The Overwatch League is now the major international Overwatch tournament that the community is used to. Fans have grown around the league itself as well as the different teams and players. During the Overwatch League broadcast, fans may have heard ‘APEX’ mentioned. Many times APEX is brought up in relation to team rivalry, past teammates, or signature plays or heroes. Now with APEX Legends, some fans may confuse the new FPS game to the Korean Overwatch tournament that was the precursor to the League. The importance of APEX to the Overwatch League is undeniable.
The APEX experience and culture is deeply ingrained into a subgroup of Overwatch League fans. OGN Giga Arena brings back many memories from the APEX tournament days. The Contenders Gauntlet stage in 2019 triggered that nostalgia for fans when the finals were played there. When there are PUGs of Korean pros the fans will donate money to send players with a youtube clip attached of the APEX music. Even more exciting for fans is when members of old teams randomly get put together on ladder, as many of these old teams have split apart into different teams or paths.
History – Format
The Korean APEX tournaments were a product of OGN (OnGameNet), a South Korean TV channel for esports. Each of the 4 seasons of APEX had 16 participating teams of both Korean and invited non-Korean teams. These teams vied for the 1st place trophy and prize money. All the matches were best of 5 with a mixture of all the different map types, except for finals. The first tournament started in 2016. Other than Season 1 of APEX all the other seasons had two group stages that whittled the competition down.
This History of APEX was an essential component to setting up the Overwatch League as it created narratives. One such narrative that was touted a lot in the inaugural season of the Overwatch League was how GC Busan, now the London Spitfire, had never defeated Lunatic Hai now the Seoul Dynasty. This created a rivalry that Overwatch League fans could get behind.
Not only team narratives came from APEX, but also player narratives that propelled a redemption arc in the Overwatch League. Seth ‘Achilios’ King in an interview about APEX talked about how the history allows players to be seen holistically, “Wolf and I hammer on about APEX, Contenders, etc because we care about history in esports and think it’s an important and interesting tale to tell, otherwise people might not know that Bumper and Haksal once played supports, or that Carpe was on a bottom tier team for two seasons before getting picked up by Fusion.”
Not only does this change the narrative of a player like Sangbeom ‘Bumper’ Park, a master of tanks, but also shows that his mind for the game as well as his flexibility is what makes him an asset. For fans who weren’t viewers of APEX, this can surprise and intrigue them as they learn more tidbits about their favorite players.
Most power rankings were done pre Overwatch League were off of how teams or components of the teams played in APEX. It was one of the first major Overwatch tournaments that fans could watch and was cast in both English and Korean. It created expectations of what the Overwatch League should be like that the community was quick to point out the differences.
APEX became well knows for their production value of the tournament. This includes their match segments and openings. Wolf ‘Wolf’ Schröder in an interview where he answered questions about his APEX experiences said: “Much of Overwatch League’s production and observing is also influenced by APEX’s successfully run show.” There are similar threads of the old guard Overwatch tournaments in terms of production that the current league uses. Wolf continues “The beginning of high level, well-produced Overwatch began with APEX.”
Meanwhile, Erik ‘Doa’ Lonnquist in an interview about APEX mentioned that he thought that APEX should have influenced the Overwatch League more; “Things like map bans and arranging the heroes properly on the screen were great things that OWL took too long to incorporate or still haven’t!”
As the seasons of Overwatch League have gone by there is a slow shift towards more of the aspects that APEX had. A thought would be, initially, Blizzard Entertainment did not want to have too many similar aspects to APEX as then fans may have accused them of too similar of a production. APEX knew what they were doing when it came to production.
Throughout these seasons, fans started to get to know the teams and players. Many of these teams and players participated in most, if not all, of the four seasons of APEX. There grew to be diehard fans for certain players, teams, and organizations. The winners are the names that most stand out to fans. The first season had the non-Korean team of EnVyUs, the only non-Korean team to ever win APEX. Lunatic Hai won back-to-back in Season 2 and 3, and the royal roaders of GC Busan in the final APEX season.
