‘I got to play with people who make me happy’ that quote by Ryu ‘Ryujehong’ Jehong at the end of the match interview wraps up all the feelings about of the Lunatic-Hai vs Runaway match. It was watching teams that made the community happy again. A metaphorical divider that has been present in the Overwatch League was the APEX fans and those who came in as Overwatch League fans or were NA/EU Overwatch fans before the League. This show match allowed those who had never experienced an OGN production to see what the APEX fans were always talking about. It brought the past and future together seamlessly.
The blend of new and old gave the old recognizable feel of nostalgia but with a shiny new upgrade. Fans got to see the iconic OGN layout as well as the team cheers at the beginning of the match. Fan cheers were incorporated before each map, where fans even denied entry of the arena found a way to scream support for their team. The old cheers were updated to a digital system because of Covid-19.
When one entered the Zoom call it was eerily quiet. Both Runaway and Lunatic-Hai fans peacefully co-mingled, but there was an intense focus on the match. Homemade signs were in the place of people’s pictures, as a collage of support for both teams flooded the screen. It ranged from homemade signs, digital art, and fan club photos. At one point there were more than 150 people in call who were brought together by their passion for the game and the teams.
The New: Hero Match Bans
This match didn’t look like a rerun of Season 2. There was an incorporation of a new feature which was hero bans. Each side got to pick 2 DPS, 1 support, and 1 tank that they wanted the other side not to play. It wasn’t universal bans, but many times it was closely mirrored what both sides wanted out of the hero pool. Map 3 the teams got to pick one hero to un-ban and it continued that way until all the heroes were unbanned. It made watching the match a new iteration of what once was, giving it a flavorful spin that was still tasteful to the past and fan expectations.
With each map being played there began to appear that this match was a reflection of the past to the future. There was a collective roar at the beginning of the first map as fans let out all the pent of emotions of sadness and frustration. In spawn, the fans were teased the validation of seeing their teams on what made them famous, the original dive and Rein Zarya. To see Jinhyuk ‘Miro’ Gong on Winston alongside Joonhyuk ‘Zunba’ Kim as later when Runaway switched Chunghee ‘Stitch’ Lee dashed out on with Hyojong ‘Haksal’ Kim on Tracer Genji it seemed as if time had never moved on since 2017.
With the 2/2/2 lock being thrown out for this match, flex supports like Ryujehong and Jooseok ‘Twilight’ Lee played to the crowd flexing onto DPS. On Volskaya, Ryujehong went on Soldier which was reminiscent of the Season 2 APEX finals. Twilight’s key switch to Doomfist netted out positive gains for Runaway. Both brought the viewers back to a time before the superficial rules of the Overwatch League, where players could switch as they pleased to achieve their goal in a match.
As the heroes that were banned such as Orisa, Baptist, Echo, etc were brought back into the hero pool the meta in the match started to evolve to more present-day Overwatch. By map 5, Lijiang Tower, there was Seungjun ‘Whoru’ Lee on Echo, and Twilight on Baptist. It felt symbolic. It wasn’t just the game that had changed since 2017, but also the players. They had grown from young kids pursuing their dreams to professional gamers. As the maps went by each one highlighted the change showing how Overwatch and the community had evolved as an esport.
Both teams represented in this show match have gone through hardships that fractured them. Yet, it is the shatter by Sanghoon ‘Kaiser’ Ryu or Ryujehong’s sleep darts that is remembered, but just as much the smaller interactions that endear the fans. Stitch’s ja-jjang, Runner punched the ceiling or Lunatic-Hai karaoke cemented the players in the hearts of the fans. The community fell in love with their personalities as much as their skills at Overwatch League.
What hit home hard, was the electrifying joy that the players radiated. The fans hadn’t seen smiles and laughs from some of these players in ages. The reality of hero pools, issue with management, exhaustion from grinding the game has left players tired. It could be seen in the social media content, streams, and in the Overwatch League. Here though, it was different. This is not to say they were not tired from scheduling, but there was laughter, a joy they had around them.
Both teams were with those who they cared about dearly. That translated through the stream, transcended language barriers, and could be seen in their interactions that OGN kindly cut to between plays. A laughing Whoru as he hacked Runaway apart or Haksal bouncing in his seat when he team wiped Lunatic-Hai. They got to play with their old teammate. These two teams potentially are the closest (LW might rival) in and out of game, as no matter how far these players drift they always come back home to each other.
In the beginning of Season 2, Ryujehong said in a video interview that he was sorry that most of the Lunatic-Hai members were not with them any more and he wished Lunatic-Hai couldn’t done what Runaway had, stayed as a team in the Overwatch League. ‘I’m sorry,’ ‘I didn’t play well,’ and ‘I will work harder’ has plagued Lunatic-Hai seemingly since APEX Season 4. With the reputation of having so many fans cheering them on all they wanted was make them proud, which put pressure on their shoulders. This match was different. It was for them as well as for the fans.
