As the roaring steam engine of the Overwatch League churns forward, Blizzard Entertainment’s newest esports venture has progressively unveiled more about the people behind the handles and adding names to faces. That personal connection has been incredibly important to the success of Overwatch esports and the Overwatch League. When we talk about personality, there is one new addition to the league that sticks out. Whether it's his overwhelming positivity or his amazing knack for reading the game, almost like a young MIT student counting cards at the blackjack table, Heo "Gambler" Jin-woo is an endless source of entertainment and talking points.
For such a bubbly personality and for such a strong leader, I wondered how he began with Overwatch? Was it the first game he played professionally? Many of his peers come from other games like StarCraft or other South Korean first person shooter games. “I played my first Overwatch game on May 3, 2016,” ss Gambler spoke about his first time with the game, I was immediately taken back by his impressive memory. Did he have this mentally bookmarked? Through my amazement, he continued, “I was a high-school senior and even skipped school to play the game because it was so fun.”
To really get at the heart of his personality, I wondered what friends of his, from his school days, might have thought of him. I wondered what kind of impact he thought he had on them. For such an outgoing and happy-go-lucky guy, I would imagine it would match who we know Gambler to be. “I had a fairly good relationship with my classmates. I guess they will remember me as someone who likes animation and is good at playing games.” There was something about that answer that felt genuine and sincere. Like he couldn’t help but be 100% himself at all times.
Something that we are always asked as children, but rarely reflect on is the question of what we would like to be when we grow up. What kind of dreams and aspirations we have when we are younger helps to define, even if marginally, who we are as people. What are our interests? Where do our passions lie? Gambler answered with his patented smile, “I dreamed of becoming a veterinarian or an astronomer when I was young, but I liked and played games a lot even before I got to know about Overwatch. I had a chance to play with Pine during the Open Beta and it was really fun to play with someone who excels, so I decided to become a progamer myself.”
I pressed him for more details on his beginnings in competitive Overwatch. “I can’t recall every detail because it was almost two years ago, but I didn’t have much trouble joining the first team because I was good at Mercy. On average I practiced six to seven hours a day, six days a week except for Sunday,” Gambler said. He then began to describe his training routine which involved equal parts practicing mechanical drills and refining his own mental fortitude. That practice regimen and his will to succeed pushed him forward into the player we know him as today.
And yet it was so frank with him, so matter-of-fact. It felt as Overwatch plays came to him like a clairvoyant sat at a roulette table and Gambler seemed to know exactly when to all-in on green.
From those beginnings he found his way to LuxuryWatch Blue, the team he would debut alongside during OGN’s APEX Overwatch League Season 1 during the autumn of 2016. Being the lesser of the two LuxuryWatch teams, it was shocking to hear that LuxuryWatch Blue had qualified over their sister team, LuxuryWatch Red, who housed the same player that helped him begin his career, Kim "Pine" Do-hyeon. Gambler then touched on the fact that he and Pine played during the Open Beta. From then on out, Gambler would reign on one of the best teams in South Korea and would participate in three out of four of the APEX seasons. Oddly enough the team’s best placing would come in the form of an Intel Extreme Masters title.
IEM Season XI Gyeonggi would be one of the earliest international competitions in the history of Overwatch and Gambler remembered it with starry eyes and fond memories. “It was my first victory as a professional and in an international tournament, so it meant a lot to me,” Gambler said. “I still remember the last set versus Lunatic-Hai at the Finals when the payload was only three meters away on Route 66 because that was the moment we secured a clear victory.”
“I want to be remembered as the legendary master of Mercy in the Overwatch League, generation after generation.”
— Heo "Gambler" Jin-woo
After his victory at IEM Gyeonggi, Gambler, as the leader we know him as, was born. He added yet another card to his already stacked deck of skills. From this triumphant win he was thrust into the spotlight, but this rush of public attention can be intense. Some people handle it well, but others seem to buckle when the pressure of the community weighs down on their shoulders. “I was just an average 20-year-old before.” Gambler said. “I hung out with my friends like an average kid. But now, as a progamer, I have teammates who should support each other through thick and thin, and there are a lot of fans who watch our play. That’s the biggest change.” He continued to explain that there were pros and cons to the public perception of things.
Gambler obviously tried to avoid any mistakes, and if he did he would actively work on them. He quickly explained his thoughts and around how he approached the stage, “I try to enjoy getting on the stage. I want to present what I’ve been working hard on to the fans and lead our team to the victory based on my performance.” It wasn’t just about the black and white of winning and losing. Gambler viewed it with a little more nuance to it. Rather than squeak by the skin of his teeth, he wanted it to be clear that he, and his team, were the victors. “If the game doesn’t go the way I planned,” Gambler continued, “I take a deep breath and try to quickly analyze the situation.”
