A seasoned rookie is on the hunt for trophies. He is not alone
Jun-ki "Yaki" Kim is one of Overwatch League season 3’s most lethal rookies but among those who should be considered for the prestigious trophy, he’s the only one with APEX roots. The manner of his arrival marks the end of an era. Without many more players left from the APEX era which could impact the Overwatch League to the degree that Yaki has in his first season. Yaki is the last APEX hunter.
A fateful moment in time
There he was, at a crossroads moment in time that would make the Overwatch esports history books, clutching the metaphorical pen in his hand with white knuckles. He had just turned 16 and yet it was his second season in OGN’s legendary APEX tournament series. In the group stage, his team, MVP Space, had gotten a luckless draw and were put in the group of death with APEX S3 winners Lunatic Hai, later finalists RunAway and Meta Athena. Few gave them much of a chance against APEX royalty. We only had a faint idea what he could do.
MVP Space entered their first group stage match against the defending champions Lunatic Hai, who had just won their second back-to-back APEX final little over a month before, as a massive underdog. In the previous season the team failed to get past CONBOX Spirit around players like Twilight, Architect and Gamsu and LW Blue, the team which would later become NYXL, so expectations for this team were measured against it. In hindsight, MVP had solid starters, four of which made it to OWL in Ado,Yaki, Closer and KuKi, but had yet to hit their stride. So when MVP Space took the stage against Lunatic Hai, it didn’t seem to be a match one had to necessarily tune in for.
Over six maps (with a draw on Temple of Anubis), Yaki hunted the kings of the jungle until they could escape no longer. As the final score flashed and the tigers bled, there was no doubt which player had pulled the trigger.
Despite a performance for the ages, the result would later only force a 2-1 match score tie in the group, with MVP Space drawing the short end of the stick with a slightly worse map score than Lunatic Hai and losing the direct comparison against RunAway which they lost to in their last game of group A. Their run was over, but the warning shot had been fired. The championship had gotten away from him this time.
No one should hunt alone
A bond formed between Yaki and KuKi, and they would cross paths on several occasions, incidentally suffering through the darkest stages of their respective careers when separated.
“In MVP, Kuki had really strong leadership both in and outside of the game, and while he played Main Tank in the game, he was a completely sturdy and dependable tank player as well.”, Yaki recalled about his time with KuKi as his main tank. In great historical irony, KuKi joined forces with the core of the team they had wounded, becoming the backup tank for the Seoul Dynasty.
Fumbling around with a stint at the Valiant, KuKi would eventually retire to begin his coaching career. Once again joining his past opposition, he joined the organisation that had barred them from getting out of this group stage despite their best efforts, RunAway. Yaki himself didn’t immediately pair up with KuKi, but rather was put in an incubator by the NYXL, joining XL2 Academy for half a year but never finding the success he craved, also failing to be promoted to the main team.
As both components of Yaki and KuKi, now enriched with experience, combined on RunAway, they reunited with a bang, winning Contenders Korea in their first season together and going deep in the gauntlet to a respectable 3rd place.
Having shared this past playing career, one might expect that the separation between teammate and boss could’ve caused issues. Not so for Yaki and KuKi, as the star DPS explains. “Now he’s my Head Coach in Florida, but KuKi is super good at differentiating between work and play,” elaborating that KuKi will adapt his presence depending on the situation. “When we’re getting ready for matches, he’s our Head Coach, but when we’re on break, he’s an easily approachable hyung,” using the Korean word for an older friend or brother that has seniority.
Yaki and KuKi had finally won a title together, no less with an entirely new team that had been formed after the departure of the old RunAway to the Vancouver Titans. Yaki speaks fondly of the memory of this period of his career, sharing that “it felt great, but I definitely learnt that no one wins by chance or luck. You have to work super hard to get there. Now that I learnt that lesson after that victory.”
Arriving at the Mayhem
Finally a champion, Yaki garnered enough attention in the latest pre-season to receive offers from multiple Overwatch League teams. When asked why he decided to join the Florida Mayhem, he answered bluntly. “They offered me a lot of money, but also - Florida Mayhem were scraping the bottom of the rankings with a full Korean roster, right? So I also thought it would be a cool challenge if after Coach Kuki, Namjin-hyung [Gangnamjin], and I joined, we could turn this team around and bring it up to the top.”
With the arrival of those three, Mayhem transformed from one of the worst teams in Overwatch League history into a powerhouse, reaching the finals of the May Melee tournament in the process. Transformation also had to happen for Yaki himself, as he revealed: “Upon joining the Mayhem, I’ve also reached the age of adulthood in Korea [19 years]. Before this, I was immature, and I think this led to people having perceptions of me being lazy, or having poor habits. But now that I’m an adult, I hope I can convince people to change their perceptions of me. I’m starting again from the very basics.”
Some acclimatising had to be done on Yaki’s part and additional challenges came at the hand of the global pandemic. Embracing the possibility to travel the world for esports, he shared that “things got messed up because of COVID as well, but the Overwatch League let me go to lots of different cities and we were scheduled to visit different countries as well, so that was great.”
Another factor, which he had to adapt to, that Yaki highlighted, was the strenuous nature of the Overwatch League schedule, explaining that “in the League, you have to play matches every week, which gets super tiring. In APEX we had a lot more breaks - you’d work super hard for 3~4 months to play for the season, then you’d get a 1~2 month break afterwards. I wish the League had a few more breaks in the schedule,” he stated, finding himself in good company of many professionals within the league.
The elephant in the zoom
With a season score of 10-5, the Mayhem are sitting in the playoff rankings with a cushion of two victories to the Paris Eternal and Los Angeles Valiant in 7th place. Having gone deep in the May Melee tournament, it begs the question to which heights this roster spear-headed by Yaki is capable of.
At the young age of 19, Yaki has achieved a tremendous amount and through his experience and his past victories, seems to be calibrated for the big one. ”I’ll be trying my best to carry this feeling and keep trying my best until we get to the Grand Finals.”
As the well of supreme talent that APEX provided to the Overwatch world dries up, it is Yaki who stands tall above those who were once destined for greatness. Who are you? Yaki, the last APEX hunter.
Images via Blizzard Entertainment
Translation courtesy of swingchip