It’s not that Carpe can’t bark, but his bite needs work

20:00, 28 May 2020

They say that when you get washed out by a riptide, it is best to stay calm and let the waves carry you away from the shore. Swimming against the current just leads to exhaustion, something Lee "Carpe" Jae-hyeok has got to be familiar with. Chasing the idea of mastery comes easy to some, and perhaps that’s what talent is, but Carpe isn’t at the point where he is fighting to keep his head above water. He still is, at the end of the day, one of the best players, he just holds an empty trophy case.

It stretches all the way back to Overwatch Contenders 2017 Season 1: North America where Carpe and FaZe Clan were convincingly beaten by the odds on favourites to win the event, Team EnVyUs, 0-4. All season long Carpe and his team were good, but great was reserved for someone else. They were nowhere near Team EnVyUs. Silver would have to do as Carpe, and Overwatch as an esport, walked into its next chapter.

2018 would see Carpe join the Philadelphia Fusion for the inaugural Overwatch League season, a team that originally was questioned from the start. What people forget is that the Carpe and the Fusion were absent from the preseason festivities due to player logistics issues. Entering the league with such a shaky narrative, massively multi-cultural team, and a main tank out for 30 games, the Fusion did well enough considering their circumstances. 

The Fusion finished Stage 1 with a 6-4 record. However, Stage 2 would be where Carpe and glory would have a chance encounter. As the 3rd seed in the Stage 2 playoffs, the Philadelphia Fusion toppled the defending stage champions, the London Spitfire, in a close 5 game set. This would pit the Philadelphia Fusion against the New York Excelsior in the grand final. 

The 3rd seed versus 1st seed and NYXL had the much better track record. That won't be a close game, right? 

Wrong.

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Out of the gates, Carpe and the Fusion came out with blistering aggression and not only won the first map but the second as well, also thanks to Carpe. Figuratively speaking, they had NYXL by the throat. Carpe was one map away from becoming a stage champion, something not many people can claim these days. But somehow their grip loosened, their arms failed them, and NYXL pulled off a miraculous reverse sweep winning the final three maps in a row.

Fusion returned to the middle of the pack during the remaining two stages, but thanks to their efforts they narrowly edged out the Houston Outlaws to secure the 6th and final playoff seed. There they would take the Boston Uprising close, dropping their second best-of-5 set convincingly, but Carpe and Fusion clutched out the final and put the Uprising away. Their semifinal opponent would be a familiar face in the New York Excelsior, a team that was slated to beat Carpe again. Unfortunately for them, he and the Fusion had other plans. Carpe and the Fusion dispatched the NYXL with a clean 2-0 in Bo5 matches.

With their ticket to the grand final in hand, the Fusion watched as an unlikely team made a horrifying run through the opposite end of the bracket. While they won Stage 1, past that point the London Spitfire were on a decline, but somehow were having a legendary show of form and were set to be the Fusion’s dance partner in the grand final. In fairly anticlimatic way Carpe and the Fusion only managed to win a single map out of the seven maps that were played.  

Carpe came so painfully close to the Overwatch League title he undoubtedly could picture what a relief it would be to win. To rush the stage and hoist the trophy above his head, to put down the weight of expectation and finally catch his breath. To be the one immortalized, rather than forgotten as a member of the Bridesmaids Club.

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The only thing Carpe has technically won is the 2018 Overwatch World Cup but at the cost of sounding frank, it is a hollow award. It means something, sure, competing for the pride of your country is a great and noble idea, but it’s not a major title. It doesn’t hold that kind of weight. Teams are thrown together for the Overwatch World Cup, not crafted and built with the goal of winning a season of the Overwatch League.

However, 2020 was set to be different. The Fusion recruited some of the best talent money could buy and were making short work of most of their opponents. With the announcement of the May Melee, a tournament set to be held at the end of May that would pit the best teams, in their respective regions against one another, things should have been no different. Philly should have been fantastic. They were rightly pegged as early favourites to perform extremely well and some pundits predicted that they should win the event as a whole. 

However, the May Melee tournament did not go as planned for Carpe and Fusion.

With their bye to the quarterfinals, the Fusion paired themselves off with the Los Angeles Gladiators and beat them convincingly, 3-1. Carpe and this dream team of talented players seemed to have a clear shot to the final as their next opponents were set to be the Florida Mayhem. 

What looked like a simple match to call, became a turning point for a franchise and that franchise was not based out of the City of Brotherly Love. The Philadelphia Fusion lost, in convincing fashion, to the Florida Mayhem, 1-3.

Once again, Carpe sat outside and looked in.

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Wielding a career built with quicksand, it seems like the closer Carpe gets to winning the “big one,” the deeper he sinks and the further away it seems. 

One of his defining attributes is his refusal to lose. Within him, he holds an identifiable mass of willpower, a deep, plunging well burbling "winnable". Carpe often visits this place to pull from the inside, that extra little bit of motivation and confidence to allow him to perform these impossible feats of strength that he is known for. It is what has gotten him this far. It is what has made him the first Overwatch League player to reach 4000 total final blows. It is what has carried him to become a contender for the title of the greatest player in the world. And it is certainly what keeps him moving forward, even as he walks against the wind.

To get so close and have it ripped away has got to take its toll on a person.

How deep does that well go, Carpe? How much longer until it runs dry? When does that nagging voice that speaks of insecurities and jealousy become too much to bear? Can you weather the storm and reach the peak that has alluded you for so, so long?

It’s not that Carpe can’t bark, but his bite needs work.

Awards alone don’t make you the best, especially when it comes down to the individual, but Carpe is past due for a major title. But until that time comes, Carpe stands alone, toothless, as the greatest Overwatch League player to never win a major title.
 

Images via Blizzard Entertainment

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