The team had splintered and gone their own directions. When the show match was first announced, Zunba and Ryujehong weren’t even on the starting roster. On stream Ryujehong said that many people in the industry had reached out to him to join the show match, that inevitably convinced him to join. It would have seemed odd to have a Lunatic-Hai without the face of Lunatic-Hai.
There were a few defining plays that sent chills down the spines of the Lunatic-Hai fans’ in how eerily similar it was from the past. Overwatch League fans who tuned in would hype up the sleeps that Ryujehong would catch onto the Runaway players or Whoru’s massive dragon blades.
That wasn’t the point for APEX fans. Win or lose, what fans sunk into were the moments such as when Ryujehong knowing exactly Whoru’s movements, Tobi defending Ryujehong in game, Gido ‘Gido’ Moon playing his MVP DPS, and ultimately their interactions with each other within the booth. Ryujehong during the end interview said, He still has ambition to win, but is sad as he can’t make that happen with his Lunatic-Hai teammates. That was what the Lunatic-Hai fans crave to see all the time, the players all together again, and that is what this match gave the community for one last time.
Runaway has been through a lot in the past months. It is no surprise that they felt most comfortable coming back to their roots and playing together. This is a squad that had been around as long as Lunatic-Hai but has those extra Overwatch League seasons together. Runaway had never beaten Lunatic-Hai in a Finals before, and this was their opportunity to get a pseudo redemption.
The roster that Runaway pulled together was the perfect mesh of the past and present that defined the Runaway brand. Daehoon ‘Runner’ Yoon is not only the founder of Runaway, but is a father figure for many players. His presence in the match highlighted the fact this match wasn’t purely about winning. The skills he brought, being out of professional play for years, was not as good as subbing in someone like Jaegon ‘LeeJaeGon’ Lee. But he brought something unseen by statistics, the energy and positivity to the team, and a nostalgia for a time when he was in the line up alongside his boys.
The era of Kaiser, Bumper, Haksal, and Stitch is the golden days for Runaway fans. The family that worked through everything to achieve reaching the top. The pink sweatshirts as they walked out for the opening cheer brought all the joy back. Lunatic-Hai and Runaway matches were always some of the most awaited by fans because of the great Overwatch it produced and the friendship of these two teams.
Twilight was the last iteration of Runaway. It was closure for Vancouver Titan fans. They have their main support playing with Bumper, Haksal, and Stitch. Though he never played with Runaway during APEX it seemed fitting to have him in this last position. Just as this Lunatic-Hai showed a freeze-frame of the past, Runaway’s roster mirrored the series in how it had grown and evolved throughout the years. The Titan’s never got that final match where fans could say goodbye. This gave a small piece of that to the Titans fandom.
Injae ‘Esca’ Kim
— _동글동글_제디🐾 (@Jedy_D0ngLE) May 31, 2020
Esca was at this arena as much as any other player who played. This missing piece was the small piece that showed time had passed in the Lunatic-Hai roster. Their captain was missing from the stage, but was not missing in the minds of all participating in the event. Wolf ‘Wolf’ Schröder and Seth ‘Achilios’ King brought up Esca. The Korean casters brought up Esca. The players brought up Esca. This is one regret that the APEX community has that Esca, who still has 10 months left of his mandatory military service, couldn’t be a part of this match. He was essential not only to DPS game play but was a key to their morale. Esca showed his support by posting on his instagram a screenshot of the match, and fans exploded with emotions that their Captain was still watching over the team.
As the Twitch stream loaded, the familiar OGN music and layout appeared as if there weren’t years between the last APEX stream. The moment that hit home as the opening montage. It showed moments throughout the APEX legacy. The production captured the excitement, joy, and desire that these last few years of the Overwatch League bottled up in fans. It was clean and crisp to go with the superb observing that the OGN staff did in game. Even if a fan didn’t speak Korean, the composition of the clips allowed non-Korean speakers to follow this journey and narrative along side the Korean fans.
Coming back down
How does the community go back to Overwatch League? The Korean OGN production, the nostalgia, the joys of the players are infectious. In this time of uncertainty to see players enjoy themselves, that is what Overwatch is about. As a Lunatic-Hai fan would that have been a perfect ending? Yes. Is Runaway winning a perfect ending? Yes. It wasn’t about who won. It was about the journey. The journey that got these 13 players to this point. Tears flowed as the broadcast stopped. The bubble that OGN, Lunatic-Hai, Runaway, and Blizzard Korea gave to the community was over. The players will part ways again, and who knows if this will ever happen again with schedules and localization. This was probably a once in a lifetime reunion, as the stars aligned, and it was perfect.
*Article featured image taken by @Vallen_eStory Vallen Park
*All clips courtesy of OGN and Blizzard Korea
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