With all the talent in the world, how did KongDoo manage to never win big?
KongDoo Panthera may be the greatest team to never win a major Overwatch title. As many of their alumni grace the Overwatch League stage today, somehow the legacy South Korean team never managed to capture a big win and it isn't was never a question of effort. The KongDoo organisation consolidated most of its star players into Panthera but for one reason or another never peaked high enough or at the right times to capture gold. Throughout multiple gambles in OGN's Overwatch APEX to Overwatch Contenders South Korea, KongDoo Panthera somehow always found themselves just short of victory, time after painful time.
To start, KongDoo Panthera's approach going into OGN's Overwatch APEX Season 1 was straight forward at best. It was clear the team was built around two-star players Koo "EVERMORE" Kyo-min and Kim "Rascal" Dong-jun. The former was the first player to hit 5000 SR on the ranked ladder and was an ace Roadhog specialist. The latter was one of the original hyper-flexible DPS players and, whether it was projectile heroes or hitscan, Rascal would fill in wherever the team needed him to. Around them sat roleplayers like then DPS player An "Wakawaka" Jee-ho, main tank Seong-won "Butcher" Yoon, and featured the support line of Lee "Bishop" Beom-joon, and Choi "r2der" Hyun-jin.
As fondly as we remember of these names, KongDoo Panthera didn’t start off the line with massive wins. They weren’t even the best team KongDoo had that season. That award was readily given to their sister team, KongDoo Uncia, who would later make a stab that the playoffs that season, we’ll revisit this later. Compare that to Panthera’s failed attempt to make it out of the group stage, and that should paint a vivid picture.
Debuting against European hopefuls, REUNITED, KongDoo Panthera’s frontline charged, quite literally, ahead of their team. This aggressive style was quickly abused and left KongDoo Panthera shallow on the scoreboards in Group D. It seemed as if Panthera fell apart if EVERMORE’s signature pick couldn’t find value as the team would dump resources into trying to facilitate it as best they could. This frontline aggressive again would rear its ugly head against LuxuryWatch Blue.
KongDoo was good enough to take a map off most teams, as they did in their 1-3 loss to LuxuryWatch Blue, but it was clear they were a step below. KongDoo Panthera piloted a very straightforward, team fight centric composition, which often saw Rascal taking a back seat on the Mei. This put the ball in EVERMORE’s cart to not only find picks with his Roadhog, but he had to be the consistent damage threat. The composition worked well enough, scoring them repeated single map wins, but the problem was consistency.
The 2016 Overwatch World Cup put the tournament on hold which gave KongDoo some much-needed practice time, something they then utilised in their domination of an early RunAway roster. Their first win, unfortunately, was their final game of the season. Two losses meant no KongDoo Panthera in playoffs and no shot at a title.
While the team started near the bottom of the barrel in their inaugural season, KongDoo Panthera built on the potential shown in APEX Season 2. Butcher would be replaced for talented main tank Baek "Fissure" Chan-hyung, and the support line would see massive changes with the additions of Yang "Luffy" Seong-hyeon and Kang "Bling" Bo-hyun. These roster changes paid off in strides as not only did KongDoo Panthera make it to round two of group play, but they did so in dominating fashion, going undefeated throughout Group D.
As the metagame shifted more towards the early signs of Dive, KongDoo was left without a strong Tracer player, something that was nearly mandatory if you wanted to be in striking distance of the title. This was expertly showcased throughout their quarterfinal run.
With that said, EVERMORE finally came into his own against the Control kings, LuxuryWatch Blue, in their first meeting. Manning the team's lone defence against the oppositions Pharah and Mercy combo, EVERMORE took his Roadhog to new heights and hard carried KongDoo across the line in their 3-2 reverse sweep victory to start the quarterfinal group stage. They then would be swatted back to earth against Ha "Sayaplayer" Jung-woo's rookie team, Meta Athena, in a swift 0-3 loss. This loss would position LuxuryWatch Blue in a rematch against KongDoo Panthera for the final spot in the semifinals.
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In a strange role reversal, KongDoo Panthera piloted your traditional Dive composition as best they could while LuxuryWatch Blue took a page out of KongDoo's book showcasing a slower, more brawl oriented composition which featured Tracer ace, Park "Saebyeolbe" Jong-ryeol, on the Roadhog. However, as the series dragged on, the barb that was the absence of a strong Tracer player plagued KongDoo Panthera. Maps like Temple of Anubis lent some respite as they could double-back into EVERMORE's Roadhog, but on more open maps, Saebyeolbe became more and more of a problem on the Tracer. After clutching a win over them just weeks prior, KongDoo Panthera slid out of the quarterfinals with a 1-3 loss to LuxuryWatch Blue.
At the end of the day, Season 2 was a swing and miss. However, it saw KongDoo evolve from a frankly disappointing sister team to becoming a strong team with playoff potential, that said, if they were going to make a run at the title, they needed another consistent threat. Rascal could no longer be the only one doing the heavy lifting, EVERMORE still was spotty, and Wakawaka was okay but lacked punch.
