It's hard to pinpoint when the fog started clearing, but over the last few years, the Western myth of South Korean players being gaming "robots" with no personality has mostly been vanquished.
With many South Korean players joining foreign teams, receiving more English media attention and featuring in an ever-increasing amount of subtitled video content, it has become almost impossible for the informed fan to maintain that they all are emotionless cyborgs. This development, however, allowed us to identify the handful of actual humanoids, the players who somehow feel more robotic the more you learn about them -- which is, as it turned out, a fairly endearing personality in itself.
You know who they are; they're the ones that conduct postgame interviews after major wins as if they were discussing the weather at a bus stop. Sure, most of them manage to run "smile.exe" in front of trophies, but their detached, drifting tranquility gives them away.
Enter Lunatic-Hai's newest star DPS, Kim "Fleta" Byeong-seon. As he walks around backstage to pack up his gear, he looks calm, aloof, almost bored. Only three minutes ago, he had been basking in the thundering cheers of 1,500 fans celebrating the team's Seoul Cup victory on Sunday, but you wouldn't know it by looking at him. You would think he was heading to the library to study for midterms.
His demeanor could not be less reflective of his performance on this night. To say that it was stunning would be putting it mildly; never before in Korean Overwatch has a new recruit exerted such immediate dominance over a match, let alone over consecutive matches against two separate world-class teams. One coach from a rival team, in awe of Fleta's play, yelled out "Hot damn!" multiple times while watching the games.
Displaying impeccable aim and composure on a wide range of heroes, both hitscan and projectile, he led his team to a cool $60,000 in prize money on the day of his debut, leaving a burning impression on fans and experts alike.
For most players this would at least put a spring in their step. But Fleta is categorically unperturbed.
Prior to joining Lunatic-Hai, Fleta played for three seasons on Flash Lux, a flimsy amateur organization with no money, no team house and only the shadow of a fan base. While he was far from a superstar when he first joined the team, he improved steadily over the months, collecting more and more accolades with each televised match. Unfortunately, the rest of the squad -- regardless of, or perhaps due to, its many roster changes -- seemed to regress at the exact same speed. The team ended up becoming a symbol for consistent mediocrity, each season just barely avoiding relegation from OGN Overwatch APEX, the premier league for the game.
By the end of Season 4, the gap in skill between Fleta and the rest of his team had become so evident that people started calling him the greatest "wasted" talent in the region, the most held-back of all held-back players. The gulf was large enough for the community to turn his gaming tag into a sympathetic meme; to "pull a Fleta" came to mean losing a match, despite having played exceptionally well, due to being the only one on the team to have played anywhere near well.
Anyone who has played Overwatch competitively will know how frustrating such an environment can be. But Fleta never once complained -- not even privately, according to some former teammates. Even after leaving for Lunatic-Hai, he had nothing negative to say about Flash Lux, only commenting that "it was a learning experience," and not in the cynical sense.
Some have criticized him for being needlessly loyal to a team he owes nothing to. In light of his disposition, however, it seems more likely that he was never all that miffed to begin with. It's true that he could have tasted glory sooner had he been irked enough to seek out a better team, but perhaps it was exactly all those months of training with weights that allowed him to become the player he is today.
In any case, Fleta now understands the value of playing on a team set up for success. He was greatly impressed by Lunatic-Hai's familial teamwork and structured playbook, as well as the way the two senior members -- Kim "EscA" In-jae and Ryu "ryujehong" Je-hong -- helped him become a part of both. From Fleta's coordination with his team at the Seoul Cup, one would never suspect that it was only his fifth day playing with them. He attributes his speedy integration to the squad's overall experience; the veteran leadership, he said, made it easy for him to slot into his required role.
Lunatic-Hai, even when it was undoubtedly the best team in the world, always were hampered by strategic limitations due to the narrow hero pools of its DPS players. To be sure, they were fantastic specialists -- Lee "Whoru" Seung-joon's Genji and EscA's Sombra are second to none -- and their brilliance was key to Lunatic-Hai's back-to-back APEX titles. But the recent meta leans to teams with a "true" flex DPS who can play anything their team needs at a sufficiently high level, and it was clear that none of Lunatic-Hai's original members fit that bill.
Just a few weeks ago, when Lunatic-Hai dropped out of APEX in tatters, bruised and bleeding after suffering two crushing 3-0 losses to GC Busan, it looked as if the demise of its dynasty had already arrived. But the introduction of Fleta -- and to a lesser degree, hitscan wizard Byun "Munchkin" Sang-beom, who also made a sensational debut for Lunatic-Hai on Sunday -- changes everything. The team has never before operated with such flexibility and consistency coming out of its DPS players; one can only imagine what levels Lunatic-Hai will reach once it has more than a few days to jell.
Fleta agreed. He said he looks forward to the team's forthcoming improvement and believes the soon-to-be Overwatch League squad will win the inagural season.
"I want to thank all of my fans who have supported me until now despite my lack of achievements," he said politely, as if he were speaking to them directly. His expression is still very much serene. "I promise to repay you through results from now on."