The Sun Was Still Up

LW Blue. Once upon a time, we were the best team in the world, back when we won IEM Gyeonggi. It was one of the happiest moments in my career. Now that team is known as the NYXL and they still are the best team in the world… but I’m not there.

Last August, I was released from my team at 4 AM in the morning without any prior notice. I was shocked beyond belief. It had been less than a month since I had signed my new contract and provided size details for a new uniform and it had only been a week since we had moved into our new team house.

Yes, I had been going through a big slump, but owner-manager Ji “Jidset” Young-Hoon had explicitly advised me to stay with the team and work on my issues here. He told me that heading elsewhere would be a bad idea and I believed him; I trusted him. I thought he was looking out for me but I was wrong.

I couldn’t stay in the team house anymore. I packed my stuff until sunrise and moved out in the morning. Before I knew it, I was back in my parents’ house at Gwangju, three hours away from Seoul and even further away from my dreams. I looked out my window. The sun was still up. What now?

It was a crippling blow to my career. Because Jidset had kicked me out after APEX Season 4’s registration deadline had passed, I was completely locked out of the scene’s most important tournament. So that also completely locked me out of joining another team; no team was going to pick up a player they wouldn’t be able to field for the next few months. A number of other APEX teams told me that, had I become a free agent before the deadline, they would have signed me right away. If only.

APEX Season 4 was to be the last chance for Korean players to publicly prove themselves worthy of an Overwatch League contract and I wouldn’t even get to put my name up. It was the worst situation imaginable.

I was left in a really bad place emotionally. For the whole past year, I had played without a salary and often paid out of my own pocket to get to event venues, living in a team house where we had to unfold corrugated boxes and tape it to the windows because there wasn’t enough money for proper curtains. It had only been endurable because I really enjoyed playing with my teammates and I believed that better things were just around the corner. Again, I was wrong.

Maybe I had made all the wrong choices, I wondered. Maybe I shouldn’t have left League of Legends for Overwatch; everything had been perfectly professional back when I played support for Samsung Galaxy. That felt like a lifetime ago already. Should I switch games again? Better things might be waiting for me in PUBG. Or maybe not. I didn’t know. Nothing made sense.

At that moment, I just felt completely burnt out. I did receive some Overwatch coaching offers and tryout offers later on, as well as a guaranteed spot on a pro PUBG team. But I ultimately decided that it would be better for me to take a few months away from the scene and think about what I really wanted out of professional gaming.

My father loved watching StarCraft on TV, and I loved watching it with him. It’s one of my earliest memories. I was only around four or five back then, but I knew enough about how Brood War worked because Dad had taught me how to play. We had two Pentium 4 desktops and we often played together.

When StarCraft Proleague launched in 2003, it instantly became something both of us enjoyed together (Dad was a huge Protoss fan, so we always rooted for players like Kang “Nal_rA” Min and Song “Stork” Byung-Gu). I fell in love with the sheer spectacle of it all: the bursting crowds, the deafening roars, the blinding lights – such exhilaration! Just looking at the screen made me shiver with excitement. It was then that I first realized I wanted to become a pro gamer. I wanted to be on stage. I wanted to be the subject of that adulation.

For a long while, it was only a daydream. My parents wanted me to focus on my studies and I was an obedient child; so until around 8th grade, I was a pretty good student, around top 20 in my school. But as my fascination with competitive gaming started to deepen, I was becoming a bit more headstrong too.

Soon I was sneaking off to PC bangs whenever I could. I was often caught and punished, but I still kept going. At that age, I was into a game called Lost Saga, one of the World Cyber Games’ official esports (back when WCG was a thing). I remember winning my regional championship and going home with a new monitor. It wasn’t a big tournament, it wasn’t a big prize, but I really enjoyed the thrill of competition.

In high school, I became more serious about competitive gaming and switched to Special Force 2, a much bigger esport than Lost Saga. I joined clans and started competing in semi-pro tournaments, hoping to join the SF2 Proleague – the very tournament that had first inspired me a decade ago.

Just when I was getting noticed by bigger teams and on the cusp of breaking through, however, the game’s professional scene collapsed and every sponsor pulled out. I was distraught, but my love for esports was still there, so I decided to switch again, this time to League of Legends.

By this time my parents had gotten furious about how much time I was spending on games, especially since I was in my senior year. There were a lot of heated arguments but my heart was still firmly set on esports. I took on various part-time jobs after school to pay for my PC bang bills and peripherals, and I continued to hone my skills.

Eventually, over a long heart-to-heart, I managed to convince Dad (who then convinced Mom) to let me enter Chunnam Techno University’s esports program and from then on things went smoothly. I hit Challenger, made a name for myself in the amateur scene, joined Winners, finished second in Challengers Korea, and was finally picked up by Samsung Galaxy.

I still remember how blissful I was to have joined the LCK, and how starstruck I was during my first few weeks in the league, realizing that many of my idols had just become my colleagues. It wasn’t a happy season in terms of results – our whole team had a really rough time that split and I wasn’t that satisfied with my play. But each time I entered the booth and sat down in my chair and looked out at the crowd, ready to see us play, waiting to cheer us on, I would feel a familiar little shiver.

I’ve been watching the Overwatch League a lot recently – partly to learn, partly because it’s where I want to be playing in the future. When I watch NYXL play, I can’t help but feel conflicted. I really am very happy that my friends are doing well, but you know, I’m human: I do feel envious and wistful too.

But I don’t want to dwell on such could-haves, and I want to be honest with myself; I can’t say that they would be playing this well if I had stayed. In the end, experiences are just what you make of it, right? I’ve decided to take the whole incident as a huge wake-up call, an opportunity for me to motivate myself anew and work harder.

I’m ready to start all over again. I’m looking for a team. I’m not going to act like I deserve anything based on my past reputation; I don’t know where exactly I stand relative to the field right now, as it has been a while since I last played in an official match. But I really believe I could become far better than I used to be. I’ve switched back to main support — my original and preferred position in Overwatch — and I’m confident that I would improve at a rapid pace once I get back into the professional groove. I’m willing to relocate, whether that be Seoul, Incheon, North America, or Europe. I just want to play.

I’ve returned to Overwatch. I’m working hard to recover my past form and I’m looking for a team. I’m looking for my next shot.

Luna’s Korean copy of this article is available here.

Image Credit: Helena Kristiansson for Blizzard Entertainment/Fomos KR

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