The former NYXL DPS has returned to his home country.
Two days into the new decade and irony is already shaping the narratives for the new year. Former DPS player for the New York Excelsior, Hwang "Fl0w3R" Yeon-oh has been signed by not only one of the most storied South Korean teams in Overwatch but a team that once proved to be a thorn in his side. Fl0w3R has joined RunAway for the upcoming 2020 Overwatch Contenders season.
In an attempt to revitalize his career and chase the esports dream once more, Fl0w3R’s journey back to South Korea is another stamp in the passport of a veteran player who never realized his potential. But to understand Fl0w3R’s journey of rediscovering himself, we have to venture back to the carefree summer days, where he first fell in love with gaming.
Fl0w3r’s first rather unknown foray into gaming started with humble beginnings in FPS games like Team Fortress 2 and the Quake series. The earliest known record of Fl0w3r competing was in 2013 in Team Fortress 2 with a team called ‘Electro Boyz’ in the UGC League. He was also accompanied by familiar faces like Kim "pine" Do Hyeon and Song “janus” Jun Hwa.
He and his fellow Team Fortress 2 companions quickly made the transition to Overwatch late into 2016 and their talents were quickly scouted. Shortly after picking up the game, he and his longtime friend and teammate, pine, joined the South Korean team LuxuryWatch (LW) Red and debuted online in North America in the GosuGamers Overwatch Weekly tournament that September.
The team dominated the competition and won the event without dropping a single map. It was around this time where Fl0w3r dropped out of his freshman year of high school and pursued his esports dreams, fulltime.
Before the start of 2017, Fl0w3r joined LW Red’s sister team, LW Blue, at IEM Gyeonggi and won the event in shocking fashion, defeating the likes of KongDoo Panthera, Rogue, and Lunatic-Hai. This feeling of large scale victory would all but elude him for the remainder of his career.
The young prodigy is most commonly associated with LuxuryWatch (LW) Red and the team’s missed potential after failing to qualify for a number APEX seasons. However, he and LW Blue had a mixed bag of success starting with APEX Season 2.
In APEX Season 2 he and LW Blue managed to place 3rd above Meta Athena and Fl0w3r showcased a star-level performance playing a handful of characters ranging from Soldier: 76 to Genji. According to WinstonsLab.com, during APEX Season 2, Fl0w3r scored above average on a number of heroes but stood out as the best statistical performers on Pharah in the league at the time.
However, in APEX Season 3 Fl0w3r and LW Blue bottomed out of the second phase of group play and took home 5-6th place. This could have been correlated with a nagging wrist injury that saw Fl0w3r receive less stage time and severely impacted his statistics compared to the season prior.
The more general Overwatch audience would become aware of Fl0w3r’s talents at the 2017 Overwatch World Cup, where he along with team South Korea would light the world on fire with amazing Widowmaker, Pharah, and Junkrat performances.
LW Blue would forfeit APEX Season 4 in favor of having more time to transition to life in Los Angeles as they prepared to play in the long-awaited Overwatch League as the New York Excelsior. Fl0w3r, being ineligible to play at the time due to his age, would be placed on the team’s inactive roster.
What came next was anything but ideal.
Overwatch League Woes
Instead of having Fl0w3r atrophy, the New York Excelsior decided it would be in everyone’s best interest to have him play on their promising academy team, XL2 Academy. And to be fair the team wasn’t horrendous.
During Overwatch Contenders 2018 Season 1, Fl0w3r and XL2 got off to a rocky start, advancing as the third seed in their group and falling to Envision Esports in the quarterfinals. However, their luck changed for the better in Season 2 where the team managed to advance all the way to the grand final and placed 2nd behind the Philadelphia Fusion’s academy team, Fusion University.
While the team’s performance overall was solid, the community began to speculate whether or not we were sold a false bill of goods with Fl0w3r. His time in Contenders was not any special, but certainly, we’d be getting something different in 2019 when he became eligible for play, right?
Fl0w3r was hardly utilized all season. For what was supposed to be a blushing debut of a DPS prodigy, he made less than 10 appearances throughout the 2019 season, many of which were against opponents that were viewed as less than. It was obvious that whatever plans New York had for him when they signed him in 2017, never panned out.
With that said, the New York Excelsior playoff run was set to be a return to form. After they made light work of the London Spitfire and the Atlanta Reign, New York suffered a narrow loss at the hands of Vancouver Titans in the semifinals. With these performances, they had unequivocally put their “playoff jitters” narrative to bed and looked like contenders for the 2019 title. However, one team stood in their way.
