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On September 25 2021, the Shanghai Dragons became Overwatch League champions. They became the last team to ever hoist the trophy in this era of Overwatch. Kim “Fleta” Byung-sun was part of the winning roster. Those are the facts.

But, just because something happened doesn’t make it meaningful. It takes history to give something meaning – and the history behind this particular championship stretches back a long time, well before the Overwatch League even began. For some of us, it’s the ending to a story years in the making.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw Fleta falter.

He’d developed a reputation for being a known quantity by then, a thoroughly consistent performer whose skill always transcended the bounds of his team. That was the story of his whole first year as a professional Overwatch player. Fleta played for Flash Lux in 2017, the worst team in the best tournament.

Flash Lux competed in all four seasons of OGN APEX. In that time, they only won one match. It seemed like they had hopes to win another during Season 4. Their first opponent was NC Foxes, a team that had recently qualified to the tournament, and Flash Lux’s roster was the best it had ever been. (Overwatch League fans may recognize the names Kim “Shu” Jin-seo and Son “CoMa” Kyung-woo; that was their support line).

When the two teams faced once another, though, something felt off. Fleta was floundering in a way that he never had before. He was switching heroes seemingly at random and making decisions that hurt the team’s gameplay. Their best shot at victory was slipping through his fingers.

Flash Lux got swept by NC Foxes and Fleta’s expression remained unchanged. But, the damage was done. We’d seen what it looked like for one of the steadiest, most consistent Overwatch players to stumble. One thing was clear: as long as he remained bogged down by his circumstances, he would never reach the highs that he was capable of.

For a year, Fleta accomplished the Herculean task of looking like an elite player on a team that was just plain bad. He was always stony-faced and serious, no matter how poorly the rest of his team was doing. It was admirable as much as it was infuriating. Players and staff from other, far more successful teams sang his praises. Everyone knew he could do much better than he was. So why was he still there?

OGN APEX Season 2 grand finals. | Provided by Blizzard Entertainment

On struggling to find your place

Fleta and I were both 17 years old the first time I watched him play. That was nearly five years ago now. The APEX days have since blurred into an indistinct haze, a whirlwind summer of laughter and failure, victory and tears. But some memories and feelings are still as stark as they were the day they happened. That match against NC Foxes, when Fleta finally buckled under the weight he had to carry, is one of them.

When that match happened, I was getting ready to go off to university. I was very much still a kid then, nervous and eager to move on to the next phase of my life. I knew that everything was going to be different after the summer, but there was still one constant in my life. Overwatch was there, and it would be for as long as I needed it to be.

I turned 18 in the fall. That same week, Fleta joined the Seoul Dynasty.

Around that time, I began putting my feelings about professional Overwatch into words. Eventually, people even started paying me for it. The second paid article I ever published was about Fleta.

It’s hard for me to read it back now — I was 18, okay? Who likes what they made when they were 18? But, the crux of it was that Fleta deserved better. His potential was crystal clear to anyone who ever watched him play; he just needed things to go right, for once. I wrote that maybe, the Seoul Dynasty could do that for him.

What exactly did we expect when Fleta joined the then-best team in the world? Something more than what we got, I suppose. With a powerhouse roster built around two-time APEX champions Lunatic-Hai, the Dynasty were projected to win the 2018 Overwatch League season. Instead, they were thoroughly underwhelming. Fleta still looked good, but no better than he had before, and we were back where we started: with Fleta struggling to elevate a team that was incapable of returning the favor.

As time rolled on, it started to feel like a curse, like he was fated to never be on a team that deserved him. For any other player, it might have been time to accept that he just wasn’t as good as we thought. But that was never an option for Fleta — because it simply wasn’t true.

Fleta played on Seoul Dynasty for two seasons. | Provided by Overwatch League

Redemption and renewal

The Shanghai Dragons were the worst team in the league in their very first season. They lost every single game (and two more after that) before finally claiming their first victory in 2019.

From there, it was all uphill. They became stage champions in 2019, regular season champions in 2020, and now, finally, they’ve conquered the greatest challenge of them all. They are league champions — the last to conquer this version of the Overwatch League.

Fleta joined the Dragons at the beginning of 2020. I think this championship belongs to the Dragons, but it belongs to him most of all. It took him years to find a team that let him be what we always knew he could be, and when he finally did it, he never looked back.

In many ways, it’s the perfect send-off to the first era of Overwatch. The Overwatch League has announced its intention to shift to an early build of Overwatch 2 for the 2022 season, meaning that these playoff matches were the last time we’d ever see the first iteration of Overwatch played at the highest level. The Dragons, once a laughing stock, are now the best team in the world.

As we finally close this chapter, I’m left thinking, inevitably, about where we started. Where started. I was still in high school when I first caught a glimpse of pro Overwatch, and it captured me so quickly that there was nothing left to do but follow it wherever it would take me. It quite literally changed my life. It changed many others’, too.

That’s what the first era of Overwatch was about. Changing. Learning. Growing. It was about giving your all to something and letting it shape you into something new. It was about taking your hardship and using it to become your best self. Fleta exemplified that more than anyone else, but it’s true of everyone who came into this scene and decided to stick around.

I officially graduate from university next April, the same month the 2022 Overwatch League season is scheduled to begin. When that time comes, everything will be different. But I know I’ll still be here.

The Shanghai Dragons are the 2021 Overwatch League champions. | Provided by Overwatch League