Not convinced? Let’s allow history the stage and see if opinions are changed.
Overwatch has an evaluation problem. We are too quick to narrow vision, especially when it comes to the idea of potential and players near their debut. Like a pawn under the pressure of an en passant capture, Overwatch players can start their careers under non-ideal circumstances. The most promising piece on the chessboard moving too fast, landing in the wrong place at the wrong time doesn’t make it any less important—it’s all on how it is moved. In that same vein, just because a player starts on the wrong foot doesn’t make them yesterdays paper—it depends on the system they are in. Now that’s not to say they’re devoid of criticism, but the context of the system is important. Players can only be as good as the system allows. And while the kneejerk reaction is to cite some of today’s biggest stars, the hindsight of history shows us they easily could have been so much more if placed within the right environment.
There is an old proverb that goes, where there’s muck, there’s brass. That lesson is poignantly exemplified through one of competitive Overwatch’s most important time periods.
OGN’s Overwatch APEX Season 4 was a legendary moment in competitive Overwatch for a litany of reasons. The rookie success story orbiting GC Busan and their rise to dominance ferrying one of the most prolific duos in competitive Overwatch history to stardom. The first large scale Overwatch League movements from teams like Cloud9 and their acquisition of KongDoo Panthera as well as LuxuryWatch Blue’s mysterious absence from the event as a whole. However, there is a throughline towards the bottom of the group stages. Each team that failed to make it out of the first phase of group play carried within it a talent that not only still is active in the Overwatch, but ones that are considered among the best in the world. These kins of a different kind share a similar career path, share a similar position, and highlight that players are only as good as the systems they participate within.
At the bottom of Group A, we have Meta Athena. Sat underneath the likes of MVP Space, RunAway, and Lunatic-Hai, this is the rookie team that nearly stole the show during Season 2 but never seemed to land well within the dive metagame. However, Kim "Libero" Hae-seong is widely considered to be one of the most flexible players to touch the game. Homeless as it stands currently, Libero’s talent is undeniable. As a staple piece of the New York Excelsior during their push through the last three seasons of the Overwatch League, Libero is a world-class within the Overwatch League. That said, if we were to just look at his career results towards the tail end of the APEX era you wouldn’t even be disappointed, it is more likely that you would prematurely sentence him to oversight and look another team that was performing well at the time.
Group B housed the likes of KongDoo Uncia, Nc Foxes, and KongDoo Panthera, yet the janitors of the APEX era, Flash Lux, round out its tail end. Good enough to keep their spot, but nowhere near the level of competition with their peers, Flash Lux nearly never won. Frankly, it was newsworthy when they took maps off teams, let alone the heretical talk of them potentially winning a game. And their saving grace, the wunderkind that now dawns the crown of the 2020 Overwatch League MVP, Kim "Fleta" Byung-sun is on the heels of a world championship. Again, ignoring the context of his individual performance and only evaluating him on the results he garnered, what’s there to talk about? Could he be interesting on a better team? Sure, but so could people who actually win games. Can you see how quickly you fall down the slope of disregard? Now, if you mark Fleta as the outlier to this rule, that would be fair. He is one of the only players to quite literally forge a statistical metric through sheer willpower and grit. However, as we continue down the list, the stopping power does not relent.
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Easily one of the teams lost to the dusty backchannels of Overwatch history are the ROX Orcas. Funnily enough, world-class DPS ace, Kwon "Striker" Nam-joo, first made his presence known on this very team. Before taking the stage alongside the likes of the 2018 Boston Uprising and the defending Overwatch League champions, the San Francisco Shock, Striker flunked out of APEX Season 4 alongside the Orcas. If there was ever a story of hope to hold onto, it is the story of Striker. He makes us believe in transmutation from muck into brass, from trash into treasure, from the bottom of groups to world champion.
One might think that Group D wouldn’t line up with the rules as LuxuryWatch Blue ended up forfeiting their spot at the tournament. Well, Meta Bellum and Hwang "Marve1" Min-seo are the stand out pair that ranked towards the bottom of the barrel. A breakout main tank during 2019 and thread of consistency for the Seoul Dynasty during their run through 2020, Marve1 should be considered not only a versatile tank player but one that sits among some of the world’s best. Few people can claim to be as potent as he is at both your traditional main tank heroes as well as off tanks like Sigma and D.Va. If there was ever a team to write off, it would be the sister team to another poor performer.
Now to be fair, APEX Season 3 has the same circumstance take place. Out of all four of the bottom teams, every single one of them housed within it a future star. Think how silly you might feel for painting with a wide brush and considering those who played for KongDoo Uncia during APEX Season 3 as mediocre at best. Jang "Decay" Gui-un would like to have a word with you. Even after his debut in the Overwatch League, he didn’t receive the praise he deserved. Sure the team he was on didn’t live up to expectations, that doesn’t mean he’s a disappointment. Do you think they cut wrong or is it that we errored in our measurements? Even outside of the APEX era, 2020 saw a handful of names seemingly see their careers revitalised out of nowhere. This isn’t random chance.
It’s no coincidence that players like Benjamin "BenBest" Dieulafait and Nicolas "NiCOgdh" Moret excelled on the Paris Eternal in 2020. It wasn’t some anime evolution; it was them getting the proper help they needed from the system they were putting trust into. Sure, some of this could be explained away with the churn of patches and metagames coming and going, but that only explains small dips in performances. A tournament here and match there, that makes perfect sense. However, when you go from floundering in one season to winning monthly tournaments in the next, something big-picture sits as the catalyst. If you remove the nameplates and pair any of these players against some of their past performances, the differences would be night and day. Now, why do you think that is? The coaching, the team environment; the system has changed. The potential was always there; they just finally found their home on the chessboard.
These modern-day darlings started their careers at the lowest point, and we wouldn’t dare criticise them now. So why do we pass that same judgement to those without the right system around them?
It is difficult to climb a ladder when its rungs are held together with honey and flimsy twigs. Give the proper player a proper ladder and watch them climb just like all those who came before them. While assembling a sturdy ladder seems easy enough, Overwatch is still quite young. Yet, the problem is starting to solve itself as more coaches either get the chance to test their vision or veteran leaders refine what suits their style. If there was ever an esport to give the player the benefit of the doubt, it would be Overwatch. So, next time you begin to mull over how good any given player is, check your bias and remember; where there is muck there can also be brass, the bottom of group play can become world-class.
It just depends on the system.
Images via Blizzard Entertainment