Enter Season 3 and a new look KongDoo Panthera, that even to this day, should turn some heads. EVERMORE would depart from the team as well as Bling, but to replace them, KongDoo Panthera added flex tank Kang "Void" Jun-woo and Wakawaka moved to support to fill the gap there. However, this left one DPS slot wide open.
Remember how Panthera started as the worse of the two KongDoo siblings? Well, that wasn't necessarily the case anymore, and it was time to make a play for the playoffs. KongDoo Uncia, Panthera's sister team, had some talent on their lineup that was being consolidated over to Panthera, namely Tracer ace Kim "birdring" Ji-hyeok.
This was a match made in heaven, KongDoo Panthera had been missing a consistent DPS threat, and a strong Tracer player and birdring filled both holes perfectly. This was the year that Panthera was set to splash out and take a shot at the title.
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However, there was one small problem; they needed to advance out of that season's "group of death", a title lovingly given to a heavily stacked side of the group stage. KongDoo Panthera sat next to French superteam Rogue, a plucky Mighty AOD roster, and the defending champions, Lunatic-Hai.
Things didn't start particularly well, but a 2-3 loss to the defending champions wasn't anything to be ashamed about, but it would foreshadow things to come. Next was the French super team and with that came the battle of Tracer gods. While KongDoo Panthera had birdring, one of the best Tracer players in his own right, many people tapped French Tracer specialist Terence "SoOn" Tarlier as the best in the world. KongDoo proved to be the more "full" team in their 3-1 victory over the Frenchmen as they were able to flex off of the traditional Dive composition and pepper the Europeans with Rascal having a strong performance on Pharah on Control and splashing in some Widowmaker on Hanamura.
Their final opponents would be the plucky underdog team Mighty AOD, who were filled with talented players. Like lambs to the slaughter, Mighty AOD were sure to lose under the overwhelming might that players like birdring and Fissure and Rascal would emmit.
Actually, that's a lie. Panthera lost.
Somehow the veteran, stacked lineup of KongDoo Panthera lost to a team that wasn’t even in APEX last season. This 2-3 loss to Mighty AOD still is one of the most head-turning upsets in Overwatch history, but those few map wins secured their advance into the second phase of group play.
Here KongDoo would finally wake up and showcase how dominant they could be. Fissure came alive on the Winston, their support line was bulletproof and birdring, and Rascal were not only becoming a fan favourite DPS duo, but they were also arguably the best DPS duo in the world. With quick wins over rival team LuxuryWatch Blue, who upset them last season, and defending champions, Lunatic-Hai, who bested them in the season opener, KongDoo found themselves in the playoffs.
For the first time, KongDoo Panthera had a chance at the title, and after besting the favourites in Lunatic-Hai, you might have argued that they were the best team.
After KongDoo neatly dispatched their semifinal opponents, APEX Season 1 champions, Team EnVyUs, who still were lacking a strong projectile threat, they were in the grand finals. This was their moment, and this was their time to finally capture that title. It was all apart of the script, the first season was the lowest of lows, and since that point, they’ve made massive strides in coordination and roster building. APEX Season 3 was supposed to be it.
Their finals opponents would be none other than Lunatic-Hai. The champions had come down to defend their title in one of the most memorable best-of-sevens in Overwatch history. In not one but two best-of-one Control tie-breakers, KongDoo Panthera found themselves up in maps wins by just winning Control maps. However, in the final moments and on the final map, KongDoo drew a blank on Numbani and couldn't crack Lunatic-Hai's pocket Torbjörn on Defense which gave the defending champions 1:48 seconds to capture a single tick on Numbani's first point.
It was simply a formality at that point.
Lunatic-Hai would defend their title and become the only team to do so as well as the only team to win two APEX titles.
KongDoo Panthera went home disappointed, once again.
After licking their wounds clean, KongDoo Panthera continued to iterate on their all-star roster, adding DPS player Lee "Curious" Yeong-min from wNv.KR to fill out their bench. The team also parted ways with Luffy and added flex support Choi "Bdosin" Seung-tae who added much more of a punch than his contemporary. KongDoo Panthera in Season 4 was sure to continue on their path of growth and capture the final APEX title, right?
This is the story of the most unlucky season.
KongDoo Panthera cruised through the first phase of group play with ease, toppling over teams like NC Foxes, KongDoo Uncia, and Flash Lux. Undefeated, 3-0, Panthera looked as strong as ever, even showcasing Curious who didn't hold a candle to the DPS he replaced, but looked serviceable and allowed their star players to take some much-needed rest.
The second phase of group play would see KongDoo Panthera's roster be acquired by western organisation Cloud9. While they changed in name, their performance was just as dominant. Cloud9 KongDoo dominated Group A, besting teams like Nc Foxes, LuxuryWatch Red, and CONBOX. This was all to be expected, anything less would leave you worried. Birdring, Rascal, Fissure, Bdosin, the team as a whole was built for the Dive metagame. Doomfist just added to Rascal's ever-growing resume of heroes he could play at a high level and the team now had two strong hitscan DPS to pick from as map picks demanded it.
