With three newly revamped rosters of worldwide talent, and a team that only dropped one of their 22 matches in the challenger league, Group B is looking to be this season’s “group of death”.

As for the returning teams, Lunatic Hai have added both an all-star flex player from a rival roster, while LuxuryWatch Blue have opted to promote a DPS prodigy from their sister lineup, who failed to qualify. Both rosters are already looking better than ever, following an intense finals at IEM Gyeonggi in December. Although LuxuryWatch Blue’s roster did take the win at the time, both teams showed that their changes are already paying off, and that there shouldn’t be a clear winner going into their next meeting.

Funnily enough, the invited Misfits has actually  been together for only a month going into this tournament, while the former challenger league players of Afreeca Freecs Red have been together since season 1’s qualifier. Despite both teams being new to the Apex league, neither are rookies by any means, and should be considered legitimate contenders for first place, even in a stacked group like this.

Considering the proven talent on all four lineups, fans should expect an all-out  brawl for the top two spots in this group.

Featured team: Lunatic Hai

Overview

Lunatic Hai are ranked as GosuGamers.com’s #1 Korean team at the time of writing, and are the first of what will likely be many Korean “super teams”. They may not have as storied of a background as Misfits yet, but they certainly will soon, if the  hype surrounding them holds up.

For many fans, the first glimpse of South Korea’s potential in the competitive scene was at the Overwatch World Cup show match, in which their team methodically massacred the competition. Whether it was tank  player In “Miro” Jae Kim’s unwavering protective presence on either Reinhardt or Winston, DPS player In “Esca” Jae Kim’s merciless killing sprees using McCree, or Support Ryu “Ryujehong” Je Hong’s laser focused sharpshooting on Ana, all three players sent by Lunatic Hai showed mastery of their respective Heroes throughout Korea’s tournament run.

Considering their show of power at the World cup, Lunatic Hai came back to the league as considerable favorites in their group, and possibly even to win the entire tournament. During their games in the rest of the group stage, it seemed that the Korean favorites were poised to make good on their newfound reputation, as they managed to go undefeated in a group with both EnvyUs, and other Korean all star Joonhyeok “Zunba” Kim’s Conbox T6 squad.

By all means, Lunatic Hai’s performance in both the group stage, and the World Cup event had built them up to be a safe bet over Kongdoo Uncia in the quarterfinals. Unfortunately for the Korean  hopefuls, their tournament life followed the same arc as one of Torbjorn’s turrets. That is to say that while their previous conquests had served only to build them up, Kongdoo Uncia spared no time in breaking them down in the quarterfinals. After dropping their first playoff series 0-3 against a team that placed second in their group, Lunatic Hai’s predicted rampage was brought to an abrupt halt.

In the  hopes of making good on the groundswell surrounding them in season 1, Lunatic Hai have recruited both Zunba, and high ranking DPS player Lee “Whoru” Seung Joon. Considering their lineup now boasts an impressive four out of six members of the winning World Cup team, as well as a talented (if competitively unproven) DPS player they’ve been labelled as Korea’s first “super team” by many analysts.

Despite their powerhouse status, Lunatic Hai does have a quirk in their play style, which seems to hinder them more than it helps. While most teams assign their players to specific roles such as DPS, flex, tank or support, Lunatic Hai’s roster are all assigned pools of various heroes. This leads to somewhat of a musical chairs scenario, in which vital picks like Ana end up being passed around the roster between rounds, as each member tries to shuffle their way to a new character. As an example, Ryujehong seems to be the team’s currently assigned D.va player, despite also being considered one of the best Anas in the world. In practice, this means that Lunatic Hai generally needs to downgrade their support play if their want to play one of the current meta game’s staple picks.

