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Barefoot

Volamel 2019-11-29 07:25:12
  I often wonder why Lunatic-Hai and their players were so beloved. And with RyuJeHong’s departure from Seoul Dynasty, that thought has resurfaced.  Yes, they won two APEX titles back to back and the team was comprised of legendary figures, but “good” isn’t always synonymous with popular or, better yet, beloved.  What drove people to follow them after they moved into the Overwatch League as a large part of the Seoul Dynasty? What caused people to flock to them at events that weren’t even tailored for them? Why, after all these years, do we still think of them as champions?  After rewatching their emotional reaction after their victory at APEX Season 3, things became more clear.  The team’s immediate coalescence once the final map was completed and their pursuing cries, are enough to command you to feel something. Cold-hearted or not, you can’t help but be wrapped up into this stitchwork quilt of heartwarming compassion and joy. After seven long maps, their masks of fatigue eroded away to reveal excited and passionate champions. However, it was how Lunatic-Hai exited the booth that stands out as a gorgeous analogy.  Still riding the high of victory, they haphazardly made the joint call to all remove their socks and shoes and run across the stage to hoist their newly acquired trophy.  It’s times like these that I seriously wonder if life does, in fact, imitate art.  Lunatic-Hai running across the stage barefoot was unintentional symbolism of relief and relaxation. The rush of emotions after winning such a series had to have been mostly comprised of relief. It was almost as if they had finished a long day at work and wanted nothing more than to just kick off their shoes, put their feet up, and relax. The season was over and they finally got to enjoy the fruits of their practice.  It was finally time to rest. The common thread here is that everyone participated. The blitz to the trophy was done barefoot and everyone committed to the gag. And that’s when it hit me.  RyuJeHong, Tobi, and all the members of Lunatic-Hai, the fans grew to adore, were brothers. They were family in the truest, most honest sense of the word.  It was this sense of being apart of something bigger than yourself that attracted fans. To be more than the sum of your own individual parts and that’s what people fell in love with. The marriage of talent and genuine teamwork. It was a sense of family. It was their transparency and vulnerability that made them seem less like some legendary, timeless figures that have been placed on a pedestal and more like a group of friends that just did the impossible. It’s this openness to sharing their emotions with the crowd that humanized them.  The team, at their core, exuded a sense of familiarity and sincerity into an increasingly financial dominated system.  We, as people, don’t often get to chase our own happiness. We’re all taught the contrived life lessons from past generations: work hard, focus on sustainability (especially financially) and sacrifice to succeed. And while those are all valuable life lessons in and of themselves, they can end up being thorned virtues for the curious and lost.  Many of us have people in our own lives that are stuck in dead-end jobs, that frankly are just unhappy. Rarely do we see a case in our own fragile existence of someone really chasing after their own goals. And you almost never see that aligned with people they can consider close friends or even relatives. That’s what is so alluring about the idea of “family.”     It’s relatable, it’s touching, it’s everything a Hallmark card wants to be. We often hear teams peddle the same narrative and throw around terms like “family” and “friendship” but, in this case, I think Lunatic-Hai meant it and people realized it.  There’s no manufacturing the raw emotion RyuJeHong showed when saying goodbye to EscA and LEETAEJUN. There’s no manufacturing the courage Tobi showed when he walked up in solidarity with RyuJeHong during their emotional post-match interview after their 2019 playoff run was over. These are genuine reactions. Their emotions are laid flush like cards on a table. Take it or leave it, that’s just how they feel and people connected with that. What’s often overlooked is that this was the team that started as a silver medal contender, but ended up becoming legendary champions through teamwork. Lunatic-Hai were a fantastic squad who seemingly always could bounce back after adversity and display Herculean feats of strength, but did so understanding that they were going to do it together. The cherry on top was how skilled this team was. To draw on a cliche, not only was Lunatic-Hai capturing the hearts of the Overwatch community, but their skill in-game was capturing their minds as well. Whether it was Miro’s innovation with Winston or RyuJeHong’s incredible Ana plays, or even EscA’s unfortunate redemption story with Sombra and Solider: 76, Lunatic-Hai was enigmatic.  And, to be frank, seeing them all follow their own individual paths is strange.  To see RyuJeHong in another jersey seems heretical and to see him opposing familiar players like Tobi and Fleta only add to that oddity. It’s hard to put the feeling into words.  It’s that sudden and sharp realization that people, and their goals and relationships, have grown apart and things have changed. What you had, what you loved, what you thought you knew, is suddenly gone. In a way, it’s like that feeling you get when you become super invested in a T.V show or movie franchise and all the characters you’ve become attached too have been killed off or have left the show for whatever reason. The name is there, the branding is the same, the director and producer are all there, but it doesn’t stop it from feeling empty.  It doesn’t stop it from feeling different. And that doesn’t magically change when we enter the realm of sports whether it be traditional or esports. That team you loved slowly became just another group of players. One by one they’ve all stepped away for either greener pastures or due to lack of passion and now they’re all gone.  Nothing stays the encroaching grasp of time. And with RyuJeHong leaving Seoul Dynasty, Lunatic-Hai’s spiritual successor, there’s not much in the way of keeping that same familiar feeling as they did in seasons past. The narrative around their history and synergy after playing together for so many years is over.  It’s officially the end of an era.  The ties that bound Lunatic-Hai to our memories are all but dusty cobwebs, sprawled across a journal titled, “Barefoot.” And within it contains hundreds of doting entries recalling fond memories of the past. The fond memories of Lunatic-Hai, their legendary players, and their inspirational journeys. I often wonder why Lunatic-Hai and their players were so beloved I think I understand now.
Joseph “Volamel” Franco has followed esports since the MLGs 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 OGN.
 

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