams and favorites to reach playoffs, but they can still be upset if they don't pay attention or if they don't bring their A game to the remaining matches.

Lunatic-Hai:
Current record: 2-0

Players:
Support: ryujehong, tobi
Tank: Miro, zunba
DPS: EscA*, WhoRU

Despite finishing 2016 as the overall best performing team from Korea, Lunatic-Hai was clearly on a downward trend as 2017 was rolling in. Fortunately for them, they managed to attract fellow BlizzCon champion, zunba, and the ladder hero and Genji specialist, WhoRU.
Initially, they tried an eight players roster, but due to out-of-game circumstances, dean and LEETAEJUN left the team and retired. However this benefited the team, as the debut of the eight player roster didn't look too hot and the two players that left would be considered by most, the least skilled of the bunch.

Since that happened the squad has had only one official match, but it was a 3-1 over the IEM Gyeonggi champions, LW Blue (at the time playing under the name LW Red). The decisive win against one of the favorites for a champion in APEX S2 saw Miro and co. displaying good synergy and a versatility they've never showcased before.

The playstyle is very much the same aggressive one which made them fan favorites around the globe, but now everyone's effective hero pool has at least one or two new characters. Additionally, the pickups of zunba and WhoRU have increased the squad's firepower and ability to land good engages, without hurting the synergy.

After the strong performance versus LW Blue, they are now favorites in the match against Misfits. A win in it would see them finishing first in group B; a loss can either put them as a second place finisher or thrown into a three-way tiebreaker scenario.

Players to watch: Miro, ryujehong, tobi.

LuxuryWatch Blue:
Current record: 1-1

Players:
Support: Luna, Gambler
Tank: janus, Mek0
DPS: Fl0w3R (formerly Nanohana), Saebyeolbe*

After showing some promising play in their top8 finish in APEX S1, the squad was skyrocketed to a position of contention for the unofficial title of 'best in Korea' and one of the best teams in the world by the addition of Fl0w3r. His inclusion not only propelled the squad to win IEM Gyeonggi, but also to do so whilst losing only two maps in three Bo5 series.

After returning to APEX for Season 2, their roll continued through Misfits, only to be stopped by Lunatic-Hai's new roster. Despite the loss they are still looking more than capable of beating Afreeca Freecs Red, which in worst case scenario could put them in a triple tie to get out of groups. If they get out of groups, regardless whether they do as first or second seed, the team will still be a favorite to make it through to the Ro4.

During their short time together as a six-men group, the current roster has displayed versatility on both individual and team level. They've shown themselves capable to win on just about anything that doesn't include four tanks, but for the most part they've excelled on aggressive dive compositions. Most recently, in the APEX S2 matches, they've been shifting the focus away from Saebyeolbe toward Fl0w3R. It's hard to argue with the change, given the latter's impressive individual performances, even in losses.

Players to watch: Fl0w3r, Saebyeolbe.

Flawed gems:

These teams have it within themselves to reach the Ro8, but also have displayed flaws which make the possibility an unlikely one. They are able dominate the teams that are not quite at their level, but tend to crumble whenever they face a superior opponent. That leaves to a degree both of these squads' fate in the hands of their future opponents, more so with Runaway than AF Blue.

Afreeca Freecs Blue:
Current record: 0-1

Players:
Support: AMON, Mano
Tank: adam, DongHyun
DPS: ArHaN, Recry

After multiple decent finishes in 2016, the squad finally tried to address their weak links in terms of individual performances. And while AMON and Mano are indeed outperforming Dayfly and Yesman on individual level -- which really isn't hard -- the performance of ArHaN seems to have suffered as a result of the changes. An additional concern about the roster, other than their Genji specialist's level, would be if they've been able to retain the ability to communicate well. One of the best traits of the previous roster was not overcommitting ultimates or manpower. That lead to having a strong defense once they got an advantage over their opponents.

At this point, whether or not they've maintained that quality is as much of a speculation as if ArHaN's underperformance against Uncia was a one off. It is hard to gather much from a single match, especially when it is one sided stomp. As a result, it is hard to get a reliable read on what their real level is at the moment. However it is important to mention that their poor performance was against a championship level opponent. Additionally, they've replaced their worst players with better individual performers; they don't have to face any (proven) elite level teams for the rest of the group stage and Recry and ArHaN have already shown themselves more than capable to hard carry the team, should an opponent fail to contain even one of them.

Players to watch: ArHaN, Recry.

Runaway:
Current record: 1-1

Players:
Support: CoMa**, Runner, Shine
Tank: BUMPER**, Kaiser
DPS: Haksal, Stitch, KoX*

After the impressive debut in APEX S1 Runaway lost all their matches and went straight to the Challengers league. Several roster changes later they requalified for APEX, but after a win over the weakest squad in the tournament (Flash Lux) they lost convincingly to KongDoo Panthera. Now, they're facing Fnatic in a must win situation if they want to continue to the Ro8.

The playstyle of the squad has remained similar, but now it is favored by the meta. The curious thing about the new-look Runaway is that they have added two more strong DPS players. While KoX is technically a flex player, he has spent the majority of his time on offensive and defensive heroes. This makes them an interesting puzzle for Fnatic to solve, especially when the North American squad is often criticized for lacking particularly in the firepower department.

Player to watch: KoX.

Salvagable... in theory:

The teams in this tier will likely be able to retain their spots in APEX either by finishing third in the groups or by wins in the promotion/relegation tournament. The squads listed here have some, if little redeeming qualities to them, and if they hope for more than simply staying in the third iteration of OGN's APEX, they'll need to rebuild with broad strokes in the offseason.

