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Despite being tucked away on an exhausting flight, Jade “Swingchip” Kim was determined to make sure her players were taken care of. They were headed to one of the biggest tournaments of their careers, so they needed to be prepared.
She popped out her laptop, bought an hour of wi-fi, and asked each player an incredibly important question: what did they want to do in Hawaii?
“We had Waikiki, both the beach and the shopping avenue, the Dole Plantation, Turtle Bay and a lot of stuff like that on the list,” Swingchip, the assistant manager and translator for the Florida Mayhem said. “OGE and Slime wanted to go snorkeling with turtles, but we didn’t plan far enough ahead for that.”
The Overwatch League in Hawaii
The Florida Mayhem and Dallas Fuel were the first two teams in the West Division of the Overwatch League teams to travel to Hawaii for four regular season tournaments. To attend, each team had to submit negative COVID-19 tests, pack and prepare for a long flight shortly after qualifying for the May Melee tournament. But from how they described it, the effort was worth it.
As soon as both teams arrived, the gray clouds parted to show off the island’s crisp water and swaying palm trees. The tropical locale enamored players on the Fuel immediately as the squad did what any group of twenty-something-year-olds would do on a trip to Hawaii. They popped their phones out to grab photos of everything around them.
“It was palm trees and nature. Walking through the airport was unique because it’s semi-outdoors” said Fuel assistant general manager Helen “Dear” Jang of their Mothers Day weekend walk through the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport. “There were a lot of people there but it wasn’t as bad as it was supposed to be.”
Both the Fuel and the Mayhem had to appoint COVID-19 liaisons who were in charge of getting each player tested by an approved provider before they could enter Hawaii. Dallas waited until after the first stage of the regular season before handling their tests while Swingchip, Florida’s liaison, got a jump on things early.
The test needed to be completed within 72 hours of their arrival in Hawaii so the Mayhem swabbed their nostrils on Friday, sent them to the lab on Saturday, received their negative results the same day and then flew out on Monday. They left for Hawaii the morning after they knew they’d qualified because they had already handled the pandemic protocol.
“As soon as we knew we made it we had to make an itinerary,” Swingchip said. “We had a total of six hours to pack for a week.”
The team barely had enough time to both pack and sleep. Minseok “OGE” Son streamed all night just so he wouldn’t miss the flight by oversleeping. The journey to Hawaii took 13 long hours, and the entire team was absolutely exhausted when they arrived. They needed a remedy to help them acclimate to their temporary tournament home.
“One of the first things we did was eat black bean noodles,” said Mayhem head coach Kim “Kuki” Dae-kuk. “Eating home Korean foods helped to maintain our condition. It’s comfort food for us.”
Jet lag was a factor according to both teams, with Mayhem players waking up at 6 a.m. because their bodies were still on Eastern time. Dallas arrived in Hawaii the day before their match, meaning they weren’t at 100% when they faced the Chengdu Hunters the next day.
“There’s a five hour difference,” said Dallas head coach Yun “Rush” Hee-won “But it’s not much compared to the jet lag between Dallas and South Korea.”
Western teams at a disadvantage
When Rush first heard about the Overwatch League’s plan to use Hawaii as a stepping stone to get through the 2021 season, he thought it was going to be a meeting point for all teams. He didn’t realize it was just Western squads making the trip at first.
“We need time to travel, adjust to jet lag and the foreign environment,” he said. “We have to do everything we’re not used to while APAC does things normally.”
Having East Division teams travel to Hawaii would introduce another set of problems, like visa roadblocks and quarantining once they return to South Korea and China. That would make it difficult to follow the league’s strict schedule. And while Rush agrees with this sentiment, it’s still “pretty disadvantageous” for West Division teams to take on extra work in order to reduce the impact latency has on Overwatch.
You know what they say: work hard, dance harder 🌺
— Overwatch League (@overwatchleague) June 10, 2021
It didn’t help the fact that some APAC players pointed out that they had to wake up earlier than normal for their matches during post-game May Melee interviews. Kuki was fine with the trip to Hawaii, but didn’t appreciate the comments from players in the opposing division.
“It was our first time playing in the earlier hours,” said Shanghai Dragons flex DPS Byung-sun “Fleta” Kim in an interview after beating Florida. “So I knew we were going to have a difficult time.”
While both teams had lists of what they wanted to experience in Hawaii, the competition came first. Kuki kept the team from going on a bowling trip in order to keep their fingers “pristine” for their matches, while Rush had to constantly remind his players that they were there for a reason. The fun would come afterwards.
— Florida Mayhem (@FLMayhem) May 14, 2021
“There wasn’t much we could do since we arrived the day before our match,” Rush said. “I wasn’t in the mood to focus on anything else.”
Preparation wasn’t simple, as the Mayhem only had one day to use the practice facility that the league had provided for them. They hadn’t practiced during the weekend due to regular season matches and couldn’t prepare at all while traveling, which made things rough.
But once both teams had finished their matches and the Dallas Fuel emerged victorious in the first international Overwatch League tournament of 2021, the vacation could begin.
Stage done, time for fun
The Mayhem tried to fit everything they could into their trip with a bowling alley visit, Korean snooker, outlet mall shopping and tons of time relaxing on the beach. Rush had never been to Hawaii before, so the team spent most of their time by the water.
“Normally in Korea, a trip to Hawaii means you’re getting married or going on a honeymoon, so I had no business there up until now,” Rush said. “Seeing the clear sky and pretty ocean was nice, though.”
Both Overwatch League teams said they want to return to Hawaii to explore everything they missed due to truncated schedules, and the Fuel will get the chance when returning to Hawaii alongside the Atlanta Reign for the June Joust.
The Mayhem tried to visit Manoa Falls, a gorgeous 150ft stream of water that’s a site to behold in Honolulu, but it was closed for a film shoot. The only solution is to play well enough to come back to see it on another Overwatch League-sponsored mini-vacation.
“I want to do more special things while we can,” Kuki said. “Hawaii has so much more to offer.”