The kings have been crowned: A look back at Lunatic-Hai's championship season
Amid the flashing lights, falling confetti, and heavy electronic music RunAway and Lunatic-Hai walked to the stage and took their positions. RunAway, in their trademark pink sweaters, made a show of flexing their arms on stage. Lunatic-Hai, in blue, stood impassive, hands behind their backs.
Coming into finals of OGN's APEX, Korea's premier Overwatch tournament, the storylines for each team couldn’t be further apart. RunAway came in as the ultimate underdogs. They had no team house, little infrastructure, their captain Yoon “Runner” Dae Hoon has a child to care for, and many of their players are still in school. If they had won it all, it would be the biggest tournament upset in Overwatch history.
Lunatic-Hai, meanwhile, has always been regarded as one of the top rosters in Korea and the world. But titles have eluded them, leading to the nickname “the uncrowned kings.” The grand finals were their shot at finally claiming the throne.
For Lunatic-Hai the grand finals would be a successful end to their up-and-down season. The fluctuating performance of their DPS player Kim “Esca” In-jae at times was a glaring weakness. But in season-defining moments, he stepped up, and pushed Lunatic-Hai from a great team who had always come up short to a championship team.
Survival of the fittest
Every group in APEX had just two playoffs seeds, but in group B there were three world-class teams dueling for each precious spot.
Lunatic-Hai had the misfortune of being slotted into what was quickly labeled as “group of death.” To survive until playoffs, they would need to defeat one of LW Blue, the reigning IEM Gyeonggi champions, or the recently revamped Misfits who looked terrifying on paper.
On the fourth episode of OverSight both Christopher “MonteCristo” Mykles and Tim “Dummy” Olson of NRG predicted LW Blue and Misfits to take the playoff spots, and their logic was sound.
Lunatic-Hai had been thrashed by LW Blue in the IEM finals, a team that looked in dominant form in the developing tank meta. Meanwhile, the new all-Swedish Misfits featured many proven veteran players. On the other hand. Lunatic-Hai was still burdened with the dead weight of Lee “Leetaejun” Tae-jun.
But after a bizarre scandal involving player relationships with fans, the roster of Lunatic-Hai was cut by two as Leetaejun and Geum “Dean” Dong-geun retired from professional play. Lunatic-Hai played with this trimmed roster for the entire tournament bar their series against Afreeca Red.
With their new-look roster Lunatic-Hai went on to 3-0 the group of death, dropping just a single map to LW Blue. It was during this period of domination that we truly got acquainted with Lunatic-Hai’s rookie Genji player Lee “Whoru” Seung Joon and the magic he is capable of conjuring.
Whoru’s play was so spectacular that it covered up one of the most obvious weaknesses of the roster, Esca. While Leetaejun was on Lunatic-Hai Esca was the best DPS player on the team. But now in the shadow of Whoru it became clear how little game impact he had, especially when compared to other secondary DPS players such as Lee “Stitch” Choong Hui of RunAway or Park “Saebyeolbe” Jong-ryeol of LW Blue.
But during the group stage this weakness was never able to be exploited. Off the performances of the incredible playmaking trio of Whoru, Gong “Miro” Jin-hyuk, and Ryu “Ryujehong” Je-hong Lunatic-Hai proved to be an explosive team. Backed up by the supportive players Yang “Tobi” Jin-mo and Kim “Zunba” Joon Hyuk Lunatic-Hai was also a consistent team.
When Lunatic-Hai entered the group of death we expected them to perish, instead they emerged looking stronger than ever.
A rather large bump in the road
In a complete reversal of our group stage expectations, Lunatic-Hai went into their quarterfinal group as the favorites to exit with the No. 1 seed. After all, they had dominated the most difficult group in the tournament while the other three teams in their quarterfinal bracket hadn’t proven themselves.
Team EnVyUs had struggled to adapt to the dive meta and RunAway’s roster was still in flux. The remaining team, Kongdoo Uncia, had only preyed on weaker teams in their group and struggled in their last match. This group looked ripe for Lunatic-Hai to sweep 2-0 and earn their berth into the semifinals with the No. 1 seed.
It started out promisingly enough as Lunatic-Hai took down the reigning APEX champions, EnVyUs. The European team tried to adapt from their group stage performances by putting Jonathan “HarryHook” Tejedor Rua on Zarya, but they were still too reliant on Timo “Taimou” Kettunen’s playmaking on Widowmaker.
On the other side of the bracket, RunAway found a convincing upset victory over Kongdoo Uncia, meaning that the winners match for the first seed would take place between Lunatic-Hai and RunAway.
In an interview with Inven Global, RunAway’s captain Yoon “Runner” Dae Hoon said he slept just 10 hours during the week they were preparing for Kongdoo Uncia and Lunatic-Hai. The insane dedication proved to be well worth it.
The series between Lunatic-Hai and RunAway was an epic slugfest. The teams traded maps back-and-forth, one at a time. Lunatic-Hai took the control and assault maps, but were unable to take a single victory on payload-focused maps. And in a crushing blitz attack on Numbani, RunAway completed their victory.