While they do seem to be refining their use of this unique role system as time goes on, Lunatic Hai will  need to do better they did last season, if they hope to have their unorthodox strategy  taken seriously.

lunatic-hai
Lunatic Hai’s APAC Premier Lineup                                       Photo Credit: APAC

Players to watch

Whether he’s narrowly landing vital sleep darts on his signature Ana, or terrorizing the enemy DPS on his more recently adopted D.va pick, team captain Ryujehong shines the brightest out of his team’s myriad of stars. Although his teammate Miro took home the MVP title at the World Cup invitational, Ryujehong still managed to capture the hearts of fans and analysts alike, with his near flawless aim and reaction speed. While many captains opt to play a less mechanically intensive hero like Lucio in order to focus on shot calling, Ryujehong  manages to masterfully juggle his various responsibilities. Not only does he take charge of coordinating his teammates’ strategies in fights, but he also manages to shut down targets the moment that they materialize, using either impeccably timed shields as his team’s front line tank, or precise sleep darts from the back line as Ana.

It doesn’t seem likely at the moment, but it should also be taken into account that as weird as it may be, the fact that Ryujehong plays both support and tank heroes for his team could make for an easy transition into being a full-time tank player, should Ana ever completely drop out of favor.

While Ryujehong is an important member for his due to his already established star status, fans should also keep an eye on Zunba, as he adapts to his new team. Having played as Conbox T6’s flex player in the last season, Zunba stood out as the primary carry of his team, along with team captain and fellow tank player Noh “Gamsu” Yeong-Jin. Having now joined one of the projected top teams of the season, this season will be telling of whether Zunba really does have the potential to hang with the best, or if his prowess on Conbox T6 was just a matter of being a big fish in too small of a pond.

( Author’s note: As much as I feel Lunatic Hai has  a bunch of other players who deserve a bunch of credit, this is already half as long as the entire previous group preview, and it wouldn’t be fair to other teams to turn this into even  more of the Lunatic Hai show. With that said, there’s a great feature on Miro that you can check out here, if you want to know more about the world cup MVP.)

 

Featured Team: LuxuryWatch Blue

Overview

They say that making a small change can make an enormous difference, and that seems to be holding true for LuxuryWatch Blue’s lineup. During their first season, LuxuryWatch Blue were considered a solid lineup, who could consistently beat the weaker teams, but didn’t seem to have what it took to take down those at the top. As the season went on, their middle of the pack status was only reaffirmed, as they took second place in their group, with two 3-1 wins against the weaker teams, and a 1-3 loss against Reunited, who took first in the group. In the playoffs, this pattern only continued to develop, as LW Blue lost their quarterfinal series 0-3, against the first place team from a different group.

After a middling start to their legacy, LW Blue’s first major triumph was at IEM Gyeonggi in December. Although they weren’t an official roster yet, the team played under the banner of their sister team, LW Red. Despite their name, LuxuryWatch’s IEM lineup was actually just LW Blue’s lineup, with the addition Red’s star DPS player Hwang “Flow3r” Yeon o. Due to their fusion of the two sister rosters, the event’s commentators nicknamed the temporary lineup “LuxuryWatch Purple”.

In what seemed to be their best form yet, LuxuryWatch’s mixed lineup started the event with a 3-0 victory over Kongdoo Panthera; a team around the level of those they’d beaten 3-1 in season 1’s group stage.

LW Purple’s show of force continued through the semifinals, as they defeated Europe’s Rogue 3-1. Thanks in no small part to Flow3r’s spot-on Soldier 76 play, LuxuryWatch had finally claimed a victory over what could be considered a top tier lineup.

In the finals, LuxuryWatch faced off against Lunatic Hai’s revamped roster, in an intense best of five series. Although it was a back and forth battle on every map, LW Purple narrowly defeated Lunatic Hai; who many considered the heavy tournament favorite.

Following their breakout success at IEM, LW Red’s actual roster were narrowly defeated by fellow sister team Afreeca Red. Although their loss was no doubt a blow to LuxuryWatch’s organization, it did create an incredible opportunity. Since their sister team would have to play in the challenger league for another season, LW Blue were able to pick up Flow3r for the upcoming season.

