It was a cool evening in the middle of October where the world would first lay eyes on Kim "zunba" Joon-hyuk competing in OGN’s Overwatch APEX league. And from that moment on, people could easily see that he was something special, someone who was worth keeping an eye on. Since then, he has acted as a cornerstone for each team he has played for and has been incredibly consistent throughout the last year and a half.
No matter who you were to put him up against, no matter how his team performed on that given day, he produced strong performances. The stable of heroes that he is most known for includes some of the best Zarya and D.Va play that Overwatch had ever seen, along with a smattering of other characters. Zunba could shine just as bright as the most dominant star player or, just as easily, take the back seat and play to the letter of his team.
Zunba is, and was, a paragon of consistency.
“If I didn’t become an Overwatch pro I think I would have focused [on] my studies to graduate from university.” Zunba relaxed, his shoulders shifted against the rear of his chair. Pondering the question of his birth into esports, his eyes shot towards the ceiling, searching for the answers almost as if they quickly floated above him. “Though I’m not sure what subject. Then, I would probably have gotten a certificate [went] with my major.”
Leaning on his pragmatism, the thought of taking this hobby seriously never was a topic of discussion, to the point where finding a team never really crossed his mind. It would fall to a close friend, Cho "MyungHoon" Seongmin, to plant the seeds of competition and convinced him to take the plunge. “I joined my first team thanks to MyungHoon [and] we went together in the APEX Season 1 Qualifications,” zunba explained, recalling the fond memories of home cooked meals and late night PC cafe adventures. Those same homely dishes came with their own odd set of memories that began to rush into the room.
Parents acceptance in gaming and even in esports is always an interesting rabbit hole to dive down, because you hear such varying degrees of tolerance, and zunba’s family was no different. “My mom cut off my mouse and keyboard cables about three times when I was in high school,” zunba said. Gaming was clearly important to him as a creative gateway. He continued smiling, “She even shut down the house’s electricity to stop me. I lost interest during my days in [my] university dorm, but when I ranked first in the world during season one, my brother spoke to my mother to convince her to let me try becoming a pro gamer. Since then, my mother has fully supported me.”
Zunba’s team at the time, CONBOX T6, were nothing to really write home to mom about. During their first appearance in APEX Season 1, CONBOX had a relatively poor performance, going 1-2 in matches and 5-6 in maps. They maintained their spot in the league, but CONBOX would not be advancing into the playoffs. Zunba was large in part the best element of the team and it was painfully obvious.
When it came time for the community to vote on the South Korean representatives for the Overwatch World Cup, zunba was elected to participate. “I was surprised that I was selected as a member for the Overwatch World Cup,” zunba smiled. Once we started playing and winning, I found a lot of excitement in the matches.” Even if the competition is more for bragging rights more than anything, the pride to play and represent your country is a specific feeling that few people ever get a chance to experience.
Team South Korea easily dispatched their competition without dropping a single map. That kind of dominance makes teams question if their rosters outside of the World Cup could be improved and many people credit this event with zunba’s acceptance into Lunatic-Hai as they headed into APEX Season 2. Within Lunatic-Hai, zunba would share in the spoils of major success as they won the next two APEX seasons and an exhibition tournament held at the Seoul Cup. Additionally, he was called up once again to represent his country at the 2017 World Cup on Team South Korea, which they won convincingly. From those performances, he would build a stable tenure with the team and join them as they flew across the pond to play in the Overwatch League.
Going from your average, run of the mill, young Korean adult, to celebrity status nearly overnight, had to come with some drastic changes. Imagine picking up and moving from your home in South Korea all the way to Southern California to play in the Overwatch League, problems, either logistical or otherwise was only natural. A cornucopia of issues stemming from language barriers to culture shock could dissuade people, but it seemed like zunba was doing just fine. “It was surprising that other people around knew who I was,” he chuckled. “But I don’t face any issues with fans in either Korea or here, in the United States. The only thing hard about shopping alone in the US is that I don’t speak English well.” That pressure, among other stressors, have been on display week after week in the Overwatch League.
With new additions to the team and the constant intimidation factor of playing on such a large stage, the Seoul Dynasty, among other teams, have begun to recruit and push players to maintain a more healthy lifestyle to better supplement their training and performance. “From my experience as a professional player, I think it is definitely ideal to balance practice, exercise and rest,” zunba said. “Practice should take up almost half of your time, and then you must devote other time to exercise and rest. Rest is important because it is difficult to focus on the game if the body is too tired.” A great example of this comes in the form of a wrist injury that zunba suffered towards the end of Stage 3 which caused him to sit out for a handful of games. “I didn’t injure my wrist from playing too much,” zunba said. “I accidentally bashed it on the desk while stretching.”
With the last 18 month behind him, he has seen a lot of what Overwatch has had to offer. Two time APEX Champion, playing at the highest level, traveling the world to play Overwatch for a living. What advice, if any, would he give himself if he could travel back when he first began playing Overwatch? “I would tell myself that I need to practice more,” zunba humbly nodded, almost agreeing with himself. People often talk about how important it is to a professional player to not only win, but to become remembered as a master at their craft, and zunba embodied that feeling of severe motivation.
From his time with CONBOX T6, a team that barely grazed the surface of the playoffs, to representing and winning with team South Korea during the Overwatch World Cup, to playing with the championship caliber lineup of Lunatic-Hai, it has been a treat to watch zunba grow into the player we know him as today.
While the Seoul Dynasty may have lost their footing and suffered some setbacks within the first season of the Overwatch League, zunba has seldom underperformed. He has been the catalyst to his team’s success and is the million dollar life jacket that would keep them afloat in the darkest of times. “We are all trying our best in Stage 4 so that we can get to the Title Match,” zunba’s signature smile receded. He attempted to grant some hope to his feverish supporters. “I don’t know how it will turn out, but we’ll give it everything we’ve got.”
Unfortunately, the Seoul Dynasty could not find their muster for battle in time and ended Stage 4 with no playoff berth in 10th place with a 3-7 match record. Subsequently, Seoul’s inaugural season came to a sharp and disappointing end as they rounded out the bottom half of the middle of the pack at 8th place overall. Much like winter, the off-season marks the genesis of a period of uncertainty. After battling to get this far, through his own disillusions, through a fear of second places, and through his own family, his entire journey thus far has been put into perspective. All of the hardship, all of the doubt has prepared him for these moments and he will overcome them like he has overcome the many obstacles put in front of him before.
Ever the fellow to adversity with an appetite for doubt, zunba will, undoubtedly, continue to march forward through yet another obstacle on his way to the top of Overwatch.
Photo Credit: Robert Paul / Blizzard Entertainment