All of the roster experimentation from RunAway was over, and they had found their winning combination. This, along with the sudden emergence of Ryu “Kaiser” Sang Hoon as one of the best Reinhardt players in the world, allowed them to take down both of the group’s favorite teams.
The loss came as quite a shock for Lunatic-Hai. In the past two-and-a-half months they had dropped just a single map on LAN. The sting of defeat was almost completely foreign to them. Later, in the pre-finals hype videos, they revealed the loss to RunAway motivated them to train even harder. So perhaps they owe RunAway a debt for the defeat.
But we’re still left questioning how RunAway managed to pull off the upset. They were clearly the better payload, team as the long corridors and chokepoints on those maps lend themselves to Reinhardt play. And the Reinhardt matchup was clearly won by Kasier as he danced around Miro and picked up more kills than any player on Lunatic-Hai, bar Whoru.
And once again we must return to Esca, who was outperformed by his counterpart. While his teammate Whoru won the Genji matchup against Kim “Haksal” Hyo Jong, Esca was crushed by Stitch in the tracer duels.
This was a rare series where Miro played more Reinhardt than Winston, and that missing offensive pressure was noticed. Normally it would be made up by your DPS players, but Esca failed to stand up to the pressure of RunAway’s DPS duo. If Lunatic-Hai was going to take the title, something had to change.
They showed a return to form against Kongdoo Uncia with an easy looking 3-0 victory in order to clear their path to the semifinals. But in that moment Lunatic-Hai did not look like a championship winning team.
Two and a half weeks of practice later Lunatic-Hai was out to prove they had learned from their loss in the quarterfinals. And they began their series against Meta Athena swinging.
Meta Athena was having a miracle season in their own right. Like RunAway, they also had to qualify through the promotion tournament and now found themselves in the semifinals. Throughout the group stages, they showcased their star Zarya player, Choi “Hoon” Jae Hoon, and his uncanny ability to charge Graviton Surges to win teamfights seemingly on his own.
As the playoffs progressed their DPS player Kim “Libero” Hye Sung began to prove himself, however. Through a combination of versatility and skill he took some of the burden to carry away from Hoon, whose aggressive style of Zarya play was nerfed by the latest patch. Together, the two appeared to be leading Meta Athena to a royal road, coming from challenger and in one season becoming champions.
But Lunatic-Hai quickly threw that storyline into question in their semifinal match. Taking Nepal 2-0 and matching Meta Athena’s Eichenwalde attack with time to spare, Lunatic-Hai put themselves on match point looking to sweep the series.
If Meta Athena wanted to keep themselves alive they would have to defeat Lunatic-Hai on an assault map—a map type Lunatic-Hai hadn’t lost on LAN since their quarterfinal match against Kongdoo Uncia in the first season of APEX, over four months ago.
Not only did Meta Athena win Hanamura, they did so convincingly. They blitzed the map in just over three minutes, putting pressure on Lunatic-Hai to match the performance. Lunatic-Hai managed to mirror their capture of the first point, taking it in just one minute.
But Meta Athena then proceeded to put on an epic defense, holding off attack after attack from Lunatic-Hai for a full seven minutes. It was an incredible hold and turned the momentum of the series in their favor. They moved forward to the next map and won on Dorado to even the score and send the series to a game five.
You could see the reverse sweep beginning to take shape. Meta Athena was smiling and cheering in their booth while Lunatic-Hai had frowns scarring their faces amid quiet discussions. But for the first time this season, Esca was truly waking up.
Esca’s impact on Tracer was not only becoming noticeable, it was becoming a serious problem for Meta Athena. As if Whoru’s Genji and Miro’s Winston wasn’t enough pressure on your backline, you now also had to deal with Esca’s Tracer.
By the time the series reached game five on Hollywood, Esca was in full force. On defense Whoru and Esca formed a tag team to pick off lone members of Meta Athena as they retreated to stagger their spawns. This wasted time contributed to Lunatic-Hai preventing Meta Athena from completing the Westworld phase of the map.
In a crushing offensive Lunatic-Hai relentlessly dove upon Meta Athena and quickly broke them. They matched Meta’s push with nearly three minutes to spare. The decisive final map ended the semifinals in a 3-2 victory for Lunatic-Hai, sending them to the grandfinals for a rematch against RunAway.
While the quarterfinal matchup went in RunAway’s favor, Lunatic-Hai now seemed to have a full-power Esca on their side. And the matchup would prove to be much tighter than before.
Heart of a champion
After an incredible opening ceremony, it was finally time to determine who would best whom and earn the right to hoist the trophy.
Before the series began, Lunatic-Hai knew they were facing an uphill battle. Two of their best maps, Temple of Anubis and King’s Row, were not in the map pool. Even worse, replacing King’s Row was Eichenwalde, where RunAway defeated Lunatic-Hai in the quarterfinals.
That battle only got harder when Lunatic-Hai lost Oasis, the king of the hill map they were expected to win. Ryujehong played out of his mind, repeatedly hitting sleep darts on critical targets. But in the end, Kaiser’s Reinhardt on University and Kim “Kox” Min Soo’s Pharah on City Center both proved to be too strong and put RunAway ahead in the series.
