INCHEON, South Korea -- On Nov. 20, 2017, fans gathered in throngs in and outside the Icheon Paradise City Hotel to celebrate and bid farewell to the faces of South Korean Overwatch, the roster of Lunatic-Hai. The tickets sold out in two minutes.
KSV Esports announced the signing of the Lunatic-Hai members (save DPS players Lee "LEETAEJUN" Tae-jun and Lee "WhoRU" Seung-jun) in August as the core of then-unnamed "Team Seoul" that would represent South Korea in Blizzard Entertainment's new Overwatch League. In October, the name and branding of the Seoul Dynasty were revealed.
And on that November night in front of 1,500 fans -- a fortunate and small fraction of the Lunatic-Hai fanbase -- the successful Lunatic-Hai lineup officially became Blizzard Entertainment's latest Overwatch League franchise: the Seoul Dynasty.
Gold chandeliers gleamed above the players in their new Dynasty attire. The team announced the acquisition of GC Busan coach Lee "Hocury" Ho-cheol. Large projector screens broadcasted the announcements and team goodbyes to every corner of the ballroom. It was a final chance for members of a fervent and dedicated Lunatic-Hai fanbase to meet the players face-to-face, a staple of the OnGameNet Overwatch APEX fan experience.
Dynasty. It takes a lot of confidence in a lineup to go for that name. It's a moniker is earned through repeated championship titles across multiple years. It definitively states that your team is the best and has been for quite some time. In the team's release video, KSV owner Kevin Chou said the name was a nod to Lunatic-Hai's multiple APEX championships in Seasons 2 and 3 and the fans supporting the team at the time. These same fans are now growing frustrated at the Dynasty's lack of consistency in the Overwatch League, continuous lineup shifts, and certain player pickups and releases.
Overwatch was a brand new esport, yet if any team could be called a dynasty in the loosest use of the word, it was pre-Overwatch-League-era Lunatic-Hai. The roster regularly dominated competition in a league that was then the pinnacle of play.
Yet dynasty is also a promise of consistent, championship-caliber performances and victories. Lunatic-Hai was eliminated in the second group stage of APEX Season 4 by a rising GC Busan squad that would eventually win the league title. But the Lunatic-Hai lineup of Kim "Zunba" Joon-hyuk, Gong "Miro" Jin-hyuk, Ryu "ryujehong" Je-hong, Yang "Tobi" Jin-mo and Moon "Gido" Gi-do was expected to perform well immediately in Overwatch League.
The additions of Flash Lux escapee Kim "Fleta" Byung-sun, former Lunatic-Hai player Byeon "Munchkin" Sang-beom and former Cloud9 flex player Koo "xepheR" Jae-mo only solidified Seoul as the No. 1 team in the world entering Overwatch League.
And, at first, it was.
In Stage 1, the Dynasty jumped out to a 5-0 match streak before narrowly losing to the New York Excelsior, Luxury Watch Blue's former roster, and London Spitfire, a combination of GC Busan's former lineup and Kongdoo Panthera. However, individual map losses began to creep up on the Dynasty, affecting its overall point total and place in the standings.
The Dynasty, against all preseason expectations, missed the Stage 1 playoffs. In Stage 2, the Dynasty had a similar hot start before faltering again. Point totals from map differential doomed the teams both times.
Now in Stage 3, the Dynasty has not had its traditional strong stage start. The team debuted support pickup, Heo "Gambler" Jin-woo alongside Tobi instead of ryujehong in its first match against the Los Angeles Valiant, leaving spectators and even the Valiant wondering if the Dynasty was overlooking its opponent.
The Dynasty lost 4-0.
"We know that our fans want us to be the last man standing, and we totally agree with them, but we have failed to meet their expectations so far," the Seoul Dynasty coaching staff said. "Nevertheless, we give you our word that we will put everything we have into the season to become the true victor."
A crucial voice on the Dynasty lineup and its captain, ryujehong, was back in the starting lineup for the team's second Week 1 match against the San Francisco Shock, a 4-0 victory. Yet his presence has hardly guaranteed a match win, and the Dynasty continued to look shaky in Week 2 with a close 3-2 win over the Dallas Fuel and a 3-2 loss to the Los Angeles Gladiators. Narrow victories are familiar to Lunatic-Hai's veteran players, including ryujehong. During Lunatic-Hai's struggles in the past, then-team leader Kim "EscA" In-jae welcomed community criticism, saying that he would rather receive it so his teammates could remain focused.
"EscA did really well at that as a leader, and I'm still working on trying to become that kind of leader, " ryujehong said. "I want to be more like that. We know that we haven't shown the very best of ourselves yet, so that's why we're working really hard to fix our problems and working on some stuff that is needed."
It isn't all on ryujehong. The team's lack of synergy has been visible in its play and makes sense given the shifting starting lineups. Fleta has often bailed his teammates out of these precarious situations and was sorely missed against the Gladiators when he had to leave due to illness this week. Gambler has the skill to improve the lineup but isn't coordinated with the team yet and his aggressive positioning often puts him at risk.
With the Fusion and the Boston Uprising both improving from stage to stage, and the recent rise of the Valiant thanks to strong roster additions like Indy "SPACE" Halpern, the Dynasty's once-stable position in the standings is now in jeopardy. Even with the Stage 3 playoff field expanded to four teams, Seoul is no sure thing to participate. The sky isn't falling for the Seoul Dynasty. Third in the overall standings at 16-8, it would take a catastrophic series of losses in both Stage 3 and Stage 4 to drop the Dynasty out of playoff contention. Yet, a middle-of-the-pack playoff appearance is certainly below the standards that the team, by their own admission, set for themselves.
The name Seoul Dynasty promises greatness. Thus far, greatness in the Overwatch League has been reserved for the NYXL and arguably the London Spitfire, with Seoul sitting on the sidelines in both stage playoffs.