Note: this is the first of a two part series on Lunatic-Hai. I don’t have a timeline for the second part, but my current pace is about a feature every month.

From founding legends like Brood War’s first bonjwas, to modern day titans like League of Legends’ SK Telecom, Korea has always been a land of legendary dynasties. As with the birth of any new game, Overwatch gave the chance for new faces to shoot for the top, in OGN’s APEX league. After two seasons, Lunatic-Hai’s constantly improving stable of all-stars look set to cement themselves as the game’s first Korean dynasty.

Square One: Qualifying for APEX

Before the APEX qualifiers, Lunatic-Hai’s roster had Gong “Miro” Jin Hyuk and Ryu “ryujehong” Je Hong as their tanks, Lee “LEETAEJUN” Tae Jun and Kim “EscA” In-jae as DPS, and Yang“tobi” Jin Mo and Geum “dean” Dong-geun as their supports. Although the roster itself stayed intact going into the tournament, ryujehong and dean had begun swapping positions mid-match, as jehong had shown interest in becoming the team’s main Ana player.

Before taking on the first season of APEX, the future champions had to fight through qualifier matches. After blowing through the online stages, Miro and co. moved on to the main qualifier event, alongside 63 fellow hopefuls.

Once qualified for the offline stage, the remaining teams faced off in a battle royale, spanning the weekend of October 1st – 2nd, 2016. Once the weekend had ended, and the dust had cleared, the top 12 squads would become APEX’s first competitors.

lunatic hai
Lunatic-Hai take to the stage for their first match of APEX season 1                               Photo Credit: Kenzi/Fomos

Thanks to a second place finish at China’s APAC Premiere Championship, Lunatic-Hai were among the favorites to qualify. Alongside the Korean juggernauts, other favorites included Afreeca and LuxuryWatch’s Blue/Red sister teams, and EHome’s Korean squad.

The ensuing two days saw a slew of cutthroat matches, and several favorites being sent home. Although both Red squads only made it to the challenger bracket, and EHome were completely eliminated, Lunatic-Hai stood strong, and earned their place among the top 12 teams.

The First Trial: Overcoming EnvyUS

The first match of the league was a late showdown against EnvyUS. Although it would be Lunatic-Hai’s first match of the season, the match was also the last for their North American opponents. Considering that their Western rivals had achieved both a 3-0 slaughter against Mighty Storm, and a convincing 3-1 win over CONBOX T6, the fan favorites were already faced with a fearsome opponent.

The two juggernauts traded blows in the opening maps, starting with Lunatic-Hai earning a win on Nepal. The Korean squad earned their advantage with back to back point wins, in a nearly mirrored tank matchup. Although Timo “Taimou” Kettunen’s Reaper was a devastating asset for Envy, Esca proved himself as a worthy rival on McCree. Thanks to their DPS’s sharpshooting, LH weathered Taimou’s storm, and claimed the first map.

envyus
Boasting impressive results at western events, EnvyUS came in as a force to be reckoned with              Photo Credit: Kenzi/Fomos

EnvyUS struck back on Numbani, with a surprising full-hold. Despite being held to a single point, the American squad refused to roll over, and brought out an unusual strategy, featuring both a rarely picked Junkrat, and a solo Ana support. Using the surprise factor of their  unorthodox lineup, Envy managed to leave their opponents with zero points, in order to even the series.

Although Taimou and Talespin continued to wreak havoc, Lunatic-Hai took close wins on both Temple of Anubis and Dorado. With a 3-1 victory over fellow group favorites, Lunatic-Hai cemented themselves as early playoff contenders.

An International Intermission: Taking on the World Cup

After establishing their popularity in APEX, Lunatic-Hai’s next move was to take on the world stage. Luckily for them, the upcoming Overwatch World Cup would serve as the perfect springboard onto Western fans’ radars.

The world Cup was a global show match between a medley of each region’s elected representatives. Due to their team’s immense popularity, Miro, Jehong, and Esca were all voted in, alongside Kim “zunba” Joon Hyuk, who served as CONBOX Spirit’s Zarya at the time. In order to fill the remaining slots, Miro brought in both Afreeca Blue’s captain, Jeong “ArHaN” Weon Hyeop, and their coach, Kim “TaiRong” Tae-yeong.

By assigning each player to their usual role, and returning TaiRong to his former support position, Team Korea were quick to find their rhythm in the event. Using both their individual skill on signature heroes, and newly forming synergies, the all-star squad tore through the group stage without dropping a map.

After their rampage through the group stage, the Koreans were set to take on the home favorites of Team USA in the quarterfinals.