A team no one thought would even touch the losers’ bracket; the San Francisco Shock.
The two teams would clash to answer the question of what team would meet Vancouver in the 2019 grand final.
And early on, New York took a beating.
Three maps down and New York looked all but defeated and to their defense, the Shock were coming off a dominant losers’ bracket run. In what appeared to be a desperate attempt to stem the tide, Fl0w3r unraveled his keyboard and walked out on stage to the shock of the live Burbank audience to start on Rialto. He sat down next to longtime teammate Park "Saebyeolbe" Jong-ryeol who greeted him with a warm smile.
He held his hand and gave Fl0w3r, what seemed to be a quick pep talk.
Shaken and unsure, Fl0w3r nodded, adjusted his chair, and prepared himself for the worst.
If he didn’t perform on this very map, at this exact moment, against a team that looked unbeatable, New York’s playoff hopes—and his hopes for staying on the team and, better yet, in the Overwatch League—were over.
Trembling, shaking, and visually emotional, Fl0w3r and the New York Excelsior lost Rialto, 2-3, and were out of the playoffs.
And roughly a month later, Fl0w3R became a free agent.
Shortly after the match, Saebyeolbe spoke to Inven Global about what exactly he said to Fl0w3r on stage. “It’s okay,” he said. “It’s because of my mistakes that we’re losing. We’re sorry that we put you in this situation. You can do well, so don’t shake, and we can do this.”
In that moment, whether he knew it or not, Saebyeolbe wasn’t apologizing to Fl0w3r for dropping the first three maps, he was apologizing to a friend whose career was unwillingly wagered against solving an impossible puzzle.
Many athletes from across a myriad of competitive fields talk about leaving a part of yourself on the field or on the court or on the stage after a powerful event. I wouldn’t doubt Fl0w3r felt the same way about New York’s heartbreaking loss in the playoffs.
Now, South Korea’s prodigal son returns home to a familiar team.
A New Chapter
With his time served in the trenches of OGN’s Overwatch APEX League, Fl0w3r and LW Blue were among some of the best teams, not only in South Korea, but in the world. They stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the likes of Lunatic-Hai, KongDoo Panthera, and—the team he now calls home—RunAway.
What’s more interesting is the way life paints with irony. LW Blue and RunAway rarely faced off against one another and Fl0w3r and RunAway almost never met, except for one choice occasion deep in the winter of 2016.
Shortly after RunAway’s debut during APEX Season 1, they carved themselves a small but passionate fan base with their quirky style, but that didn’t lend to positive results. However, the team bottomed out of their group and stared down the barrel of relegation.
Smash cut to the amateur division, APEX Challengers were Fl0w3r, under his former moniker of “nanohana” and with his former team, LW Red topped the charts. The pair looked to be shoe-ins to see their first APEX berth in the new year with APEX Season 2.
Unfortunately, Fl0w3r and LW Red ran headlong into a surging RunAway squad and lost their first match in group play. This loss rattled the team and they never seemed to recover, dropping their following match against MVP Space and narrowly defeating a despondent Afreeca Freecs Red, 3-2.
After Fl0w3r departed his former LuxuryWatch stablemates on the New York Excelsior, he was left with nowhere else to go. To see him swallow his pride and return home to join one of South Korea’s most beloved and storied teams could be just the shot in the arm his career needs.
RunAway has gone from perennial bridesmaids and has turned into kingmakers. Starry-eyed, Fl0w3r is looking for that same evolution. They have an eye for talent and historically have done very well for themselves. From the end of 2018 and for the entirety of 2019, RunAway managed to not drop below 4th place in any event they attended.
Fl0w3r’s pilgrimage back to South Korea to continue to pursue his dream, join a former opponent in RunAway, and right the wrongs of his past is an homage to the underdog in all of us.
He must overcome himself to washout the inconsistency that LW Red left stained on him.
He has to learn to walk his path alone now that his former teammates and friends have unfortunately abandoned him.
He has to fight the constant narrative that he’s over the hill and remove himself from the shadow cast over him from his time with New York.
Fl0w3r returns home now to the loving embrace of his friends and family and the place he’s only ever found real success. It’s this proverbial return to the womb where he can begin to rebuild what was promised to be a thriving career and begin soul searching.
Images via Blizzard Entertainment and IEM/Helena Kristiansson