For many, the argument about being a good speaker is between “what you say” or “how you say it”.
But for the NYXL, it’s the leader behind the words, Jong-Ryeol “Saebyeolbe” Park, that matters more than anything else.
Just last Saturday, the world saw Saebyeolbe holding his teammate Yeon-Oh “Flow3r” Hwang’s hand as the NYXL were down 3-0 against the San Francisco Shock in the loser’s bracket finals of the 2019 Overwatch League Playoffs. Flow3r had just been subbed into the match on Rialto, but he didn’t look ready to play.
“Well, for one, I was very sorry towards Flow3r,” Saebyeolbe reminisces. “He’s a player that starts for that map specifically, but we had slipped in the match, down 3-0, and that heavy burden was placed onto Flow3r.”
Flow3r sat down in his seat, hands trembling, nearly at the verge of tears. And in that moment, captain Saebyeolbe took control.
“He came onstage and his hands were trembling, and I held his hand,” Saebyeolbe describes, “and [I] told him, ‘It’s okay. It’s because of my mistakes that we’re losing. We’re sorry that we put you in this situation. You can do well, so don’t shake, and we can do this.’”
Call the NYXL whatever you want — chokers, sandbaggers, losers. But throughout all the repeated criticism, there has also been one other constant narrative for the team — Saebyeolbe, the captain. The leader. The heart and soul of what it means to be a shining star of the Overwatch League.
In the inaugural season of the Overwatch League, the NYXL were an undisputed powerhouse roster. As the team to beat, the squad was made up of some of the best players in their roles. This was also a time where dive meta was prevalent – which meant that Saebyeolbe, a Tracer specialist, was at the top of the league.
With captain Saebyeolbe at the helm and rookie superstar Seong-Hyun “JJoNak” Bang as the wind-blown sails, the NYXL were able to cruise through two-stage championship wins and secure the overall first-seed as they set course for the playoffs. But in a surprising turn of events, the NYXL were anchored at the Philadelphia Fusion’s harbor, and their first season’s successes vanished into history.
Even despite missing out on the grand finals that year, the NYXL had set a precedent: that they were one of the best teams in the world. Saebyeolbe also had set one as well – that he was the greatest Tracer player in the league.
The offseason raced by as the 2019 season welcomed new teams and new faces, but more importantly, a new meta. The emergence of the GOATs meta would push Saebyeolbe into the shadows, and the NYXL would falter for the first half of the new season.
The Captain’s Oath
While both surprising and dismaying to the NYXL and their fans, Saebyeolbe’s disappearance from the stage was expected. Like most Tracer “one-tricks,” Saebyeolbe had no place in the triple tank, triple support meta.
“In season 1, I started a lot with the team, but in season 2, I had a bit of a gap period,” Saebyeolbe explains. “I couldn’t really match with my teammates, and I was taking a bit of a break.”
In other interviews and videos, Saebyeolbe explains that he was worried that the GOATs meta would dominate the game forever. He was unsure if he wanted to continue being a pro gamer, and even had thoughts of quitting.
The NYXL, despite remaining a top team, were slipping without Saebyeolbe’s presence. They never went any further than the semifinals of any stage playoffs in the 2019 season. Although the NYXL continued to win most of their matches, the team never looked as dominant or undefeatable as their past selves. The choking narrative returned, the sandbagging memes resurged, and it looked like the NYXL wouldn’t be able to shake off the burdens of their previous season.
And then the meta changed; much like the dawn of a new day, the GOATs meta finally fell as a Sombra-dominant, triple-DPS meta arose with the morning sun. For the sake of his struggling team, Saebyeolbe assiduously practiced on Sombra to make his way back onto the stage. And while he wasn’t a consistent starter, Saebyeolbe’s residence on stage was embraced by his teammates.
“I think that the team’s memory of playing with me onstage were finally found again,” he ponders.
The NYXL slowly made their ascent towards the end of Sombra GOATS and throughout the 2-2-2 meta. Their captain became a mainstay on the team once more, and the NYXL began to find their stride heading into the playoffs.