That does not mean teams like Kongdoo Panthera, LW, X6, Meta Athena and Runaway were not well known to the fans. They in their own right became legends and created their own concept. Some of the most well-known names in Overwatch League as of now come from these teams who never won APEX. Chanhyung ‘Fissure’ Baek, Jongryeol ‘Saebyeolbe’ Park, Minho ‘Architect Park, and Dongjun ‘Rascal’ Kim are superstars in the league though unable to call themselves APEX Champions. Architect, Rascal, Hyobin ‘Choihyobin’ Choi, Myeonghwan ‘smurf’ Yoo, Minki ‘Viol2t’ Park, and ‘Namjoo ‘Striker’ Kwon all became OWL Season 2 Champions after their inability to do so in APEX.
The voices that the English fans heard on the cast became synonymous with APEX. Not only did the casters help create hype around certain players, but also started a narrative for them. Coming into the Overwatch League had talent that knew the Korean players, knew the Korean language and the Korean culture helped the league as a whole.
Apex did a great job in highlighting the players not just as video game machines but as introducing them as humans. This was seen through their many segments that were scattered throughout the broadcast. The Open mics gave fans a look behind the stage of what the players talked about into between sets, before and after matches, as well as in-game comms. APEX also gave fans pre-match trash talk segments. It was done all in fun, usually ending with players laughing at themselves, but allowed for rivalries and friendships to flourish.
Tournament Bracket Segment
When it was time to pick the brackets at the tail end of the tournament one representative of each team would come to the stage and pull numbers of picking their location on the bracket. This segment would have much trash talk of the hosts would ask why did you pick team X and not team Y. It hyped up matches even more as then the commentators could go back and say ‘the season team X picked Y was because …’ and would play off of that for the match. This again set up narratives for the Overwatch League to use, though the format was different.
Notably, the open mic segments, pre-game interview trash talk, karaoke, skits, and openings are what many fans remember about the APEX matches. The production level of APEX is compared to a lot to the Overwatch League. Fans can still be seen asking for player karaoke to be added into the Overwatch League homestands.
This allowed fans to get to know the players’ personalities. Fans became attached to certain players off of who they were not just the heroes or plays that they would make in matches. Doa thought that APEX helped set up the early storylines in the inaugural season of the Overwatch League. “A lot of big names that had an impact in the early days of OWL like Jehong, Carpe, Zunba or Pine” and Doa brought up the fact that these storylines were a buy-in for many fans early on to get excited about the league.
If any Overwatch League fan turned on an APEX VOD, many familiar names would pop out. Some Overwatch League teams such as Seoul Dynasty (Lunatic Hai), London Spitfire (Kongdoo Panthera and GC Busan), Florida Mayhem (Rogue), Vancouver Titans (Runaway) and NYXL (LW Blue and Red) picked up full APEX teams. Not only did this allow for existing synergies to continue on, but also friendships and rivalries to remain.
Wolf mentioned that the accomplishments of the players within APEX are important. Even to smaller players, such as Berner, who played at the beginning of APEX are a part of the formation of what the Overwatch League is today. These players have a start and their roots in Overwatch history.
Wolf mentioned within the interview that APEX, as a prestigious tournament, helped to convince young FPS players that they should pursue and play Overwatch. “[APEX] sold the idea that, if they were good enough, they would play on a grand stage in front of massive audiences. It sold the concept of long term fame, success and eventually salaries that would let them live out the dream of being professional Overwatch players.” APEX allowed young players to see that a professional career in Overwatch is possible. This opened many minds to the idea when the Overwatch League was announced.
Achilios added in that “APEX proved that players and fans had a vested interest in watching competitive Overwatch, and that people were interested in seeing foreign teams play vs the Koreans.” Blizzard Entertainment was able to see that there was a market for a global Overwatch tournament.
The Importance of APEX
There are so many aspects of APEX to cover when talking about how it influenced the Overwatch League. This is just the first of the two part series. Look out for the second part that will focus on APEX to the Overwatch League numbers as well as the importance of APEX in cultivating talent and experience for casters who move to the Overwatch League from APEX. Doa, Wolf and Achilios will be sharing more of their memories from and opinions of the APEX tournament in the next part. Thank you all three for speaking to the author about their thoughts and experiences on the APEX tournament.
- First Season playlist
- Second Season playlist
- Third Season playlist
- Fourth Season (No playlist available)
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