Striker’s tale shows us all that we can go further beyond.
Kwon "Striker" Nam-joo’s skill at Overwatch is undebatable—but it didn’t start that way. Not many players in the history of the Overwatch League can claim they’ve successfully had an undefeated stage, few can say they’ve had a golden stage, and even a smaller fraction can say they’ve been a massive part in, not one, but two world title victories. And to think, one of the best Overwatch League players currently debuted on a team the world has forgotten. Chasing greatness, Striker arrived on the world’s stage with little fanfare and fewer wins, yet now he sits at the core of a team the likes of which we won’t see again. From floundering along with the ROX Orcas to, quite literally, the top of the competitive Overwatch world with the San Francisco Shock, Striker’s journey is an inspiration to us all.
Striker’s debut was anything but stellar. He and the ROX Orcas battled through OGN’s Overwatch APEX Challengers Season 4 against some of the steepest amateur competition South Korea had to offer—and they were average even then. Their first group stage appearance saw them finish with a milquetoast fifth-place finish with 3-4 record out of eight teams. It was good enough to advance them forward in their quest for qualification, but it was far from a vote of confidence.
Echoing much of the same feeling, Striker and the ROX Orcas second and final group stage ended with a fourth place finish with a 2-3 record. Good enough to push them onto the main stage, but on tired, noodle legs. APEX Season 4 the tournament to usher in the modern Overwatch era. Who knew it would rain on Striker’s graduation day.
He and his team were placed in a group alongside LuxuryWatch Red, GC Busan, and the Afreeca Freecs. They finished dead last in their group with an 0-3 match record, only topped by their 2-9 map record. That’s right; only two map wins across their time on the mainstage.
The shadow was cast. Striker and the ROX Orcas weren’t meant to be much of anything, expectations of them were low, but it didn’t sting any less for them. They put in the hours, they worked hard, they made the biggest stage in Overwatch at the time. They likely did everything they were supposed to and were served nothing but a flat letter of rejection.
“Sorry, better luck next time...”
“We regret to inform you...”
“Thank you for your interest, but not at this time...”
A mould cast through rainy days and heartbreak, we forget that Striker’s journey started so bleak. While the world cheered for teams like Lunatic-Hai or fell in love with RunAway, ROX Orcas were shrouded in the guise of obscurity. Quietly they came, and quietly they were sent home.
However, this would be Striker’s first and last setback.
It is in the darkest of moments where heroes are afforded an opportunity. One such chance came knocking for Striker during the 2018 offseason. It was the Boston Uprising, and they came with a letter with his name on it.
He was going to be their ace. He was going to be in the Overwatch League.
As strange as history can be, the Boston Uprising were a playoff calibre team in 2018. Sure they started their season right in the middle-of-the-pack, but they were competitive, something that Striker was not acquainted with. Under the tutelage of head coach Park "Crusty" Dae-hee, the Boston Uprising completed the first undefeated stage in Overwatch League history during Stage 3, largely thanks to Striker’s Tracer play. Two pieces of context should be noted when judging just how impressive this feat of strength was. Not only was this during the heyday of teams like the New York Excelsior and the London Spitfire, just meer days into the stage’s start a member of their starting roster was indefinitely suspended and subsequently removed following an investigation.
Their cards were on the table, the deck was stacked, and the dice weighted. Stage 3 should not have been a success—but it was.
It was at this moment, the Overwatch world saw what kind of player Striker was.
Unfortunately, their flame burned at both ends. Stage 4 saw the Uprising begin to a downturn. Before competition got underway, their head coach departed for greener pastures. Succumbing to their wounds, the Uprising finished eighth overall by the end of the stage and the playoffs were much the same.
The punch they had was gone. Their arms flailed, broken in defiance against the Philadelphia Fusion in the quarterfinals, and while they struck blows, it wasn’t nearly enough. Striker ended 2018 with a brief taste of greatness. This was the year the ball started rolling; he wasn’t about to stop for anyone or anything.
Perhaps chasing after his mentor, pursuing a stronger team to compete with, or an amalgamation of both, 2019 saw Striker take his talents to San Francisco for the Overwatch League’s second season. And if the inaugural season planted the seeds of success for Striker’s career, 2019 was the beginning of the reaping.
It would be here, in the cool breeze of the San Francisco Bay, where Crusty would begin to pass on his spark to his young protege.
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Stage 1 saw the Shock start with a sense of lethargy, finishing tied for sixth alongside the Seoul Dynasty, but by the time the stage playoffs rolled around, it was a two-horse race between the San Francisco Shock and the Vancouver Titans. Going the distance, battling through seven hard-fought games, Striker and the Shock fell at the hands of the Titans in one of the most memorable sets in Overwatch League’s history.
