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Photo: Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment

The first stage of Overwatch League Season 2 is over. Through the course of the five weeks, two teams have risen above all others as the alpha and omega. Both teams have gone undefeated in the first stage with a 7-0 scoreline in series. With the first stage playoffs coming up, the inevitable clash that everyone wants to see is the battle between New York Excelsior and the Vancouver Titans. That dynamic of that matchup is centralized between the polarizing stars of each team: Seonghyun “JJoNak” Bang and Sangbeom “Bumper” Park.

The Prodigy King of Overwatch

New York Excelsior crowned JJoNak the day they found him. Unlike many other players coming into the first season of Overwatch League, JJoNak had no prior history competing on LAN. He wasn’t one of the apex legends like Lunatic-Hai, LWBlue, or Envy. He didn’t have the pedigree of playing on KongDoo.Panthera or Runaway. He was a guy LW Blue picked up off ladder for his amazing ana play.

People believed he was going to be good, but he blew away all expectations as he became the crown jewel of NYXL and changed the way people played Overwatch. JJoNak’s raw mechanics allowed him to push Zenyatta to limits that no one else could have conceived. His accuracy and precision allowed him to volley out far more damage than any other support player in history. Even though NYXL was filled with star players Jongryeol “Saebyeolbe” Park, Dohyeon “Pine” Kim, or Haesong “Libero” Kim, it became obvious to them that JJoNak was unique.

Before the first season started, NYXL decided to make JJoNak their polarizing player. The team decided to make an altar to JJoNak. The entire team was created to protect and empower JJoNak’s unique characteristics as a player. They gave him all of the resources possible. The tanks and dps players created space and covered his flanks, while Yeonjun “ArK” Hong gave him the mercy damage boost.

This created a high pressure scenario for every team that faced NYXL in the neutral game. JJoNak was so consistently great that if teams engaged in a neutral game and battled for position, either one of two things happened: JJoNak would get a pick or he he’d get ult charged faster than his counterpart. In he got a pick, then NYXL won the ensuing team fight. If he got the ult charge up, NYXL could use that to win the team fight. The only answer was to try to dive and kill him faster than JJoNak could kill them. This went straight into JJoNak’s best strengths as a Zenyatta as his close aim accuracy was the best in the league and he destroyed anyone who tried. By the end of OWL Season 1, all of his rivals lay dead at the bottom of his feet, their hands too short to box with JJoNak.

Even though NYXL lost in the playoffs, they were still the best team during the round robin stage. JJoNak was the consensus best player in the league as no player regardless of role matched his level of consistency or impact. JJoNak’s style of play revolutionized Zenyatta play. The only other comparable in Overwatch League history was when Jin-hyuk “Miro” Gong changed the way people played Winston. However unlike Miro, JJoNak’s consistency and peak form continued to stay a level above the rest. While people could copy his long range angles and get close to his hitscan mechanics, they couldn’t match his consistency, close range skill, or overall peak ability to click heads. His play was so spectacular that it caused “JJoNak syndrome” in other teams. JJoNak syndrome was when other flex support players demanded that the rest of the team play around them in the same way that NYXL had played around JJoNak.

Going into season two, JJoNak’ reign has continued. The meta has shifted to GOATS, but JJoNak still reigns supreme. NYXL have continued to build their team identity around JJoNak’s untouchable skill and this has led to a 7-0 in the first stage of Overwatch League Season 2. While their strength of schedule has been easier than the others, their strength in-game continues to look impervious. By the end of stage one, NYXL are undefeated and JJoNak continues to reign as the king.

The Challenger from APEX

It requires a special sense of purpose to reject a spot in the Overwatch League. For all of 2018, that was the story of Runaway, a team filled with purpose. Before Overwatch League Season 1 began, the Runaway players had multiple offers to quit their team and join one of the existing OWL teams. The core of the team: Hyo-jong “Haksal” Kim, Hyeon-woo “JJANU” Choi, Bumper, and Chung-hee “Stitch” Lee all turned the offers down.

It was a shocking move at the time as there was little to no financial support for any of the Runaway players in Korea. For these players though, they were driven by something greater. They were bonded together in a way through their team culture, comradery, and the trials they had suffered under together.

From the end of 2016 to the end of 2017, the core trio of: Stitch, Haksal, Bumper (and later on JJANU) battled for Overwatch history in 2017. They had made it to three premier finals: APEX Season 2, APEX Season 4, and the APAC Premier 2017. In their first finals, they fell short of the finish line against peak Lunatic-Hai, losing 3-4. At APEX Season 4, they lost to the Royal Roaders, GC.Busan in another 3-4 loss. At APAC Premier 2017, they lost to GC.Busan again, this time 1-4.