We touched on his positivity, a trait that was married to his brand. If you knew Gambler, you knew his smile, cheerful attitude, and playful antics. How did he never seemed to break down even under mass amounts of criticism and pressure? “There’s no secret to me staying positive,” Gambler said. “A major motivating factor and something that keeps me positive is that the fans will continue to show interest and support me as long as I am capable of presenting flashy plays in the games.” The fans meant the world to him. With that said, professional gaming, like any performance-based job, can be incredibly stressful and taxing. Gambler continued to touch on his beginnings, “When I first started my career as a professional, I avoided all the critiques on my poor performance. However, I soon came to realize that even critiques are a valid form of fans interacting with me, so I took in and reflected on the feedback for my plays. Now, I want to become the best support in the Overwatch League and contribute to our team wins.”
During our deep dive into his history in Overwatch esports, we had to touch on some of his favorite moments. There were so many exciting LuxuryWatch games to talk about. RunAway against LuxuryWatch Blue in the APEX Season 2 Semi-Finals. LuxuryWatch against KongDoo Panthera during Season 2. And who could forget the IEM Gyeonggi Grand Finals? Gambler pondered for a moment, collecting his thoughts. “The group match versus Kongdoo Panthera in Season 1. I was overjoyed to earn the unexpected win over such a strong team back then.” To add more context to his answer, LuxuryWatch Blue played in Group D with REUNITED, RunAway, and KongDoo Panthera. With LuxuryWatch’s 3-1 victory over KongDoo, this started to give Gambler some wind under his sails. Again, his team was the lesser of the two LuxuryWatch teams, or at least that's what was perceived. I can only imagine what this victory did for him in terms of motivation to continue to improve. If they could beat KongDoo, who housed the first player on the ranked ladder to hit 5000 SR, then what was stopping them from winning the event?
Sadly, LuxuryWatch Blue never managed to clinch that coveted APEX title. Their highest placing came during season two at 3rd place. But after their run through APEX Season 3 Gambler had to take a step back from the spotlight to recover from a nagging vocal cord injury. Known as a masterful shot-caller and leader, Gambler led his former team, LuxuryWatch Blue, with his cheerful smile as well as his prophetic sense for the game he’s played at the top level for nearly a year and a half now. There was no chance this injury was going to keep him down for long.
This experience and fortitude are invaluable when it comes to crafting a leader at the caliber of Gambler. His leadership is so revered that famously, his former teammate Park "Saebyeolbe" Jong-yeol had this to say when asked about his former teammate’s leadership. “Gambler used to take that role. Gambler [would] make calculations in his brain and build the structure of that game. ‘Let’s use this ultimate, to block this move,’ and ‘When Gambler says ‘Do this’, then ‘Yes’ is the only acceptable answer.’”
In many interviews, many of the LuxuryWatch players had some friendly relationships with the members of Lunatic-Hai who now make up the bulk of the Seoul Dynasty roster. I wondered if Gambler was excited to team up with some of his rivals in the past. Humbled, he responded, “Past rivals? I’m flattered.” He giggled cheekily, “I don’t think about the past. We’re just one team, now, Seoul Dynasty.” He followed up with how he decided to sign with the team. His reasons were fairly simple; it was the only team representing Seoul and his home country. “I’ve been through a lot within such a short time.” With good there is bad. Everything has pros and cons and Gambler was comfortable touching on the subject in regards to his new team. “There were hard times, too, but I’m working hard on both individual and team practices to make the best out of this wonderful opportunity.”
Individual performance aside, something that has been a large talking point in the Overwatch League as of late has been team atmosphere. For such a paragon of the bright side of life, I wondered what Gamblers thoughts were on the recent struggles of some of the teams in the league? “Having a healthy team atmosphere is critical in playing Overwatch because it is a team game at its core,” he touched on exactly what I was thinking. A player can only play as good as his team allows him to. Yes, there can be mechanically gifted players that succeed, but at the end of the day, you have five others that need to do the same to take home the win. Gambler continued, “With a positive atmosphere, we can have better and more controlled plays based on flexible and fast thinking. Since I am the shot caller most of the time for the team, and it is much easier for me to think of brilliant and skillful ideas when we are in good mood.”
Being able to play alongside players like the enigmatic Kim "Fleta" Byung-sun and his fellow support players like Yang "tobi" Jin-mo and Ryu "ryujehong" Je-hong, I was curious about what he thought of his fellow support players. Was there anything that could be gleaned and added to his own style? “Ryujehong knows how to enjoy the match,” Gambler chirped up proudly. “Tobi plays smart, and Gido is clever and good at breaking his opponent mentally. I want to be a mixture of those three.” Forever growth-oriented, Gambler intended on becoming one of the best. He didn’t mind if it took forever, or if it happened next week. He was hell-bent on becoming one of the best players around. “I became a professional player with Mercy and believe I am the best Mercy player,” he spoke with a slight furrow in his brow. His confidence was apparent, but not overpowering. “I have a strong affection for the hero, so I don’t mind other players being the best with other heroes, but not Mercy,”
Gambler shook his head. Seoul’s cheerful leader ended with a proud, but bold claim. “I want to be remembered as the legendary master of Mercy in the Overwatch League, generation after generation.” The joker clad in gold and black would not be satiated until people knew him for more than his leadership skills and positivity. Gambler brought unbridled potential to this struggling Seoul Dynasty roster and he is in prime position to show the world his pocket aces.
Photo Credit: Robert Paul / Blizzard Entertainment