Stage 2 saw Striker and his team push past their limits and evolve to the likes no one has seen before and since. The Shock roared back in Stage 2 sweeping all comers in what Overwatch lore refers to as “the golden stage”. 7-0 in matches, 28-0-0 in maps. Completely spotless. Needless to say, they would be victorious over the Titans in the stage playoff race.
The following months continued to see Striker and the Shock perform admirably. Stage 3 gifted them a silver medal behind the Shanghai Dragons. They finished Stage 4 undefeated again. They were primed and waiting to give their all in the seasonal playoffs, their chance to make history, and Striker’s first true chance to cement his legacy.
Defeat is a sharp knife in the side, a pungent-smelling salt of the mind, and the Shock wasn’t familiar with this feeling at all. Sure they lost from time to time, but it would be against opponents that rivalled their strength and prowess. Rarely were they toppled by second rate villains. And yet that law began to crack as the Overwatch League walked into the 2019 playoffs.
San Francisco’s opening loss to the Atlanta Reign served one singular purpose; it woke them up. They weren’t immortals. It was time to, once again, shatter reality.
Sure they had stage titles, and pundits showered them with superlatives and praise, but if their run ended here, it would all be lip service. Striker had come this far, he was not about to let his rivals spoil the groundwork his teammates laid out for him. Their collective hard work, his burning hunger for victory.
This next sentence is provided without hyperbole and zero exaggerated claims; after losing to the Atlanta Reign, the San Francisco Shock did not lose a single map in their championship run.
20-0 all the way to the Overwatch League title. Even sweeter, their grand finals opponent were the Vancouver Titans.
Not even their rival could stop them.
Perhaps the new year would challenge them.
San Francisco Smash
Striker and San Francisco entered the 2020 season as the defending champions. With that came not only a new level of expectations but a new game to learn as well. Concerns began to arise with the new hero pool system and their seemingly slow start to adapting to the new norm. Week 8 saw the Shock drop two surprising games against both the Los Angeles Valiant and the Los Angeles Gladiators. Far from normal, people began to worry if the titleholders had it in them to battle back. Could anyone maintain consistency in a game that flipped on its head without reason on a weekly basis?
Championship teams emanate this sense of hope, that no matter what, they’ll always find a way. Even in the darkest times, when you think they are down and out, the Shock seems to always bounce back. Taking home two of the three monthly North American tournaments, Striker and San Francisco were back in fighting form right in time for the 2020 playoffs.
And yet, another obstacle came crashing into their lane.
The playoff metagame in 2020 was something that still seems like a fever dream. While there was some dissent, the prevailing composition called for no traditional main tank heroes. No Reinhardt, no Winston, not even Orisa. This, once again, asked the defending champions to rally when it mattered most, and they nearly didn’t make it this time.
Again, in the first round of the North American half of the playoffs, San Francisco battled a Washington Justice roster that looked nearly unstoppable. With some late-stage acquisitions and a surprisingly comfortable take on the new composition, they came just short of sending the Shock to the losers’ bracket. With their quota of tension and drama met, Striker and the Shock coasted past their remaining competitors and booked their tickets to defend their world title.
The 2020 Overwatch League Grand Finals weekend was set, and the Shock began with a surprising and ominous opponent, The Seoul Dynasty. Packing a world-class punch and looking in top form, the Dynasty took Striker and the Shock extremely close—but they ended up short, and the Shock took the nail bitter, 3-2. However, the Dynasty wouldn’t go quietly into the night. They fought tooth and nail all the way back from the losers’ bracket and met the Shock in the grand finale.
While the world was ready for a showstopping rematch, the Shock had other plans.
Adaptations were swift, and the Dynasty’s style came to a screeching halt. Their space was contained, their flanks disabled, and even in their victories, the Shock seemed to only improve. And with one final, triumphant blow, the San Francisco Shock toppled the Seoul Dynasty and captured the 2020 title. Not only were they now the only repeat champions in Overwatch League history, but at the end of their gruelling bout, Striker was awarded playoffs MVP.
From APEX to apex, he had done it all.
“Top of the food chain.”
“The cream of the crop.”
Striker was now the most valuable player in the playoffs.
He was the best Tracer in the world.
Heartwarming as much as it was motivating, Striker’s steady climb up the rungs of the competitive Overwatch ladder speaks to the underdog in all of us. Do they doubt you, overlook you, or try to minimise you? Striker faced those same shadows, those same voices that prattle in the dark corners of our inner monologue—and look at him now.
He has honed himself, his fire, and now he wields it like an artist does a pen.
From ROX to riches, bottom of group play to a championship buffet, Striker has gone plus ultra.
Images via Blizzard Entertainment