The subtle influence of a butterfly can alter the course of history, just as one former League of Legends professional has done in the world of Overwatch. Jang “Woong” Gun-woong is a polarizing figure within esports legend. However, without this headstrong architect, the world would have surely been robbed of some of the most compelling players and narratives Overwatch has ever known. As we wait with batted breath on the future of our ecosystem, it’s time to trace just how far these tendrils reach into Overwatch and even esports history.
Genesis Of A Thread
Woong’s began his competitive career following a familiar script; a young gamer fascinated by the advent of competition. Starting with games like DOTA and Chaos Online, Woong would find his home with Riot Game’s League of Legends. Like many South Korean hopefully enticed by the game, Woong was forced to play on the North American servers until the Korean servers opened in 2011. With picks like Garen and Jarvan IV, Woong was hailed as one of the most dominant online players, with multiple accounts holding highly coveted positions on the North American ladder. Woong would be the architect of the League of Legends organisation Maximum Impact Gaming (MiG). MiG Frost and Blaze would go on to become domestic powerhouses winning the OGN LoL Invitational 2012 as well as placing second at Champions 2012 Spring.Former League of Legends expert and commentator Erik “DoA” Lonnquist remembered the esports legend as an accelerator to the sister-team era. He wrote that Woong and MiG’s early success could be attributed to Woong’s decision to add to actually create MiG Blaze so that the roster had consistent and valuable practice. “The ‘sister team’ method enabled new strategies to be developed secretly ‘in-house’ and helped Maximum Impact Gaming flourish throughout 2012,” DoA wrote in an ESPN article.While Woong began his career as a top lanner for MiG Frost, he would eventually move roles to further assist his team. After losing to their sister team in the grand finals of the Azubu Champions Spring, MiG Frost would undergo significant roster changes. Marksmen Choi "Locodoco" Yoon-seop would depart for StarTale and Woong would rotate down the map to slot into the bottom lane being supported by Hong "MadLife" Min-gi, while Park "Shy" Sang-myeon joined to become MiG Frost’s new top laner. Shortly after making changes to the active roster, German Media group Azubu would acquire the team, rebranding the two sister teams as Azubu Frost and Blaze respectively. Proving themselves highly capable, Azubu Frost would go on to sweep through Champions Summer 2012, winning the title, and eventually earning second at the League of Legends World Championships.Shortly after the start of 2013 the Azubu Frost and Blaze rosters would both entirely depart the organisation and be acquired by CJ Entus.March would see Woong depart the team and be replaced by former MVP Blue’s Kim "Hermes" Kang-hwan. This would mark a period of instability in his career which would send him from coaching positions to rejoining Locodoco to recreate a new MiG roster, to even putting in a bid to compete in North America alongside Quantic Gaming. One of Woong’s last appearances within League of Legends would be alongside Midas FIO in 2014 as head coach. After joining in February, Woong would depart the team in April. When asked to describe Woong to fans who either are unaware of his achievements or are too young to recognize his name, DoA had a succinct summary of his impact. One whose subtext held a lot of foreshadowing. “Woong was one of the first, if not the first team creators/owners in professional Korean [League of Legends]. He was a world-class player and a great organizer.” These attributes would be pivotal in Woong’s next endevors, one that are still rippling out to this day.