Losing that many times can break a player. In the case of Runaway, it seemed to make their bonds all the stronger. So when OWL Season 1 started, the core of the team refused to part ways. It was either all of them or none of them. It turned out to be none of them as the Overwatch League teams moved on to different prospects and the Runaway squad continued their march in Contenders Korea.

For many, they were the biggest question mark of what could have been in Overwatch League Season 1. They were the one team in the world that could claim to be on par with many of the OWL teams as they had battled against many of the players that went on to become stars in the first season. There was a fervor around the squad that they should have been in OWL from the start and that fervour hit a fever pitch at Contenders Season 2 where Runaway finally won the title over KongDoo Panthera in the finals 4-3.

Soon after that victory, a new expansion team, the Vancouver Titans made Runaway’s dream become a reality. They picked up the team wholesale (along with their coach Yangwon “Yang1” Kwon) and finally made it into the Overwatch League.

Their debut thus far has been spectacular. By the end of the first stage, they’ve gone 7-0. They’ve tied with the New York Excelsior and have a better map differential. Their style of play is polarized around their superstar tank player Bumper. Bumper looks to be the next in line to be the best tank player in Overwatch. The first few years were characterized by Miro. In Overwatch League Season 1, Jae-hee “Gesture” Hong and Chan-hyung “Fissure” Baek took on the mantle as the best tanks in the world. By the end of stage one, Bumper is on the verge of taking the title as the best tank player in the world.

In many of their games, Runaway have made Bumper their polarizing star player. They either run GOATs or a variation where of Ana goats where they swap Zenyatta for Ana. In either iteration, the plan is simple. Enable Bumper to make as many plays as he wants. Among all of the main tanks in the Overwatch League, there is no one that has a bigger “GO” button than Bumper. Bumper is a player who consistently gets the resources, whether that’s the Brigitte armor, the Zarya bubble, the Lucio speed boost, or the Ana ult. Outside of the Ana ult, that’s largely par for the course for most teams. What makes Bumper unique is his ability to break open opposing teams with his tank play.

He consistently creates puts pressure on the enemy team and when he finds a gap, he instantly goes for the play (whether that’s with a charge or an ult). He understands exactly how to break teams and charges forward knowing that he is creating the space for his team to follow up and finish whatever he starts. His insanely confident individual plays has put him at the forefront of all tanks in the league as one of the most exciting players to watch. He has made Vancouver Titans an unstoppable force in the league and they are now poised to run straight into the immovable object.

Unstoppable Force and Immovable Object

The potential dynamic between NYXL and Vancouver Titans looks to be the most intriguing in all of Overwatch. NYXL play towards their backline while the Titans play towards their front. The best example of this is both team’s game against the San Francisco Shock on Volskaya point A. When the NYXL played against San Francisco Shock, San Francisco focused on keeping control of the left high ground to deny JJoNak sight lines to snipe down their team. In order for NYXL to break them, they had to first play from the left side and draw the Shock players from the high ground before rotating over and taking it for themselves. Once they established high ground positioning, JJoNak went to work destroying the Shock.

In contrast to that was the Shock’s games against the Vancouver Titans. In that game, Shock were fine ceding that part of the map and instead controlling the hut area with D.Va and the Zarya on the wings. In this way, there was no gap for Bumper to exploit and break them apart. In order for Titans to beat the Shock, they had to approach from the right side of the hut when Jay “sinatraa” Won was playing the high ground. Bumper pushed them off the point and right before sinatraa could rejoin the death ball, Hyeon-Woo “JJANU” Coi used his D.Va ult to positionally force him back. This was the gap that Bumper needed to jump in and try to break them apart. In this particular play, Bumper didn’t do anything special, but this offense typifies the Titans approach. They use their front line to pressure the enemy team and then break them apart.

So when NYXL and Titans face off, it does feel like a duel between JJoNak and Bumper. NYXL have polarized their identity around JJoNak’s Zenyatta. Vancouver Titans have polarized their identity around Bumper’s tank play. Their play styles even fit the places that both teams have historically resided in. NYXL and JJoNak were the kings of Ovewatch League Season 1. They sat upon the throne and rained down thunderbolts from the skies as the immovable object. In contrast to that Bumper and Runaway were the challengers, an unstoppable force that rammed into their obstacles. They pressed forward into the thick of them and broke through all their challenges. They forced their way into a Korean Contenders title after numerous failures, they succeeded in getting hired as a collective team rather than disparate parts, and now they have run over the competition in OWL Season 2 as one of the best teams in the league.

Now the OWL Season 2 Stage 1 battle ground is set. NYXL and Titans are the two best teams in the league. The unstoppable force will meet the immovable object. NYXL will play the Vancouver Titans. JJoNak will face off against Bumper. The king will meet the challenger.

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