Roots of Overwatch: Birdring's phoenix down

Roots of Overwatch: Birdring's phoenix down
Images via Blizzard Entertainment and Winston's Lab

Written by 

Joseph "Volamel" Franco


20th Jan 2023 20:00

Our roots are what ground us. Our roots are our start and the road to our end. Ahead of the 2023 Overwatch League season, we're diving into the roots of Overwatch, examining some of its narratives, and how they're manifesting now.


Once a star novas out, burning through all its fuel in a fiery spectacle, it's impossible to jump-start its heart. Kim "birdring" Ji-hyeok has got a pair of jumper cables and is ready to prove physics wrong. A legend of the Overwatch scene is staring at a phoenix-style rebirth from retirement amongst one of the most experienced rosters ever assembled. Has one of the devil's favourite demons returned or is this a futile effort in esports alchemy?



If you look past the tumbleweeds and dated visuals, Overwatch in 2016 and 2017 was an incredibly formative era. It was the wild west where fledgling narratives and legends began their mythological ascent. And standing at the forefront of South Korea's pantheon was birdring. 

Modern fans remember birdring as this underappreciated hitscan threat, but way back when he was one of the holy trinity of Tracer aces in the world. However, he would separate himself from his peers with his surprising flexibility and become a sort of proto-hyper flex player.

From the start of 2017 and OGN's second season of their Overwatch APEX tournament, birdring would begin to cement his name amongst fans. When it came to world-class Tracer play, birdring stood next to fellow countryman Park "Saebyeolbe" Jong-ryeol and French superstar Terence "SoOn" Tarlier.

The latter had a few other heroes to fall back on and some other attributes that would carry them far, but birdring, to his credit, was something different.


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And to do this you might think he would be on a top team, something akin to the likes of a Los Angeles Gladiators or Houston Outlaws of the time, right? 

Little late to the button there, Timothy. The correct answer was "no, of course not. Everyone knows birdring came from the B-team to the KongDoo organisation, Kongdoo Uncia." Better luck next time. 

Birdring began his run in team jail for some time echoing a tired story we've all become accustomed to. To be fair to history and Kongdoo Uncia, they actually were the better team in the Kongdoo family during APEX season one but that quickly changed. 

Right up until he was moved to Kongdoo Panthera in APEX season three, birdring could have been another bright talent just locked away in the gutters living a life of the chase. 

Chasing improvement, chasing a title, and perhaps chasing the chance to earn the right to be on a better team. 

The latter of which happened after the most dramatic finish to a trilogy Overwatch will likely ever see. 

Towards the end of APEX season four, western esports juggernauts, Cloud9 would step in to acquire KongDoo Panthera's core lineup. This included birdring and his partner in crime Kim "Rascal" Dong-jun.

They also would sign the entirety of the season four winners, GC Busan.

Oh, and they also would begin off-loading their EU team, aptly named, Cloud9 EU.


The 2018 London Spitfire, now that was a team.

We mostly remember the Overwatch League's inaugural champions as a powerhouse of epic proportions. Two monstrous teams alchemically fused together into one, crazed Overwatch chimaera. Yet we forget their midseason slump and how difficult it was to predict their playoff run. We all knew birdring and co. had what it took, but which team would we get on the day or the days leading up to the final? 

And we definitely forgot how abysmal they were during season two. 

What about when birdring joined the Los Angeles Gladiators in 2020? Does it surprise you as much as it did us to see some of his statistics? This isn't world-class like his days prior to the Overwatch League but these are solid performances that slip through the cracks. 

We use the term "underappreciated" carefully because, throughout his career, birdring has been underappreciated. Sure, he's been a fan favourite because it's a common name people can rally around and he's quite good. However, he's never been just a hitscan. He's never been just a Tracer. Birdring, for nearly all of his career, has been one of the most "complete players" in his role barring those who actually carry the rare "hyper-flex" designation. 

And that's what made his retirement so surprising.



Here he is, paired with a generational talent in Kevin "kevster" Persson, on a team that's the closest he's been to adding another star on his chest, still able to compete, and he steps away. 

The Los Angeles Gladiators ended the season 11-5, ranking 4th overall in the regular season. 

They were on the cusp of being in title contention.  

But that was then and this was now. He stepped away, tried content creation, tried APEX Legends, but now he's back.

A true legend of the game has brought his talents home to one of the most surprising steads in all of Overwatch, but a fitting one nonetheless. 

What we remember are the bright and sunny moments. The days are the beach where all our favourite players did was click heads and make jaw-dropping plays. It'd be like only remembering when the sun is above head at noon. It still had to rise in the morning and tuck itself into bed at night.


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We don't take into consideration the cyclical nature of things and birdring's story is now echoing some of those past notes. Retirement typically means goodbye, a gap year in competition usually isn't an indicator of confidence, and the Boston Uprising of all places has struggled to find results. 

And yet he wouldn't be birdring if he didn't prove trends wrong. 

He could have settled on being a great Tracer.

He could have been complacent after winning with London.

He could have tapped out after a strong few years with the Gladiators. 

And yet, here he is. Back where it all began.

The proverbial boss at the top of Mt. Overwatch has made their move and now birdring is ready to pop a phoenix down and step back into the fray. With his wings outstretched, he sheds his eggshell alongside one of the most experienced rosters in Overwatch history to bring home an esports title to New England. 

Resurrection is well within birdring's wheelhouse and this is just another feather from his wing. 

2023 is prepared to play battleground for this return to the top. 

And if history has anything to say about it, this should be a capstone to remember.


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