In the competitive scene of Overwatch, the main attraction right now is the World Cup. Overwatch League season two won’t be here until February 2019, but BlizzCon is approaching. With the group stages already over, we know which teams will be fighting for number one at BlizzCon in November. The largest surprise, however, to come out of the group stages was the parity of the teams. South Korea lost a map for the first time in their World Cup history. While they still are the heavy favourites, they had some close calls. Winning against underrated Finland by 3-2 in a tiebreaker was extremely entertaining, but it showed weakness. While most viewer simply saw it as being unprepared, it looks like the management for the team decided to make some big changes. First of all, let’s look at their original team and their performances in the group stages this year.
Who was in the original squad and how did they do?
The original squad consisted of Jong-ryeol “Saebyeolbe” Park, Hae-seong “Libero” Kim, Jae-hyeok “Carpe” Lee, Tae-hong “MekO” Kim, Pan-seung “Fate” Koo, Sung-hyeon “JJoNak” Bang, Yeon-joon “ArK” Hong. Very heavily based off of the New York Excelsior lineup, Carpe and Fate were the only non-NYXL players in the team.
The first match in the group stages was interesting in many ways. Ark mainly sticking to his old main Lucio, JJonak continuing his good form, but nothing more surprising than their second match against Finland. While Finland was expected to be second in their group, nobody expected them to take two maps off of South Korea. It was only in the third map of a tiebreaker (in overtime, no less) where South Korea sneaked away a win. Nobody stood out as a bad player on the South Korean team, but they were getting outplayed on certain maps.
This must’ve been a shock to the coaching staff. While they did end up winning every game in the group stages, there was more tension in the air at the very start. People would always think, “South Korea is probably gonna win, but what if they almost choke like they did against Finland?”. They ended the group stage dominant on paper, but questionable in the minds of fans. The question of ‘what if Korea lost’ arose in peoples minds for the first time. The coaching staff must’ve taken this seriously, and they made some big changes recently.
Who is out of the squad?
While the reasons for these players departures is not clear, they all make sense. Starting off, we have Byung-sun “Fleta” Kim from the Seoul Dynasty substituting in for Jong-ryeol “Saebyeolbe” Park from the New York Excelsior. While Saebyeolbe played last year for the World Cup team and played extremely well in the Overwatch League, one of his weakness was his flexibility. Even though he is one of the best Tracer players in the world, his flexibility is outclassed by Fleta. The only problem I have with Fleta being added was that he played inconsistently in the Overwatch League. I don’t think it’s going to be that bad of an issue though, because he played well with other South Koreans when he could (the All-Star weekend).
Secondly, the most surprising one, in my opinion, Tae-sung “Anamo” Jung being substituted in for Yeon-joon “ArK” Hong. While both are phenomenal Mercy players, Ark was known for being a great shot caller and leader. If you watch one of his streams, he tries to coach others or help viewers with tips and advice. While I haven’t seen much of Anamo’s abilities out of gameplay, his gameplay warrants him on the team. Especially because of Anamo’s improved flexibility over Ark. Plus, Ark seemed to accept it well.
I was happy to play as mainsupport for owwc 2018 group stage. It was fun to play in front of home crowds and also was a great honor as a player to represent the country.
— ArK (@Arkyjun) October 22, 2018
Lastly, Jun-ho “Fury” Kim substituting in for Tae-hong “MekO” Kim. Meko is the only player on the Excelsior who played in every single game. Fury did have one thing over Meko though: an inaugural season title win. It would be criminal to not include a player from the season-winning London Spitfire, and Fury was a great idea. Meko is arguably better than Fury on paper. But, based on form, I don’t mind Fury going. His skilled off-tank play is not only more flashy, but his flexibility is more known than Meko’s.
What does this mean for the team?
Clearly, this means that the coaching staff was not happy with how they performed in the group stages. While people could see this as harsh for a 5-0 record with only two maps lost, South Korea has high standards. Their World Cup-winning team is the team to beat, which means they have to adapt better than the rest. Unfortunately, with the meta changes and certain players’ form, that means players had to be substituted out. It’s no coincidence that the players that got substituted out were players who have gotten criticized in the past due to their lack of flexibility.
While you could argue Meko was flexible, he wasn’t as in form as Fury. Ark isn’t as flexible as Anamo, and Saebyeolbe isn’t as flexible as Fleta. Arguably, this also means they’re taking away a lot of skill on a couple characters for true flexibility. In this meta, however, this is the one time it seems like it is absolutely necessary.
Although, there is one thing that I am afraid of. Were these changes too late? We’re just one month away from the knockout stages. While most of the team is still comfortable with each other’s playstyles, new players mean new combinations. Right now, the only players who are teammates outside of this competition are the trio of Hae-seong “Libero” Kim, Sung-hyeon “JJoNak” Bang and recently added Anamo. Unless the rest of these players have trained a lot before this announcement, they’ll need to work together well fast. Consider this: the dominant South Korea of last year with Overwatch League MVP JJonak almost lost to Finland. They needed changes, yes, but were these the right ones? We won’t know until November.
Polish-Canadian game enthusiast. I've been entrenched in gaming for as long as I can remember, with my first game being Pokemon Yellow and my most played games being Borderlands 2 and Overwatch. I have a degree in Film Studies, but writing about esports just makes my job all the better.