Before the League: KongDoo Panthera
In APEX, KongDoo Panthera never quite reached the heights of Lunatic-Hai. However, their truly impressive achievement is in the amount of talent that has played under the KongDoo Panthera banner. All in all, 12 current or former Overwatch League players arrived via the various iterations of KongDoo’s roster, as well as four coaching staff. The roster that came within a hair’s breadth of winning APEX Season 3 was no exception. After competing in APEX Season 4 under Cloud9 as Cloud9 Kongdoo, the inaugural season would see most of them picked up to play on the London Spitfire.
Alongside Chan-hyung “Fissure” Baek and APEX Season 4 acquisition Seung-tae “Bdosin” Lee, Dong-jun “Rascal” Kim and Ji-hyeok “birdring” Kim were picked up by the London Spitfire. The Spitfire had picked up not one, but two APEX finalist DPS rosters; fielded alongside KongDoo Panthera was the roster of Season 4 champions GC Busan. Rascal and birdring had always been known for their synergy. Between birdring’s explosive peaks and Rascal’s flexibility, the two could play any pair of DPS heroes in the game, and well.
However, as London experimented with mixing and matching their two rosters, the pair would be separated. GC Busan’s DPS prodigy Joon-yeong “Profit” Park combined Rascal’s flexibility and birdring’s carry potential into one extraordinary package. Fielded alongside birdring, the duo seemed borderline unstoppable for the inaugural season’s first two stages. Despite being an excellent player in his own right, Rascal couldn’t find a place to fit on the team and was traded to the Dallas Fuel.
Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire
The Dallas Fuel, it turned out, was an even worse fit for Rascal. At the center of internal conflicts and public drama, Rascal found himself first benched and then dropped from the team. As it was after the trade window, Rascal could not go to another OWL team in 2018. Instead, he found himself playing in Contenders NA for the San Francisco Shock’s academy team, NRG. He wouldn’t be out of the league for long, however, as the Shock would promote him to their main roster ahead of the 2019 season. It proved a fantastic decision, as Rascal’s performance across heroes from Brigitte and Baptiste to Pharah and Mei have been a vital part of the Shock’s success this season.
Birdring, on the other hand, stayed with the Spitfire. He suffered from inconsistent performances throughout Stages 3 and 4 of the inaugural season. However, when the Spitfire reached playoffs, he was able to return to peak form. In a sniper-focused meta that played perfectly to London’s strengths, Profit and birdring were the keys to their dominant playoff run. 2019, on the other hand, has been a much less successful season for birdring and the Spitfire as a whole. The triple-tank triple-support meta kept birdring off heroes on which his individual talent was able to shine through, and even with the introduction of 2-2-2 lock the specter of inconsistency has still loomed over his head. Whatever becomes of birdring’s career entering 2020, he’s still and will forever be one of the Overwatch League inaugural season champions.
Fissure, who alongside birdring and Rascal was signed to the London Spitfire, found himself in a similar position to the latter. Undoubtedly a good enough main tank player to be starting in the League, London still couldn’t justify putting him in over Jae-hee “Gesture” Hong. As a result, Fissure found himself traded to the Los Angeles Gladiators, where he helped to turn their season around. As a strong leadership figure and one of the most mechanically talented main tanks in the League, Fissure was a big part of the Gladiators’ drastic improvement over 2018. There is perhaps a tendency to overstate this narrative; Head Coach David “Dpei” Pei also deserves immense credit for the Gladiators’ improvement in the inaugural season.
Ironically enough, he would join several of the Lunatic-Hai players he’d faced in 2017 on the Seoul Dynasty. Fissure was expected to make a splash on the Seoul in 2019. However, he didn’t consistently start over Min-seo “Marve1” Hwang. In the end, Fissure would retire from professional Overwatch in Stage 3, citing a lack of motivation.
Void, But Not Null
When the rest of KongDoo Panthera was signed by the London Spitfire, Jun-woo “Void” Kang did not go with them. Instead, he continued playing in Korea under the KongDoo Panthera name. However, when his old tank partner Fissure was signed to Los Angeles Gladiators, he asked the coaches to bring Void on board with him. He didn’t see much playtime over Aaron “Bischu” Kim in 2018, although he did play a few playoff matches. When Fissure left the team, Void stayed, breaking up the tank duo once more.
Although Void was a skilled player and had pre-existing synergy with Fissure, Bischu’s experience with the team and ability to translate in-game proved too valuable. Going into 2019, however, Bischu was unable to play for health reasons. Put into a starting role, Void had to prove that he still had what it took to be a top tier offtank. After teething issues in the first stage of the season, Void proved himself one of the best pieces of the new-look Los Angeles Gladiators. From cancelling Zarya ultimates to netting Self-Destruct kills, Void put out a knockout performance on D.Va in 2019. Even his Sigma, when he played in the playoffs, looked impressive. After such a strong 2019, Void should become a mainstay of the Gladiators roster.
KongDoo’s flex support, Seong-hyeon “Luffy” Yang, would not stay with KongDoo Panthera going into APEX Season 4. Instead, he was moved to KongDoo’s sister team, KongDoo Uncia, in favor of mechanical Seung-tae “Bdosin” Lee. KongDoo Uncia wouldn’t make it out of group stages in APEX Season 4. Not being a part of Cloud9 KongDoo, Luffy missed the chance the Spitfire gave his former teammates to get into the league. During the transition of the Korean Overwatch scene from APEX to Contenders Korea, KongDoo Uncia would disband. Luffy, along with several of his new teammates, would instead be moved to KongDoo Panthera once more.
With this second iteration of KongDoo Panthera, Luffy once more went– to a final in Korea. In Contenders Korea 2019 Season 3, Luffy and his team faced off against Runaway in the finals. Both of these teams had been APEX finalists, but never winners. History seemed to repeat itself as the victory slipped out of KongDoo Panthera’s grasp and Runaway won 4-3. For the second time in as many years, Luffy would be sent home from the finals without a trophy by a margin of a single map. However, it wasn’t all for nothing.
In League With Dragons
After an abysmal 2018 season, the Shanghai Dragons were looking to retool their roster entirely. KongDoo Panthera were one of the strongest teams in Korea, and Shanghai picked up the team’s core. While by no means an underperformer on Zenyatta, Luffy really came into his own with stellar Ana play. With mechanical prodigy Min-chul “IZaYaKi” Kim starting over him, Luffy will have to work hard to earn back a starting spot. Whichever direction his career turns, Luffy has proven he has what it takes to make his way back to the top.
Unlike Luffy, Jee-ho “wakawaka” An stayed with KongDoo Panthera for APEX Season 4. However, he was not one of the players picked up by the London Spitfire. He aspired to join the Seoul Dynasty, but ended up missing out on going to the Overwatch League. He briefly played alongside Luffy on the retooled KongDoo Panthera roster in the Overwatch Team Story tournament. After the group stages, however, wakawaka retired.
The Highs and Lows of Professional Overwatch
In APEX Season 3, this KongDoo Panthera squad were rising stars. Now, however, many of them have established themselves as storied players with an impressive pedigree. Four members of the team would be playing in the League by the beginning of 2019’s playoffs. Three of them (with Luffy’s team barely missing out on a play-in spot) would be in the playoffs.
While Void and birdring’s teams have been eliminated, Rascal is once more headed to the Grand Finals, this time with the San Francisco Shock, perhaps to redeem the silver medal finish of APEX Season 3. Overwatch players rise and fall, but most all, they persevere. With hard work and dedication, today’s silver medalist might be next year’s champion.
Featured image courtesy of KongDoo Panthera.
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