The crowd’s excitement was at its peak on Temple of Anubis, as they erupted with cheers each time  America’s Brandon “Seagull” Larned’s Genji unsheathed his dragon blade. Unfortunately for his fans, the North American captain was shut down at each advance, and his team was unable to capture point A.

The ensuing showdown on Eichenwalde was much closer, as both sides nearly finished the map. In the end, the Koreans proved stronger when the pressure was on, and narrowly defended the final point. With their close win on Eichenwalde, Zunba and friends kept their undefeated record going into the semifinals.

team_korea_wins
The World Cup was many fans’ introduction to Korea’s rising talents                                       Photo via Blizzard Entertainment

The Koreans’ next opponent was team Sweden, which featured a fellow all-pro roster led by André “iddqd” Dahlström. Sweden opened the first match on Route 66 with a slow but steady push, which met its end just past the second checkpoint. Although the Swedish players managed to go toe-to-toe with their Korean counterparts while attacking, they failed to do the same while defending.

With their sights set on going slightly past the second point, Team Korea wreaked havoc on their signature picks. Sweden’s players proved unable to handle the pressure of ArHan’s Genji, Miro’s Winston, and Esca’s McCree, combined with the backup provided by Ryujehong’s Ana, Zunba’s Zarya, and TaiRong’s Lucio,  which allowed their opponents to finish with ample time.

The second match on Eichenwalde played out in similar fashion, as Korea’s multiple threats proved too much for the Swedish defenders. As a result of their superior aggression, the Koreans moved on to the finals with yet another 2-0 victory.

For their final challenge, Miro’s squad squared off in a best of 7 against the Russian team, led by Ruben “Rubikon” Zurabyan. Korea got off to a slow start on Temple of Anubis, having spent a full six minutes trying to push past George “ShaDowBurn” Gushcha’s famous Genji. Despite their early struggles, the south Korean squad eventually broke through to the second point, by switching Arhan’s Genji to Reaper. After fighting for their first foothold, Miro’s team turned their spark of hope into a devastating wildfire, as they took over the ensuing rounds. Thanks to clutch kills and sleep darts from Ryujehong’s  Ana, Miro, ArHan and Esca were free to single out threats, and deliver shutout defenses on both the temple and King’s Row. The next two matches on Dorado and Lijiang tower ended comparably, resulting in a flawless final series for the Korean squad.

By consistently running amok with his Winston in all four games, Miro earned the MVP title for the finals. On top of the prestige of his teammate’s MVP title, ryujehong  earned an even greater reputation for his team, thanks to his deadly performances as Ana.

There and Back: Finishing the Group Stage

Lunatic-Hai’s World Cup trio may have already become champions overseas, but they still had a gauntlet of opponents to face back home. Since they had the luxury of playing in the final three games of their group, the championship hopefuls would clinch a playoff slot with a single win over either CONBOX T6, or Mighty Storm.

A few days after fighting alongside Zunba at the World Cup, Miro, Je Hong and Esca would now have to push through him and CONBOX, in order to secure a place in the playoffs.

The series kicked off with a  neck and neck battle for Lijiang tower, where all three rounds came down to the wire. While both teams had impressive performances, Cho “MyungHoon” Sung Min’s destructive Genji tipped both Garden and Control Center in CONBOX’s favor, in order to secure a 2-1 win.

conbox
CONBOX started slow, but grew into a formidable force by the time they faced Lunatic-Hai   Photo Credit: Kenzi/Fomos

The parity between the rival squads continued throughout the series, as CONBOX’s team captain Noh “Gamsu” Yeong Jin stepped up to contest Miro’s Winston with his own. Due to the matched talents, both Numbani and Volskaya Industries came down to tiebreaker matches on Nepal. The two rivals continued to trade blows in the sudden death rounds, but the fan favorites won both by a hair. With momentum on their side, Lunatic-Hai closed the series with another  hard fought win on Watchpoint: Gibraltr.

With a deceptive final score of 3-1, Miro’s squad guaranteed a playoff slot for themselves, while denying Zunba and friends’ chances to move on.

Just a single day after a massive patch had gone live, LH played their last game of the group stage, against Mighty Storm. Despite already having their first seed locked down, the concluding showdown would serve as a gauge for the clubs’ talent on the new patch, as well as a chance to experiment with new strategies.

The opening round on Nepal saw Mighty Storm draw first blood, using a Pharah-centric composition. Unfortunately for the underdogs, Lunatic-Hai responded with a duo of Soldier 76 and McCree in the following rounds, which consistently kept Pharah out of the skies.

The second and third rounds saw increasingly dominant performances from the crowd favorites, who delivered shutouts on both maps using compositions ranging from experimental to nonsensical.