Map two took place on Hollywood, and it began with a strong start for Lunatic-Hai. They came just meters short of completing the map during a strong offensive side. On their defensive side it began to fall apart, however. In a rare mistake from Whoru, he overextended while pursuing the fleeing RunAway and was picked off. The momentum swing allowed RunAway to storm through the map and take another victory.
In the final fight of Hollywood we had proof that Esca was not in adequate form. He dove upon Kox’s Ana in an attempt to match Stitch’s pressure on Lunatic-Hai’s backline. Esca did eventually manage to come up with the kill, but it took him so long to do so that he had lost four allies.
Now down 0-2 Lunatic-Hai looked outmatched as they approached a must win map, the first of two assault maps for the series. They chose Volskaya Industries over Hanamura, and Miro took it upon himself to remind us of the terror that is his Winston.
As anticipated, Lunatic-Hai’s dive compositions allowed them to have a strong offensive side where they captured both points with over three-and-a-half minutes remaining. And their proactive defensive style ate up enough time from RunAway to prevent them from completing the map.
Esca’s Tracer performance on face value was better on Volskaya, however he was operating in the massive space that Miro was opening for the DPS of Lunatic-Hai. Esca was in the fights he needed to be, but mechanical errors such as whiffed Pulse Bombs betrayed him. It was still unclear if the Esca we saw in the semifinals would return.
RunAway used their map pick to take the series to Route 66, another map they defeated Lunatic-Hai on during the quarterfinals. Both teams attempted forward triple DPS defensive holds, neither of which were particularly successful. Where the battle turned was in the final warehouse section of the map.
The narrow corridors of the warehouse heavily restrict Winston’s ability to dive and, as such, Miro was forced to try and match Kaiser’s Reinhardt play. Not surprisingly that did not go well for Lunatic-Hai and Kaiser hit multiple clutch Earthshatters to win the map for RunAway.
Now Lunatic-Hai was in the hot seat. They would have to win every single map for the rest of the series if they were to take the tournament. The prospect of doing so looked grim. Despite most of Lunatic-Hai trading even or winning the duels against their counterparts, the pressure from Stitch’s Tracer was crushing the backline.
But then Esca woke up, again.
For the fifth map of the series, the teams went to Hanamura and Esca reminded everyone just how good his Mei play is. On defense, he repeatedly split RunAway in half, leading to free picks for his team and disrupting the RunAway’s tempo. His walls and blizzards were critical to Lunatic-Hai’s defense and on offense his Tracer was once again a real threat. Combined with the dive of Whoru and Miro, Lunatic-Hai smashed Hanamura.
The final pure payload map of the night was Dorado and Lunatic-Hai took off like a rocket. They blitzed the first two sections of the map as Esca and Whoru chased down every target Ryujehong marked with Discord Orbs. The attack was so fast that the payload entered the ziggurat phase with over five minutes on the clock.
Despite a heroic defense from RunAway, Lunatic-Hai completed the map with time to spare. RunAway still had a chance to end the grand finals here but little did they know the storm Lunatic-Hai had waiting for them.
It started off with this beautifully set up Biotic grenade play to catch out the RunAway’s supports and it ended with RunAway barely pushing the payload into the courtyard. The dive pressure from Lunatic-Hai was so great they forced Kaiser off of Reinhardt and onto Winston. And the Winston versus Winston matchup is one that Miro was perfectly willing to play.
In the ensuing brawls, every member of Lunatic-Hai outperformed their counterpart. Esca, who had spent most of the evening being out-dueled by Stitch, was now taking every fight and winning comfortably.
It was at this point many of us realized that Lunatic-Hai was going to win the series. After they won Dorado for the first time that night they were jumping up from their chairs and hugging each other. And RunAway, who had been doing so all night was now somber; their signature flame seemed extinguished.
It would have been wrong to rule out RunAway just yet as the final map was Eichenwalde, a map that RunAway had defeated Lunatic-Hai on in their previous matchup. But Lunatic-Hai was in top gear now, and nothing was going to stop them.
Esca was playing like a top Tracer. Operating as his own unit ahead of the main squad of Lunatic-Hai, split spawning players and spotting enemy locations where Miro was then able to jump to. RunAway’s defenses crumbled and they clearly became desperate. Their usual strong point being their team cohesion was gone as they were fighting individual duels and losing.
Lunatic-Hai demolished RunAway and finished the map with over three-and-a-half minutes remaining. When RunAway came to attack, they were still unable to cope with Esca. At one point Esca was abusing his mobility so well he was forcing Stitch to hide from him on the wrong side of the map and contributing to the main fight.
Lunatic-Hai had a masterclass performance on defense, picking off supports, contesting the payload, and ultimately preventing RunAway from ever crossing the bridge.
Just like that, Lunatic-Hai completed the comeback. They proved they had the mental fortitude to soldier on. They eliminated any doubt they lacked the hearts of champions and they were finally champions. The kings had earned their crowns.
As they ran out of the booth to claim their trophy, Esca was the first to hoist it. It was a fitting ending.
All statistics taken from Winston's Lab.