However, worry set it. As Cloud9 KongDoo climbed the bracket, a commotion was heard in their neighbouring group, and as the team rounded the bend, approaching semi-finals, something was wrong.
Lunatic-Hai was missing. They sat lifeless at the feet of some rookie team from Busan.
This is the story of the most unlucky season.
GC Busan was the rookie team that was set to walk the royal road. They had the perfect players, peaking at the perfect time. They had their own demonic duo who were hell-bent on killing legends of the game.GC Busan was meant to be champions. This meant another loss, another weight added to the conscious of the KongDoo core. In a convincing 0-3 loss, Cloud9 KongDoo would bow out of the final OGN Overwatch APEX tournament.
Funnily enough, both teams would be acquired by Cloud9 to form their Overwatch League franchise, the London Spitfire, for the upcoming 2018 Overwatch League season.
This left KongDoo Panthera back on their own with little to no roster to speak of.
With the last breathes of APEX being vacuum-sealed in a time capsule buried in the shadow of the Overwatch League, Overwatch Contenders took its place, and with that, a new KongDoo Panthera formed. Void and Wakawaka were still around, and throughout the seasons of Contenders, they found new stars. However, it would take KongDoo Panthera some time to reform that spark, a spark that never felt the same after the death of APEX.
Luffy returned to the active lineup and was joined by players like Jang "Decay" Gui-un, Yang "DDing" Jin-hyeok, and Gye "rOar" Chang-hoon. Alongside them were a smattering of bench players and those we needed a little more development before getting their time in the sun. However, this core would net KongDoo a return to form and their next shot at a title.
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Overwatch Contenders 2018: Season 1 was a mess. KongDoo Panthera barely made playoffs, which oddly enough, looking back, made a lot of sense. This was a team that was completely rebuilt. There were a few names left over, sure, but the only thing that truly remained was our memories of the team and the logo. KongDoo would quickly exit playoffs with a 2-3 loss to RunAway. The moral of the story here really was as simple as meeting someone like Kim "Haksal" Hyojong in your rebuild year isn't conducive to successful playoff runs. A strong showing, undoubtedly, but just another disappointing run chalked up for KongDoo Panthera.
If only we could say that's where the buck stopped and Season 2 was where the team made the dream run. Wishes are best kept to stars because they nearly pulled it off. The core of rOar, DDing, Decay, Luffy, and added support Son "CoMa" Kyungwoo, nearly captured KongDoo's first title. They dominated through the group stage, going undefeated, clearly setting themselves up for an amazing playoffs run. Taking the Halt and Hook combo to new heights, being able to pilot more traditional Dive compositions, KongDoo showed they could do it all. This trend continued into the playoffs where the 3:3 compositions began to take hold.
KongDoo, while shaky on the traditional GOATS composition, found comfort in the form of their own creative spin on the composition, taking DDing and Coma and moving them to a Pharah and Mercy combo. Being able to spam tons of damage onto of the relatively short-ranged GOATS compositions threw teams for a loop. This was showcased exceptionally well in the finals against RunAway.
This was the finale of KongDoo Panthera.
In one of the best series in Overwatch history, it was a battle of firsts, a battle of two legacy South Korean teams searching for their first win. RunAway were the perennial bridesmaids, somehow always managing to snag second place. On the other hand, you had KongDoo Panthera, a team that just a season prior was rebuilding and in their own right looking for their first franchise win. Unfortunately, someone was going home empty-handed and that someone was KongDoo Panthera.
While KongDoo looked solid on their Pharah composition, they didn’t quite match well on the traditional GOATS composition, and RunAway had an edge even looking at more open maps like Watchpoint: Gibraltar as they looked for comfortable on more Dive centric compositions. Going all seven maps, KongDoo tragically lost the grand final, 3-4 and took another silver medal.
Year by year KongDoo Panthera improved its roster, and they did everything right. However, something was always missing.
During OGN’s Overwatch APEX Season 1, they featured a loose mashup of raw talent with little direction. APEX Season 2 lacked a strong Tracer specialist. APEX Season 3 saw some struggles at support as well as adaptability when it counted. APEX Season 4 was an unhappy marriage of being the in the right place at the wrong time and the birth of a generational talent. Overwatch Contenders Season 1 saw KongDoo rebuild their team which obviously isn’t correlative with winning. Contenders Season 2 saw them narrowly miss glory, but their creativity got the better of them. Their lack of stable and consistent GOATS play only cost them more as their final series went the distance.
KongDoo Panthera never won a major Overwatch title, not for lack of trying, but because their deficiencies usually only showed their heads in the most critical moments. Some of which couldn’t be helped. Sadly, they aren’t around anymore, so there isn’t even some hope for one final push for a big win for the legendary team without a trophy. KongDoo Panthera, a home that brought up so many different star Overwatch players, will go down in history as the one that got away.
Images via Blizzard Entertainment and OGN