I remember the murmurings after the Overwatch World Cup, in which the team from South Korea dominated so completely that they didn’t drop a map throughout the entire tournament. Here was another Starcraft, another League of Legends; an esport where competitors in South Korea were so far beyond the rest of the world in skill that it was like they were playing a different game altogether.
When I expressed these thoughts to Frank Villareal, team owner of Rogue, he was quick to tell me that the results of this exhibition tournament didn’t really mean anything. “The teams with more organizational diversity were obviously going to do worse,” he said. “South Korea had three players from Lunatic Hai, two from Afreeca (including a coach).” He had a point; synergy is, after all, the most important feature for an Overwatch team to have. But watching South Korea so conclusively obliterate Russia in the finals was enough to make me doubt that rational conclusion.
Villareal proved to be right, though: at the OGN Overwatch Apex tournament, the first premier tournament on Korean shores, European team EnVyUs walked away with first place.
EnVyUs’s path to victory was anything but easy. Their very first match in the playoffs was against none other than Rogue, a European team with several championships under their belt. Rogue had beaten EnVyUs in a close match at the Atlantic Showdown earlier this year, but both teams had seen roster swaps since then, and their relative power standings weren’t clear going into the match. EnVyUs proved the stronger team, thanks in no small part to their recent addition of immensely charming Thai player Pongphop “Mickie” Rattanasangohod, who has continued his World Cup habit of mugging for the camera at every possible opportunity.
In the semifinals, EnVyUs went up against Kongdoo Uncia. Kongdoo was the favorite going into the match after sweeping the stupendously good Lunatic Hai in a 3-0 series during their own quarterfinals. It was close, going all the way to a fifth game, but EnVyUs once again beat the odds and came out on top.
Which brings us to the finals, which pitted the European team against Afreeca Freecs Blue. AF.Blue was a newer team, for whatever that’s worth in a game a little over six months old, but they’d already shown their mettle by beating Reunited and BK Stars in the quarter and semifinals. At long last, EnVyUs wasn’t the underdog, but neither were they the favorite. It wasn’t a David and Goliath story, it was just David and David, and nobody was sure who had the better sling.
What no one expected, I think, was the absolute thrashing that EnVyUs delivered. In a best of seven game, with chance after chance for the Korean team to come back, EnVyUs shut them out 4-0. After beating top teams from both Europe and Korea, EnVyUs proved that the race for international Overwatch dominance is far from over.