South Korea, meet Overwatch, the next big thing in esports. Overwatch, meet South Korea, the best competitive gaming nation on the planet. After a weekend in Anaheim together, it seems the two have come to know each other well.
The South Korean Overwatch World Cup team swept the competition to win the exhibition tournament, making itself known to the Western audience at BlizzCon this past weekend. The staunch South Korean defense prevented any country throughout the group and bracket stages from taking a map from the team, and the six-man squad eventually roasted Russia in one of the most lopsided finals imaginable. It was a long list of zeroes for the underdog Russians who dropped four straight games to South Korea in the best-of-seven climax.
Following the team's resounding win, ESPN caught up with the team's star tank and overall tournament MVP, Gong "Miro" Jin-hyuk, to get his thoughts on BlizzCon and the future of Overwatch as an esport.
"I'm speechless on how incredibly amazing it is [to win and be MVP]," said Miro. "The fact that there are so many players and I got it as a tank, I think it's super amazing."
Miro wowed live and home audiences with his frightening Winston play throughout the tournament. Regarded as the best Winston and tank player in the world, Miro stayed stuck on the opposition from the group stages to the final match against Russia, always allowing his offensive talents to get the room necessary to rack up the kills to secure objective points. His perfect timing of Primal Rage allowed him access to the key members of the opponent, and it let Miro disrupt any sort of cohesion the enemy might have had.
Although it seemed like South Korea's tear through the bracket may have been based on a higher skill level overall relative to the rest of the world, Miro has a slightly different take on it.
"Skill-wise, I think [Europe, South Korea, and North America] are pretty much the same," he said. "Except, NA and EU don't use Winston as much as Koreans do, so aside from [myself], there are a lot of Korean tanks who use Winston a lot more often. I think that might be the difference."
Currently, Overwatch is still in its infancy as a competitive title, with the exhibition tournament being one of the first tournaments to attain significant viewership numbers. While South Korea's Ongamenet has begun its APEX tournament and other leagues have popped up across the globe, there is still no set hierarchy between teams, players, or even regions. Everyone is still trying to figure one another out, with a majority of club tournaments coming down to small mistakes to decide outcomes instead of one or two teams ruling the field.
With South Korea's long history in esports, we asked which players Miro grew up respecting before he got his chance at making a name for himself in the competitive scene.
"For [StarCraft:] Brood War, it was Lee 'Flash' Young-ho I looked up to, and for League of Legends, it's Lee 'Faker' Sang-hyeok and Jang 'MaRin' Gyeong-hwan."
As Miro returns home to South Korea, his club team Lunatic-Hai will continue to contend for the APEX championship amongst fifteen of the other best teams in the world, including four non-South Korean squads such as NRG Esports and Rogue. L-H already has one win from its opening group stage, and another victory against each CONBOX T6 or Mighty Storm would put them almost certainly in the quarterfinals for a chance at the overall prize of $90,000 for the ultimate winner. Miro will be joined on Lunatic-Hai by World Cup teammates Ryu "ryujehong" Je Hong and Kim "EscA" In-jae in their quest to prove themselves the world's strongest club.
"There is a lot of backing from Blizzard, and if more people come out and have all these super plays, I definitely see the potential of [Overwatch] to get bigger [as an esport]. Including [my own], I wish more super [highlight] plays will come from others to [grow the game]."