The Devil’s Favorite Demons — Birdring and Rascal
When the Bible spoke of “fire and brimstone” I’m not sure it took into consideration that it would come in the form of two South Korean natives. Kim “birdring” Ji Hyuk and Kim "Rascal" Dong Jun are the fire and the brimstone of the South Korean team, KongDoo Panthera. They are the left and right hand of a team that now graces the Grand Final stage of OGN’s Overwatch APEX League. Analysts and pundits alike were elated once they heard that these two juggernauts were joining forces after being on two sides of the same coin. Rascal was the Panthera veteran, whereas birdring came from the KongDoo sister team, Uncia.
The team’s moniker comes from a loose Latin translation of “snow leopard” (Panthera uncia), but this duo could be nothing farther from sleek and silent hunters. These two bombastic players light the kill feed up with kill after kill. They are hunters, yes, but it’s arguable if they are quiet and precise with their movements. All in all, birdring and Rascal are the duo that Overwatch has been waiting for. They are the brothers that don’t mind putting on a display of power that just leaves you inspired — and they do it effortlessly.
Now, I am no Korean expert, but it seems to me that birdring and Rascal are having quite the time playing against each other in a friendly 1 on 1. With their limited English you still get the sense that they are not only teammates but have grown to be closer than just merely professionals; they are friends. This is nothing more than two pals having a blast on stream playing Overwatch, and it’s hilarious, but that doesn’t take away from just how quick and accurate these two can be. We know they get along, we know the synergy is there, but what really matters is what happens on the server.
And my god is it entertaining.
Rascal and birdring are two players that not only have the star power to entertain and electrify, but they have the synergy to succeed. What makes these two characters in the story of Korean Overwatch esports so interesting are their raw mechanical skill, consistency, and their depth as players.
This is their chapter — the story of two colleagues, reunited as friends, and turned finalists.
The Left Hand
Known for being the happy-go-lucky boy in the KongDoo overalls, since APEX Season 1, Rascal has been on of the young prospects to look out for in Overwatch. He has consistently improved from his awkward yet powerful performances back in Season 1, to where he is now, seated in the Grand Finals against rivals Lunatic-Hai. He always has had another star on his team and this iteration of KongDoo Panthera is no different. Rascal made his debut alongside the first person ever to reach 5,000 SR, Kyo-min "EVERMORE" Koo. Panthera’s Season 1 finish was anything but stellar, they remained in the league, avoiding relegation, and in their last few matches had shown progress in the right direction.
Season 2 would start off on good footing. Panthera went 9-0 in matches and went into the second phase of the group stage as strong contenders. Known for his projectile play, Rascal was right at home in this metagame. With EVERMORE at his back, it was seemingly a match made in heaven, but the finals were not in his cards. KongDoo Panthera was subsequently eliminated from the second phase of the group stage by a rookie Meta Athena in stylish fashion.
Looking briefly at Rascal’s Season 2 stats provided by Winston’s Lab, we see that he has played most of his time on Soldier 76 and Genji with great success. He accounted for 29.8% of the team’s kills on average as Genji and 32.4% of his team’s kills on Soldier 76. However, what is surprising is that while these two heroes are his most played and both have incredible statistics to support them, they both have the lowest win ratio out of the heroes he did play. When Rascal played Genji and Soldier 76 in APEX Season 2 his average win rate was between 44-48%.
Coming into Season 3, Panthera was changed. Gone were the days of two equal sister teams, KongDoo Panthera was far and away the stronger team. Adding new coaching staff, a new star DPS player in birdring, moving the former DPS player, wakawaka, to support, it was a tumultuous time for the KongDoo organization. Changes were made to the team and they were slow to ignite. Once they did finally catch fire, they really started to churn.
Another interesting observation is that the pair consistently shares picks, Rascal more so than birdring. In APEX Season 3, Rascal has accumulated over 5+ hours of that spans over five different heroes, most of which he has played Soldier 76 (1:29:22). It’s safe to say that he is the flex DPS player, but what is more interesting is are his statistics in comparison to his previous seasons.