Thanks to dominant showings in all three of their group stage games, Lunatic-Hai found themselves at the top of many fans and analysts power rankings. Whether they were predicted to take the entire tournament or not, Je Hong and co. had made quite the case for themselves, moving into playoffs.

Disastrously Derailed: Taking on KongDoo Uncia

After paving their way through a nearly flawless group stage run, Lunatic-Hai’s journey came to an unceremonious end, at the hands of  KongDoo Uncia.

With a few weeks of experimenting, the recent patch’s metagame had practically been solved. Since the end of APEX’s group stage, teams had mostly strayed from their early Pharah-centric strategies, and had settled for a static lineup of Reinhardt, D.VA, Roadhog, Soldier 76, Ana, and Lucio. Unfortunately for Esca and Taejun, it just so happened that their counterparts, Kim “DNCE” Se Yong and Kim “birdring” Ji Hyuk, were nearly unstoppable as the duo of Soldier 76 and Roadhog.

The first map was a bloodbath out of the gate, as control of Lijiang Tower’s Control center constantly switched hands. When the dust finally settled, and both squads were nearing 100%, Lunatic-Hai looked set to take round 1, thanks to a fight-deciding triple kill from ryujehong’s signature Ana. The fan favorites’ success was only momentary, as DNCE’s Soldier 76 had sprinted out of the fight and onto the point. Using their DPS player as a distraction, Uncia rallied back towards the point, and grasped victory from the jaws of defeat.

Miro’s crew looked set to make a comeback on the Night Market, after earning nearly 50% from winning the initial skirmish. Despite their opponents’ advantage, KongDoo remained unfazed, and mounted another comeback off the back of birdring’s chained executions as Roadhog. In the end, the second point played out similarly to the first, and the rival squads traded both blows and control in the ensuing minutes. While both sides looked capable of winning at any moment, Birdring and co. managed to clutch out another round, thanks to their superior cohesion as a 3 tank lineup. With two overtime wins in the bag, KongDoo moved to a 1-0 lead.

kongdoo uncia
KongDoo Uncia were one of the breakout stars of APEX Season 1, having barely lost to the eventual champions             Photo Credit: Kenzi/Fomos

Uncia delivered a swift followup blow on Numbani, thanks to their superior teamwork. While both sides barely captured point A in overtime, KongDoo managed to hold the line through the rest of the map, thanks to smart ultimate use, and teamwork. On the other hand, Lunatic-Hai fell victim to several surprise attacks from Birdring’s Roadhog, which inevitably resulted in won fights for KongDoo. As a result, Je Hong and friends stalled out after taking two points in overtime, while their opponents finished the map with time to spare.

Even after suffering back to back defeats, Lunatic-Hai refused to roll over on Temple of Anubis. After using a dive composition to blitz through point A, the all-star squad earned nearly seven minutes for their assault onto B. Even in the face of his opponents’ massive time bank, Birdring’s Roadhog and DNCE’s Pharah served as  deadly gatekeepers, executing their enemies after every advance. Although it took them the full seven minutes, Lunatic-Hai eventually forced their way onto the point, by means of Esca’s Mei. Thanks to their DPS’ deadly barrages of icicles, the attackers finished the map with only 3 seconds to spare.

KongDoo’s responding attack was lackluster at first, but managed to grind out an opening, using pressure from Birdring’s Roadhog, and Kim “Fatal” Joo Seok’s D.Va. In spite of a promising start, Uncia’s siege of point B went about as well as their opponents’, as Esca’s Mei denied their attacks. When the dust cleared and they had finally seized point B, Birdring’s squad found themselves with 1:40 in the time bank, compared to their opponents’ 1:00.

With only a minute to work with, Lunatic-Hai launched a last ditch effort in overtime, using a single support lineup. Although they did manage to pull off a capture onto point A, the fan favorites were still thwarted by  KongDoo Uncia, who earned a miraculous full-push in their banked 1:40.

With another close loss on temple of Anubis, Lunatic-Hai became the losers of one of OverWatch’s closest blowouts, and found their path to the championship cut short.

Picking up the Pieces: A Look Towards the Future

Following their disappointing results in season 1, Lunatic-Hai brought on both a well-known Zarya player, and a rookie Genji player, in the hopes of filling in gaps in their hero pools.

With their new roster, the fan favorites would soon get a chance at redemption, and another shot at the title.

All credited photos were taken by Kenzi, who writes for FOMOS (a Korean esports site), and shares his pictures at https://www.flickr.com/photos/hiljus/. You can also follow him on twitter @kenzi131

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