After being absent from esports for nearly two years, Woong would emerge within the South Korean Overwatch scene under the old yet familiar banner of Maximum Impact Gaming. Yes, for a brief moment in time MiG Frost and Blaze, are some of the monikers associated with early dominance in League of Legends, forged some of the earliest success stories during the OGN Overwatch APEX era. Before being acquired in August of 2016, MiG Frost and Blaze would be the grandfathers to Afreeca Freecs’ sister teams; Red and Blue respectively. These seeds would flourish into one of the most consistent performers domestically and a plucky underdog team that would be the stepping stone to future greats in the space. After another hiatus from the back half of 2016, Woong returned to League of Legends during the spring of 2019 to coach Hanwa Life Esports as a member of the coaching staff. While his footprint in Overwatch was small, the legacy it spawned in his wake was as mighty as they come.Related: The Woong ImpressionWith time spent candidly watching Woong’s players and observing his system in action, DoA was the authority on not only Woong’s career, but his work as a manager. “I was impressed by how well organized everything was. He had a polished system for helping players and the team overall improve from day one and the right people in place to support it,” DoA said. That skill for the organization and the focus on growth paid dividends for his former colleagues, many of which were greenlit from Woong’s original vision for MiG. Those alumni would go on to perform at the highest level during their era of Overwatch, earning 2nd place in APEX Season 1, 3rd in the Nexus Cup 2016, 3-4th in APEX Season 3 and 3-4th in the APAC Premier 2017.Through two wildly successful esports, Woong built teams not only with talent but maintained a staying power that early esport titles tend to lack in their adolescent years. “I actually just talked to him this morning and asked him about this,” DoA said. “He said his desire to create teams for both [League of Legends] and Overwatch comes from [wanting] each game to be successful as an esport. I think that pure desire to grow the community for a game he liked was a big asset in gathering a group of talented gamers.”While Woong’s contributions skirt the fringes of the community zeitgeist he has developed a lasting impact on the current and future of the game. Without his touch or skill or viewpoint on esports, there would still likely be an Overwatch League. There would still likely be Overwatch esports in some capacity. Hell, maybe even some of the players he scouted would have found homes elsewhere, but because of his action, albeit short-lived, we are where we are today. And this is only viewing the tangible results of his labor. Who knows what kinds of decisions could have been made or what might not have happened if someone like Woong wasn’t at the helm of MiG? Does the connection to Afreeca happen? Is there another South Korean franchise step in? For better or worse, we can’t know because of Woong’s guidance. Much like a butterfly shaping history, Woong’s impact on Overwatch spawned names that grace the halls of Overwatch lore and some that we still talk about today.“I think he had a similar impact in Overwatch that he did in [League of Legends] in that he introduced us to some of the game's first big stars. Notably players like [Jeong "ArHaN" Wonhyeop], [Kim "Mano" Dong-gyu], [Oh "Rio" Seung-pyo], [Song "Quatermain" Ji-hoon], and [Shin "Kalios" Woo-yeol].”And these are not simply engravings on trophies or textbook scripture, these are real individuals who helped shape the story of Overwatch. Without Woong’s efforts, we likely would not have seen these players in the same capacity or perhaps not at all. Take Arhan for example, not only was he the Genji specialist that was the focal point and sword for Afreeca Freecs Blue through multiple seasons of OGN’s Overwatch APEX league. He later would join the Overwatch League alongside the Houston Outlaws and was formerly coaching the Philadelphia Fusion’s academy team, T1.Mano will go down as one of the greatest main tanks in the history of Overwatch. One of his first breakaway hits was alongside Afreeca Freecs--as a main support. After role swapping to main tank later in APEX Season 2, he became an alternate weapon Afreeca could count on. Stepping into the Overwatch League, Mano was a staple on the New York Excelsior for three seasons before ending his career with the Philadelphia Fusion in 2021. As a current member of the Guangzhou Charge as they head into Overwatch 2 for the league’s 2022 season, Rio is an underappreciated gem. He isn’t the flashiest, nor the best, but his continued presence within Overwatch speaks to his character. Initially breaking through alongside Afreeca Freecs Red and would later play alongside Meta Athena before joining the league in 2019 alongside the Charge. Quartermain, outside of being a beast at karaoke, would be featured during KongDo Uncia’s APEX Season 4 performance as well as the London Spitfire’s defence of their inaugural season title in 2019.And coming off an impressive 2021 season, Kalios initially would join Boston Uprising for the inaugural Overwatch League season, he would eventually become a star in Overwatch Contenders with teams like O2 Blast before returning to the league to assist a struggling New York Excelsior. This year, Kalios has saddled up with the Washington Justice to hopefully bring them some sustained success. With such an eye for structure and the big picture, is it any surprise that Woong both stood shoulder to shoulder with some of League of Legend’s most storied players? Is it any surprise that he also found and fostered similiar names in Overwatch? From the heights of League of Legends to sowing the seeds to some of the biggest names in Overwatch history, Woong, a not-so-humble top laner influenced the course of Overwatch history with vision.Images via Riot Games and Blizzard Entertainment
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