Afreeca Freecs Red:
Current record: 0-2

Players:
Support: Dayfly, Navi, QuaterMain
Tank: LagerMan, tAkethis
DPS: attune, TyDolla

As AF Red is one of the older teams in Korean Overwatch, it entered into APEX's second season with a decent (but unreasonable, in the opinion of the author of this piece) amount of hype behind it. While they have some skilled individuals their biggest problem right now is the lack of diversity in any sense. Regardless of the map and whether they are on the offense or the defense, the players on AF Red have been playing the same heroes for the most part. That might be enough to defeat teams like MVP Space, Flash Lux or even CONBOX, but unfortunately for them, they got drawn in the toughest group of the tournament.

The squad will very likely be able to requalify for APEX's third season, but if the players hope to achieve better results, they'll have to work on their individual versatility and hero pools.

Players to watch: TyDolla.

BK Stars:
Current record: 0-2

Players:
Support: Prove, Twinkl
Tank: Alarm, BERNAR
DPS: Bunny, Carpe

After being formed by the reportedly entertaining Korean streamer (and terrible player) Bokyems and surprisingly qualifying for APEX S1, the squad reached the semifinal stage of the tournament. In their top4 finish, they managed a close win against KongDoo Uncia, touted as the best Korean team in playoffs, and a stomp over LuxuryWatch Blue (at the time without Fl0w3r). In the Ro4 they crumbled, facing Afreeca Freecs Blue, but the roster had shown a lot of progress since their debut and fans had high hopes for them in Season 2.

Similarly to Meta Athena, BK Stars is, or at least used to be, a squad that relies on strong teamplay and two star players who favor Zarya (BERNAR) and Tracer (Bunny). When you see BK winning games, it's often based on their stars' ability to land devastating ultimate combos, more often than not the 'Big Bang' (Graviton Surge + Pulse Bomb). As the majority of their tactics involved landing that particular combination, they lacked both strategical and tactical depth, but were able to make up for it with superior teamplay and skills.

Regardless of the strong result, in the offseason, their dedicated Ana player and shotcaller (Twilight) parted ways with the team, and ever since, they've been looking confused at best. What's more troubling is that both Bunny and BERNAR's individual levels and coordination are diminished. With the ability to reliably land 'Big Bang' combos gone, the squad doesn't have many other win conditions left. Fortunately for them, in their latest series Carpe and Prove distinguished themselves as potentially strong players, who could perhaps carry the team with strong individual performances. Unfortunately for them, the series was against EnVyUS who outclassed them on every level. But more importantly, with their teamplay and coordination lacking, the squad is missing an identity.


A win versus MVP Infinity, to avoid demotion to Challengers and the promotion tournament, is certainly possible, but if BK hope for return to the Ro4 in APEX's third season they'll need to rebuild again. And make a better job of it than they did for this season.

Players to watch: BERNAR, Prove.

MVP Infinity:
Current record: 0-2

Players:
Support: Undine, Sylph
Tank: Brek, WhyNot, Bianca **
DPS: OneFact, EasyBro

The 0-2 record for MVP is slightly deceiving as they gave both Meta Athena and EnVyUS a good run for their money -- quite literally, as you win an amount of money for every match in APEX. They coordinate well and are able to play on a decent level on a variety of maps, but their problem is the lack of firepower. In that sense, they are very much a less skilled, Korean version of Fnatic.

At this point, they have no hopes for reaching the playoffs, but if some of the players can improve their individual level, they'll have realistic chances for a Ro8 finish in the next season.

We don't talk about those:

The teams listed here have little to none redeeming qualities about them when compared to the top teams. It is highly unlikely they'll be able to qualify for the next season in their current state.

CONBOX Spirit:
Current record: 0-2

Players:
Support: Oparochi, Twilight
Tank: Gamsu, SleepyBear
DPS: Liz, MyungHoon

Despite finishing in APEX S1 8th-12th, the squad was on the up-and-up. Unfortunately, the offseason saw them lose their best player (zunba) to Lunatic-Hai and, unfortunately, the addition of Twilight and SleepyBear hasn't made up for it. The roster still has some players with potential, so it is not impossible they'll be able to requalify for APEX during the promotion tournament, but they'll need to improve by a considerable margin if they plan on doing that.

Flash Lux:
Current record: 0-1

Players:
Support: Kisu, Unis
Tank: Modern, Weeso
DPS: Fleta, Veil

Just like CONBOX, Flash Lux finished 8th-12th in the previous season of APEX. However, unlike them, they were looking worse and worse as the season progressed, and if it wasn't for the win in their first match against RGT -- a poor team in their own right -- they would have been in challenger this season.

In the offseason, they replaced three of their players, and even though you wouldn't know it just by looking at their record, the changes haven't improved the team's performance. As the roster is unlikely to stack-up well even against the Challengers league teams it is likely the remaining two matches of their group stage will be the last time we see Flash Lux in APEX.

____

Overview:

Ro8 locks: KongDoo Panthera, Meta Athena, KongDoo Uncia
Almost made it, but remain alert: Lunatic-Hai, LuxuryWatch Blue
Flawed gems: Afreeca Freecs Blue, Runaway
Salvagable... in theory: Afreeca Freecs Red, BK Stars, MVP Infinity
We don't talk about those: CONBOX Spirit, Flash Lux

*flex player — the player picks heroes from multiple roles, in most cases two.
**a substitute player.


Photo credits: OGN.


Hello readers! I go by the ID RadoN and my introduction to esports happened in 2009. Ever since, I’ve been following different titles within the industry; esports that I currently follow are Overwatch, 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.

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