Finding Fleta - A candid interview with Kim "Fleta" Byung-sun
Many pieces of fine art and literature all capture something about the human condition. They explain the complexities of life through the use of metaphors and artistic representation. They almost pride themselves on being able to capture the essence of archetypes that anyone, regardless of creed, religion, or race, can relate to. Kim "Fleta" Byung-sun meets some of the oldest stories with his rise to stardom as it represents just one of many archetypes of classic storytelling. His heartwarming “rags to riches” story perfectly summarizes the thoughts and ideas of anyone who has ever dreamed.
“My first few memories of video games were arcade machines. I always enjoyed playing them in my free time.” As a young adult, Kim "Fleta" Byung-sun dabbled with gaming. The black lacquered arcade cabinets were not the only thing that captures his attention. Fleta also played soccer and even in that arena, he knew exactly what he wanted. “When I was a child, I wanted to grow up to become a soccer player. At the time, I probably wouldn’t have thought that I would become a professional esports player, but at the same time, I don’t think [younger me] would be surprised. I loved to play video games as much as I loved to play soccer.”
Hearing horror stories from some professional players about their families reaction as their sons and daughters grow closer and closer to video games, Fleta quickly laid those suspensions to rest. “Thankfully, my parents were supportive of my ambition to become a professional esports player. From what I can remember, there was no opposition from my family.” Personally, I find it tremendously interesting to learn what kind of life experience a professional player has that has led him or her to this point in their lives. Each with their own genesis, each with vastly different outcomes from the algorithm of life.
When speaking to professional players, one thing many of them have in common is the early installment of a competitive drive from somewhere in their childhoods. Many, not all, seem to have this trait in common, and Fleta is not an exception, but he thinks the two are more mutually exclusive. “I did play soccer before, but honestly there isn’t any connection. I don’t think I am a born competitor, but I do like the competition.”
Many people forget that professional players are people too, they have hobbies and interests outside of esports. Some cook, others sing and play the guitar. Fleta’s once escape was art.“I did draw as a hobby, but ever since I joined the team, I haven’t had much time to draw.” He traded in the serene grace of pencil on paper for the cacophony of blinding lights and sounds that encompass Overwatch. “I can’t pinpoint exact memories of the [first] game, rather I felt the game was unique from other games that I had played before. I loved the heroes, maps, and overall gameplay.” And just like that, it was love at first sight. His hobbies were quickly set to the wayside as the young aspirant extended his arms in the pursuit of his dreams. “I wanted to focus on practicing.”
In an ESPN interview with the Seoul Dynasty Head Coach, Kwang-jin Baek, it was mentioned that Fleta could sleep whenever and wherever he wanted. With the ability to sleep on command, I thought I had solved his permanent calm demeanor and icy expressions. “Yes, it was true that I could sleep anywhere at any time whenever I laid down. However, that is not the case anymore. In terms of calmness, I cannot say that they are related.” Regardless, Fleta’s icy blood was paramount in his talent and it showed in his play. His calm facade consistently steadied his crosshair as it dashed back and forth. It was his expression married with the immense amount of practice he had put in, with just a pinch of diligence.
Fleta, like many before him, was hell-bent on becoming the best. He has been given the gift of a lifetime, to play alongside the best in the world. He has had his nose to the grindstone, training in the mecca of esports - Seoul, South Korea. While his career walked an unstable and competitive tightrope, he’s proven his worth, his merit, and his skill, time and time again within OGN’s Overwatch APEX League. In this game of inches, Fleta was, at numerous times, near relegation within his former team, Flash Lux. Yet, he would not accept failure, returning each and every season with consistent amazing performances. He referred back to his state of mind while grinding away, back home in Korea. “My mindset at the time was to show everyone who I was. My pure motivation was to let the esports world know my name.”
As he competed with Flash Lux, he garnered the respect and admiration from his peers and fans alike, all the while never winning an official game. Yes, he would win the relegation matches, but during a regular season, Fleta never won. His performances were worthy of championships, but it seemed fate had other plans for him. As he continued on his win-less rampage, he has signed towards the end of 2017 to arguably the best Overwatch team in the World, Lunatic-Hai, which would quickly be rebranded as the Seoul Dynasty. “The team has been amazing and welcoming. I have high hopes for this team and I want everyone to succeed.”
Fleta began his short tenure with Lunatic-Hai during OGN’s Seoul Cup SuperMatch where he competed against some of the best Overwatch teams South Korea and China had to offer. The Seoul Cup would be the battleground where Fleta would capture his long awaited prize - a victory. “It was one of the best feelings in the world. I look upon that memory as the moment that people finally knew my name.” As Fleta recounted his steps and mentality as he crossed the stage. A new team. A new point of view. This time he was not sat back wallowing in his shortcomings, he experienced what it was like to be bathed in the spotlight. And he loved it. The Seoul Cup would be the last time the core of the Lunatic-Hai roster would play together in Korea. They would soon embark to Los Angeles to play on the grandest stage of them all: the Overwatch League.
The Seoul Dynasty came into the first season of the Overwatch League with a large reputation to uphold. Seoul smashed their preseason opponents going 3-0 (9-2) and followed that performance with a swift 2-0 (6-1) victory over their week 1 opponents. With the preseason and the inaugural first week of the Overwatch League in the books, I wanted to ask Fleta’s overall consensus on the level of play, as a whole. “I am amazed at every single player’s skill set in this league. It inspires me to practice even harder.”
In a press conference following one of Seoul Dynasty’s matches, Fleta was asked about his play and what he thought about being called MVP. He mentioned humbly that he thought that the Houston Outlaws’ DPS player Jake was the best player. Interested, I asked him to expand on both topics. “As a DPS player, I think his accuracy, as well as the timing of his shots, are incredible. Among the professional DPS players, he is definitely above the average level.” As for being pegged as an early front-runner for “MVP of the Season” he quietly and humbly thanked those who supported him. “I am thankful that many people think I am worthy of the MVP title. Right now, I’ll work hard to meet the expectations.”
Prying back the curtain, it’s always interesting to see how players adapt to living in new environments. One of the biggest things that Fleta has been struggling to adjust too is seemingly the hustle and bustle of Seoul. “I think I am slowly adjusting to my life here in the US. The weirdest thing that I am getting accustomed to is that there aren’t nearly as many restaurants or that ‘nightlife’ as there are in Seoul.”
As the finale to my questions, we settled in on the idea of self-advocating. If Fleta could go back, grab his younger self by the collar and tell him one thing, what might that be? To my surprise, he quickly answered, almost like he was prepared. “Learn English!” he continued—you could almost feel his head shaking in playful regret as he thought back on things, “Seriously, it opens up so many doors for you as a player. If I could go back in time, I wish I was more studious in English classes in school.”
The Seoul Dynasty have found a diamond in the rough in the form of a tall young South Korean man by the name of Fleta. They’ve found a young prodigy that has defied preconceived notions and turned thousands of heads. This fledgling virtuoso has finally be heaved from the depths of obscurity and will quickly become a household name. Seoul has set him on a pedestal, surrounded by the worlds best teammates and support staff. From their early investment, the Seoul Dynasty are now reaping the benefits of their success. Fleta is briskly becoming the harbinger of the “Seoul Dynasty”.
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 and the Seoul Dynasty.