We know Rascal is mechanically one of the best players in the APEX League to date, but the statistics show that he plays, more often than not, the shadow to birdring’s light. Rascal mentions in an interview with Akshon esports that originally Rascal and birdring were on the same team and sites this as a reason why their hero pools are so big but overlapping. In that same interview, Rascal goes on to say “We split projectile and hitscan [DPS] duties. I play heroes he can’t, he plays heroes I can’t. Together, I feel we can play any DPS composition.”
The Right Hand
Originally, birdring trained to become a League of Legends pro gamer, and yet he found himself playing Overwatch professionally. His team, KongDoo Uncia, was always set supposed to play second fiddle to Panthera, but in the inaugural season of the APEX League Uncia had an amazing run and came out in 3-4th place—A finish that was not only surprising for the team, but telling of some of the talents they had on the roster, namely birdring. Even in Season 1, he was a standout player, showing that KongDoo had multiple Roadhog players spread across its sister teams.
If we dust off the history books for a moment we start to get a more clear picture of what birdring’s statistics looked like way back in Season 1. With around 1:47:34 on Roadhog, he accounted for a whopping 34.7% of his teams kills, birdring had 9.39 kills per 10 minutes and scored an astounding 2.1 kill/death ratio in the first season of the APEX League. As always, statistics only show you part of a picture, but if you doubt these stats, go back and watch some of his play in Season 1 and you undoubtedly see exactly what the stats mean.
Leading into Season 2, birdring had already made a name for himself as one of the better prospects on the KongDoo roster. He was one of the shining lights on Uncia, but something was still off about the team. A small trivia fact, both KongDoo team’s placed and finished in the exact same fashion going into the second phase of group play in Season 2. They both almost had the same record, but Uncia lost 3 more games (one to Afreeca Blue and two to Cloud 9) compared to Panthera. Both team’s ended their run right before the semi-finals with the same record in games and matches.
Season 2 was on the cusp of a new metagame, one that was more reliant on the DPS players to handle more of the damage. We knew birdring was an amazing Roadhog, but could he show up and play in a different light this season? Not only did he show us he true potential, but he smashed expectations. Most notably his Genji play was out of this world, racking up 35.2% of his team’s kills and 11.82 kills per 10 minutes.
Birdring’s outstanding individual performance in both seasons along with Unica's decline was part of the catalyst that allowed for the roster change. KongDoo knew they had amazing talent, but Season 3 was going to be different. Season 3 made changes to the coaching staff and the resource distribution inside of the teams. Birdring was moved from Uncia to Panthera to form the team that we know today alongside Rascal. Finally a reunion of these two former teammates. Finally, birdring was done looking from the outside in. This was to be a fresh start, something to wipe the slate clean.
Battle to the Top
KongDoo as an Overwatch team has not pulled any punches when it comes to outfits for its players, as well as their opening ceremony where they entered the arena and gave single flowers to their fans. Imagine Rascal, birdring, and the rest of KongDoo Panthera attempt to climb to the top of the Lotte World Tower for the APEX Season 3 Grand Finals and performed this same ceremony of handing their fans flowers, but then laid a “black rose” in front of the Lunatic-Hai booth. They then bow their heads and have a moment of silence for the team that will, in their minds, be taking second place. Imagine the excitement and cheers from the crowd much like a character such as Firebathero once did for Starcraft.
All in all, Rascal and birdring are two of the most threatening individual players in APEX today, but together as a duo they challenge the idea the Tanks and Support players are more important. APEX Season 3 will be their true test. The DPS-centric style of KongDoo Panthera versus the Support-centric style of Lunatic-Hai.
The grand finale of APEX Season 3 brings two unique and creative styles together in a spectacle like no other. Mark my words; sparks will fly and dreams will be made. APEX Season 3 Grand Finals kick off at the Lotte World Tower, in Seoul on July 29th.
Who’ve you got?
Joseph “Volamel” Franco has followed esports since the MLG’s of 2006. He started out primarily following Starcraft 2, Halo 3, and Super Smash Bros. Melee. He has transitioned from viewer to journalist and writes freelance primarily about Overwatch and League of Legends. If you would like to know more or follow his thoughts on esports you can follow him at @Volamel.
Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment, the KongDoo Company, Inven Global, and Akshon Esports.