Hong-joon “HOTBA” Choi’s career is moving ever upward. The 20-year-old off-tank known for his confident playstyle began gaming at an early age and hasn’t looked back. Born in Busan, Korea, his family moved to Seoul when he was young. Although he considers his hometown to be Seoul, HOTBA prefers Busan, due to the air quality.
While in elementary school, his father took him to a PC café where he began playing Starcraft. Finding gaming more fun than school, HOTBA started going to the café daily to play. By the time he was in high school, he knew that he wanted to be a professional gamer.
From Lunchboy to Luxury Watch
HOTBA was spending his time at the PC café, streaming on Twitch under the moniker “Lunchboy Hotba,” when he received a message inviting him to try out for the team LW Red. After impressing the coaches at tryouts, he made the team and in May of 2017 was officially added to the roster.
LW Red had previously been the flagship team for the Luxury Watch organization. Their counterpart, LW Blue, was the team that went on to essentially make up the NYXL. LW Red had been a powerhouse in both Korea and North America, earning the respect of the community.
Luxury Watch was forced to make changes to LW Red after they failed to qualify for APEX Season 1 and struggled in the Challenger series. With the addition of HOTBA however, LW Red were able to place first in Challengers Season 4. He left the team shortly after competing in the APEX Season 4 tournament, citing contract issues.
Joining the Overwatch League
After leaving LW Red, HOTBA was contacted by coaches urging him to try out for the Philadelphia Fusion. He made the team and joined the historic ranks of the Overwatch League inaugural season.
This meant a move to the U.S., where communication issues and being unused to American food were among the challenges in his new environment. Hard work and the drive to succeed eventually helped him to adapt and thrive, but he didn’t see much time on stage. HOTBA was benched for a large portion of the season as he waited for his tank partner Su-min “SADO” Kim to return from suspension.
Though it seemed like a bout of bad luck, HOTBA remained a beacon of positivity for his team. Players and staff who have worked closely with him have often stated that HOTBA is one of the most intelligent and hardworking players they’ve met. During fan meet and greet events, he was never without a huge smile, full of charisma and unparalleled joy.
He was brought back as a starter for stage 4, and before long he was making a name for himself with aggressive plays and cheeky role swaps onto Tracer.
The Fusion would go on to complete a nerve-wracking playoff run, upsetting the NYXL and stealing a spot in the first ever OWL Grand Finals. While they would fall to the London Spitfire, HOTBA and the Fusion earned an unforgettable place in history.
In the 2018 off-season, several new expansion teams were added to the league. After the Fusion seemed intent on starting he and Sado together, it was a surprise when HOTBA was traded to the new Guangzhou Charge. As a veteran OWL player, his leadership and experience were invaluable to the untested team, and HOTBA found himself in a starting spotlight role.
This allowed fans to see more of what he was capable of, and he delivered some impressive off-role statistics, at one point earning high league-wide ranks on heroes such as Torbjorn. The Charge secured a place in the Play-In Tournament, in an attempt to grab a season playoffs spot. Despite a strong performance, they were eliminated by the Seoul Dynasty.
Moving Ever Upward
In the 2019 off season, fans were shocked by breaking roster news. HOTBA was being released from the Charge. Much of the team’s success in 2019 had been in part due to the starting off-tank’s capability and map-winning plays. Later, NYXL announced the acquisition of HOTBA to replace the recently released Tae-hong “MekO” Kim.
This move brings HOTBA full circle, playing alongside several others who got their start with Luxury Watch. HOTBA brings a strong talent to round out the well-oiled roster of the NYXL. While known for his D.Va and Zarya, his Sigma has quickly become one of the best in the league. He has shown that he can adapt quickly, whether to a new hero, meta or team.
HOTBA has come a long way from PC cafés, collecting and combining the experience of legendary teams to build his legacy. A statistically impressive career notwithstanding, HOTBA continues to be woefully underrated. Though a relatively consistent streamer, his viewership numbers remain low. The move to an established juggernaut like NYXL will give him the opportunity to shine, ever upward.
Regardless of what team he is playing for, he is always ready and eager to meet and answer questions from his fans. HOTBA regularly remembers fans after meeting them at prior events, and always greets them with an energetic smile. HOTBA will be making history again as the NYXL host the opening homestand of the 2020 season in February. With the addition of HOTBA, NYXL will be the team to watch this year.
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“From Our Haus to Yours”