“As the [playoffs] metagame changed, I got to participate in this meta to play Reaper,” Saebyeolbe recalls. “As I rejoined the players on stage, I think our synergy and playstyle lined up again.”
No one truly expected the NYXL to dominate as hard as they did in the 2019 Overwatch League playoffs. They breezed through the London Spitfire and quickly dismantled the Atlanta Reign, dropping only 3 maps throughout the two series. The NYXL had made quick use of their opponents, and neared even closer to the coveted Grand Finals.
Saebyeolbe’s Reaper provided consistent damage for his team and the brilliance of his performance with Bastion compositions surprised the world. But it wasn’t just Saebyeolbe’s in-game performance that was the biggest boost for his team – it was his mindfulness towards his players. On broadcast, fans could see Saebyeolbe leaping out of his seat to high-five his teammates during maps and constantly communicating with the rest of his team. The NYXL would always respond to him, and often broke out in smiles or laughter after the chats.
So what was the inspirational messages that Saebyeolbe was telling his teammates? He reveals that there was no secret. It was just captain Saebyeolbe being himself that uplifted the rest of the NYXL.
“Well, sometimes I’ll stand up and tell them to look at my face, and sometimes I’ll go to give them high fives,” Saebyeolbe confirms. “I’m just having our usual conversations, so that they feel that it’s not a high-stress situation. We’re just having a chat, I guess.”
The composure that Saebyolbe possesses can only be attained by an individual who’s had years of experience – including lots of hardships.
“I’ve been a pro gamer for a long time, and I’ve worked with these players for a long time,” he justifies. “I’ve been a starter, and I’ve also been on the bench.”
As a result of his equanimity, Saebyeolbe’s conversations with his teammates during high-pressure moments are contrastingly casual and carefree, inviting them to relax and enjoy the moment.
“I always tell my other players about all the situations we’ve overcome. I remind them about those old memories during the match to alleviate their stress,” he remarks. “I’ll go and give them a high-five, or give them massages. I try to give the other players a lot of ‘eye-contact’ to look out for them during the games.”
Despite wrestling against the Vancouver Titans in the winner’s bracket and battling the San Fransisco Shock in the loser’s bracket finals, the NYXL failed to book their trip to the championships. They had become the gatekeepers to the 2019 Overwatch League Grand Finals not once, but twice.
Nevertheless, it was Saebyeolbe who hugged his teammates after the losses. He comforted his teammates with a smile on his face, and despite the tragic ending to the season, Saebyeolbe fulfilled his duties as a captain. The NYXL had come up short once more, but Saebyeolbe never gave up on his teammates until the very end.
Empire State of Mind
Saebyeolbe is loved by his fans as a great player, leader, and kind individual. From professional bowler to now NYXL captain and Overwatch League superstar, Saebyeolbe is the epitome of a success story. What fuels his career is not just his dedication, but also the humanity behind his actions. As he leaves the Blizzard Arena in Los Angeles behind after two seasons of the Overwatch League, Saebyeolbe can’t thank everyone enough for supporting him and the NYXL.
“I’ll miss the Blizzard staff and the fans are most memorable, and I’m so grateful for them,” he expresses. “The staff would cheer for us behind the scenes, and the fans would come back to the arena multiple times to cheer for us. It was very nice to go back onstage once more to interact with my fans, and being able to play alongside my teammates for the last time here. I’m so grateful to feel that support from them.”
Of course, Saebyeolbe still has the Overwatch League Grand Finals on his mind. While he still can’t boast a season title, Saebyeolbe is still hungry for the throne.
After the season-ending loss against the San Francisco Shock, Saebyeolbe carefully chose his words to express his determination. Despite his visible sorrow, he still looked as composed as ever – just like the confident leader he always had been.
“Last season, we didn’t get to go to the Grand Finals…and this season, we didn’t get to either… but I think we’re still growing,” he muses.
He paused for a moment, before finishing his thoughts.
“I feel like I’ve said this too many times, but… I think that we’ll be able to go to the Grand Finals next year.”
Feature image courtesy of Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment.
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