With the tournament-winning LW Purple roster now playing as an official team, LuxuryWatch Blue are likely aiming to eschew their middle of the pack reputation, and to prove that they can now consistently take down the best teams in the league.

luxurywatch
Luxury Watch Red following their IEM win     Photo Credit: ESL

Players to watch

Considering the radical difference that his addition made to LW Blue’s performance, Flow3r is an easy choice for the player to watch on this team. Ever since his breakout performance at IEM, and subsequent shows of force during the challenger qualifiers with LW Red, Flow3r’s name has been thrown into the ring in most conversations about the region’s best DPS players. Using what appears to be a mix of flick and tracking aim, Flow3r brings a steady flow of massive damage, on his now iconic Soldier 76 pick.

While it shouldn’t be cause for concern considering his consistent displays of talent so far, this will still be Flow3r’s debut season in Apex’s main league. Due to his lack of experience at premier events, the young DPS prodigy will have to prove that his monstrous form at IEM can be consistently replicated, in order to solidify his place in the discussion regarding the title best DPS player.

Misfits

Overview

Early on in Overwatch’s competitive lifespan, the European Misfits lineup were considered among the best. Thanks to wins at both the Overwatch Open and Dreamhack Winter 2016, the team’s original lineup was considered by many to be one of few teams who could possibly be considered #1.

Despite their juggernaut status, Misfits still opted to trade several players with fellow top European teams Rogue and Luminosity. In the trade, Misfits opted to sign an entirely Swedish roster, while Rogue went for an entirely French one, and Luminosity took in the remaining talents.

Although Misfits’ new roster looks to be a top team on paper, their only tournament appearance since the team’s reconstruction was at IEM Gyeonggi, where they lost 0-3 to Lunatic Hai in the first round. With a month of practice under their belts, Misfits will need to prove that they’ve worked out the many problems that showed during their debut, if they hope to compete against group B’s fierce competition.

 

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Misfits’ new all-Swedish roster                         Photo credit: Fomos/Kenzi

Players to watch

Although this will be their team’s first appearance int he league, both DPS player Kevyn “TviQ” Lindstrom and Tank player Jonathan “Reinforce” Larsson are Apex veterans. While playing on Europe’s Rogue in season 1, TviQ and Reinforce put up an undefeated record in the group stage, before an upset 2-3 loss to EnvyUs, who would go on to win the league.

Thanks to their previous experience in Korea, the two Ex-Rogue players will  be essential in improving their team’s out of game synergy. As they’ve already had the chance to practice against Korean teams, and to get acclimatized to the differences in everyday life, these two should be able to make a positive impact for their teammates, both in and out of game.

Afreeca Freecs Red

Overview

Ever since they failed to qualify for Apex season 1, Afreeca Freecs Red were on of two sister teams who were plagued by “the Red curse”. Going into the first season’s qualifier tournament, both Afreeca Freecs and MVP’s Red teams were considered the more skilled rosters, in their respective red/blue duos. Despite their reputations, both teams fell short of qualifying for their first season, while their blue counterparts managed to make their way in, which gave birth to the meme regarding the now secondary teams.

After a rocky season in the challenger league, Afreeca Red have finally overcome their curse. Although they had to eliminate their rivals on MVP Red to make it in to the main league, Afreeca Red will have to take down LuxuryWatch Red’s former star player, as they both aim to prove the power of the Red sister teams.

 

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The Afreeca Red lineup                                                Photo Credit: Inven

Players to watch

 Thanks to his all-or-nothing style on Tracer, Nam “Attune” Ki-hoon is a nightmare for allied and enemy supports alike. Using his lightning fast reflexes and unpredictable maneuvers, Attune effortlessly weaves between the enemy’s low-health targets, as he assassinates them one by one… at least half of the time. Unfortunately, Attune’s reckless style leads to his own death as much as it does those of others, which often results in his team being down a man in crucial situations.

While his play is certainly thrilling to watch when it works out, Attune will need to find a more measured and patient style, if he hopes to rise above the competition in group B.

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