Intro: The Resurgence
Whether you’re Tae-Hong “MekO” Kim or simply just a NYXL fan, you’re probably elated right now.
You’re also probably panicking, and holding back any premature celebrations.
Yes, the NYXL are one win away from the 2019 Overwatch League Grand Finals – but they’re also the NYXL. The team, despite being a top-3 roster since the creation of the Overwatch League, has had a tragic flaw in losing high-stake playoff matches. MekO and the rest of the NYXL have been able to convert their regular season success in the inaugural season with two stage championships. But despite their 1st-seed placement at the end of that year, the NYXL lost in the semi-finals against the Philadelphia Fusion. As a result, they missed out on the 2018 Overwatch League Grand Finals.
In the 2019 season, the NYXL looked like they would continue this unfortunate trend. They were a top-6 team for all of the regular season, but had never made it any further than the semi-finals during their appearances in all three stage playoffs. MekO, the off-tank player for the NYXL, had a lot of insight to offer in regards to the team’s struggles.
“Up until stage 4, we were pretty lost,” he confesses. “[But] we overcame a lot of trials and tribulations, and through that we were able to learn a lot. As we focused harder on improving, I felt that we grew.”
Once more, the NYXL secured the Atlantic division title heading into the 2019 playoffs. And once more, analysts and fans alike began to question their fate in the postseason.
The NYXL’s first opponents would be the London Spitfire; granted, the former champions had also been on a downwards spiral, but this would be the first benchmark of both teams in the new patch. Many predicted that if MekO and his squad couldn’t go head-to-head with the Spitfire, the NYXL would probably exit the tournament with an 0-2 record.
What actually happened was a completely different narrative. The NYXL came out of the gates swinging, and demolished the London Spitfire in a convincing 4-1 victory. The fabled defensive powerhouse looked like they had more than just a footing in the new meta, as the NYXL utilized the prowess of MekO’s shiny Sigma throughout the series.
“I’ve been practicing Sigma since the day he was released — to the point that I was a Sigma one-trick on ladder,” MekO explains. “We had always expected Sigma to be a big part of the playoffs meta, so I kept practicing on him, and I think it’s helped us a lot.”
The NYXL also had another trick up their sleeve with captain Jong-Ryeol “Saebyeolbe” Park returning as a mainstay on the stage — this time with Bastion, of all heroes.
“In this meta, I think that Saebyeolbe’s strengths are spotlighted,” MekO muses. “His physical [mechanical skills] is a great asset, so we match our playstyle around him. And now that this meta highlights the DPS players getting solo kills, we prepared by working around them.”
Level Up: Increasing the Difficulty
Of course, the victory against the London Spitfire meant that the NYXL would be facing yet another opponent in the winner’s bracket — this time against the Atlanta Reign, a surprising championship contender. The Reign came off of a stunning, 4-3 victory against the San Francisco Shock, and looked like they had a firm grasp on the meta as well.
Preparing against the Atlanta Reign was an interesting time for MekO.
“Well, for starters, their team is good at Bastion and favors Bastion compositions like us,” MekO clarifies, “so we tried to focus on that. We also analyzed the playstyles of the individual players on the opposing team.”
When asked about his head-to-head matchup, MekO couldn’t help but admire his off-tank counterpart.
“As I was watching [Blake “Gator” Scott], I came to the conclusion that he’s a very well-experienced and solid player [on Sigma].”
The series was fairly one-sided, as most would’ve expected – but to much astonishment, it was the NYXL that toppled their opponents in a 4-2 victory. The favored Atlanta Reign showed signs of life at first, able to take victories on Hanamura and Lijiang Tower. Otherwise, the Reign simply looked overpowered most of the time, as MekO was able to edge out against Gator in the Sigma mirror throughout the series.
“It was clear that Atlanta definitely prepared a lot for this match,” MekO reminisces. “We had some moments where we were struggling, but as the match progressed, I felt that we were able to resolve our issues well.”
As the backbone of the NYXL, MekO has been the sole off-tank player for the team. Admittedly, he’s only ever been on two teams — with the same core members on both rosters — but he’s learned a lot in his tenure as a professional Overwatch player. The stage that APEX offered for MekO has been transitioned into that of the Overwatch League’s spotlight, and he’s learned a lot in the past two years.
“For starters, since we are pro gamers, and a lot of people have their eyes on us, I’ve learned not to act rashly or irrationally,” MekO explains. “There are also a lot of younger fans who look up to us, so I want to be someone that earns the fans’ respect.”
He’s been careful not to act irresponsibly; in a global league where players are constantly watched, MekO has played his part to make sure that both he and his teammates are held accountable for their actions.
“I tend to be the type to look back on my own actions,” he confirms. “I watch out for myself, and if my teammates make any mistakes, I’m pretty stern on correcting them as well.”
This sort of moral leadership is rare in such young players. But MekO is adamant in making sure that his team is excelling, both in and out of the game. Of course, there’s still a few things in-game to work on.
“We tend to get pretty excited on-stage. I feel like if we can calm our nerves and fix that, then the road to winning the Grand Finals are pretty wide open for us,” he exclaims confidently.
This confidence hasn’t been new from the NYXL, but with a pair of series wins in the playoffs and only one win away from the Grand Finals, MekO and the roster are justified in their assurances. However, one undeniable demon lies between them and the championship; as per schedule, the intimidating Vancouver Titans await MekO and the rest of the NYXL in the winner’s finals.
Confidence and Consistency
“So we’re going up against the Vancouver Titans [next],” MekO observes. “Personally, I think that the Vancouver Titans’ playstyle is very fun to go up against, so I’m looking forward to this game.”
MekO is prepared for the series to run its full course, and predicts the games to go to a final map 7. He’s also got a few words in response to the Vancouver Titans’ Hyeon-Woo “Jjanu” Choi, who had claimed in a previous interview that he would defeat MekO in the Sigma matchup:
“Not that this has to be just a response to Jjanu, but I have the mindset of beating any Sigma player that comes against us. I don’t care who I go up against.”
His boldness is matched by his solid performances in-game. And honestly? Maybe it’s time for the NYXL and their fans to finally be optimistic again. After all, they’ve finally been able to transfer their regular-season successes in the postseason. Additionally, as one of the strongest teams in the current metagame, the NYXL look to be the favorites heading into the final few games. It’s time for the team to stop being the gate-keepers of victory, and MekO is able to recognize the growth that he and his team has made over time.
“I know that since the inaugural season, we’ve shown a lot of bad moments,” MekO agrees. “Last season, we also showed really poor results in post-season play.”
He was well versed in his final statements, and it was clear that he’d been thinking about this for a long time.
“But I think that now our fans should have confidence in purchasing tickets to the Grand Finals.”
Feature image courtesy of Robert Paul for the Overwatch League.
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