Article

The Tao of Tobi

Recounting the journey of one of Overwatch’s greatest supports

APR 05, 2018

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”
— Lao Tzu, ancient Chinese philosopher

Before Yang “Tobi” Jin-mo conquered South Korea as one of the most respected and revered Overwatch support players in the game, he chased a daydream. He followed the path of a boy entranced by video games and a spirit of competition. Behind his soft-spoken voice would be the gentle hand of a leader, lending his paramount words in times of need. However, Rome was not built overnight, and neither was Tobi’s esports career. His journey started similarly to others that have set out on this path before him, one step at a time.

Like any normal young boy, Tobi enjoyed watching movies, listening to music, and playing Super Mario when his parents weren’t looking. Life was simple and stress-free. Tobi found games entertaining but took nothing away from them in terms of drive or motivation. However, it would be these pivotal years that would shape him into the man we know today.

In his youth, Tobi’s childish interests start to morph and contort with the rise of StarCraft: Brood War. The increase in popularity of a complex real-time strategy game developed by Blizzard Entertainment would prove to be incredibly successful and would entrance the youth of South Korea in a culture of gaming and competition. With dreams of grandeur and a fire in his eyes, Tobi set out on a journey of a lifetime.

“At first, my parents were quite reluctant about my career path,” he explained. “However, after I proved my talent as a progamer and [the] stability of the industry, they began to support me.” A career as a professional gamer is not without its setbacks and hesitations, this is a fairly common theme with many professional players. Yet, he pressed forward, unmoving in his resolve. Tobi was to become a progamer. “If I were not a professional gamer,” he responded, “I would’ve wanted to be an engineer. I was actually in the engineering program at my university.”

Tobi’s genesis in esports began almost seven years ago in a popular first-person shooter called “Special Force 2.” His first handle was simply his full name, “Yang Jin-mo”, but he would settle on a handle with a bit more creativity. “On Battle.net, I did not know that IDs could be duplicated, therefore I contemplated for a unique name and ended up with ‘Teletobi’.” It would be this handle that would become part of one his team names as he entered the competitive Special Force scene.

Photo Credit: Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment.

In the winter of 2011 Tobi would win his first event, the Coolenjoy Special Force 2 Tournament, a minor tournament held in South Korea. From that event, Tobi began to make a name for himself amongst his peers. That name bore fruit when the FPS clan, Lunatic-Hai, recruited him into their ranks. Here he would play alongside four other Lunatic-Hai clan members, one of which included the former Ardeont and Lunatic-Hai #2 Overwatch coach Jung “Yeah” Youngsu. However, he would create a lasting bond with two particular members of the Lunatic-Hai clan.

Two incredibly recognizable names in South Korean FPS legend. Two names that would quickly become globally known within a few short years; Ryu "ryujehong" Je-hong and Kim "EscA" In-jae. “I played games with them almost every day, so to me, they were just close friends.” Even while ryujehong and EscA were hard at work practicing for their next major event, they always found time to interact with their other clanmates.

In 2012 Tobi and his team, 꼬꼬마텔레토비 or “KkoKkoma Teletobi”, would compete in the Special Force 2 Junior Progamer Tournament held by the Korea eSports Association (KeSPA) and emerged victoriously. They would share the prize purse of $1,000,000 South Korean won ($940 USD) along with the bragging rights that accompanied it.

While Tobi would continue to compete and chase his dreams, 2013 sadly would not be gilded in gold. He and his team would place second at the 5th Annual President’s National Amateur sports Competition and 2013’s Suwon Information Science Festival Esports League. That November, he would have to shelf his competitive fire and fulfill his compulsory military duties. Many players view this as a death knell for someone's career. However, Tobi would not be put down so easily.

“Joining Lunatic-Hai was like a reunion after I finished my military service. It was a great feeling to be able to play with old friends again, just as we had before I started my military service.” Upon his return from the military, he would rejoin his close friends, ryujehong, EscA and a handful of other players in search of a new battleground to call their own. In an interview with Akshon Esports, ryujehong mentions what the team’s plan was during the months leading up to Overwatch’s inevitable announcement. “We started living together with the mind that Sudden Attack 2 would be our game.” There was a universe where these names we have come to know and love, would choose another game, but they settled on the comic style of Overwatch.

“In Season 1, I played Tracer mostly to climb the rankings. However, I naturally moved to the Support position, as EscA and LeeTaeJun were already chosen as the DPS players.” Reviving his old handle “Teletobi” he quickly gained a nickname on the ranked ladder as “Dealer Tobi,” due to his damage dealing prowess. “It was difficult to adjust to playing Lucio in a team setting,” Tobi added. Legend has it, he had to practice 6 hours a day to reach the level of Lucio prowess we’ve come to know. That practice would quickly become tested in the first international Overwatch esports events.

APAC Premier 2016 would be host to teams from all across the world, specifically two Western teams, two South Korean teams, two Japanese teams, and six Chinese teams. Tobi and Lunatic-Hai graced the stage and quickly made a name for themselves with repeated strong performances against Rogue in the group stage, but they would ultimately fall short in the grand finals to Rogue, 4-1. From then onwards, Lunatic-Hai put everyone on notice; they were serious contenders for a major title, but the winter season would be harsh on Tobi.

OGN’s Overwatch APEX Season 1 and IEM Gyeonggi would fall by the wayside as Tobi and Lunatic-Hai were left to clean up with peripheral in silence. Tobi recalled what it was like to compete at IEM, “I was thankful to have been invited to the IEM competition, and [I] remember having fun competing against foreign teams.” After working so hard and coming up short, the painful reminder of IEM was a searing effigy. However, things quickly turned around for Tobi.

“Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.”
— Lao Tzu, ancient Chinese philosopher

On April 8th, 2017, Tobi conquered himself.

Fate would have it that during the grand finals of OGN’s Overwatch APEX Season 2, Tobi would flourish. It would be this specific performance that would cement himself as the legendary support player we know him as today. He and his band of brothers within Lunatic-Hai were finally hoisted on the backs of the thousands of adoring fans. Overflowing with elation, they found each other in a stammering huddle, hugging and sharing tears of joy with one another.

“I think the fondest memories I have with the team are our victories in APEX Season 2 and 3,” Tobi said proudly. The team that struggled to find gold, the team that was said to be cursed in silver, had finally achieved glory -- twice. In the following season of OGN’s APEX Overwatch eague, Tobi’s Lunatic-Hai won their second straight title and would be the only team to do so during the APEX era of Overwatch.

“It was the first time winning the entire competition for me, so the feeling was just indescribable,” Tobi spoke with a spark in his eyes as vivid memories and emotions charged into his heart. “I felt as if I was finally being rewarded for all the hard work that I have put in.” In Lunatic-Hai’s immediate embrace and as the realization started to sink in, Tobi forgot the struggle and tumultuous times during his journey to this very point in time. In this moment of ecstasy, he and his good friends, his brothers-in-arms, were free. At last, Lunatic-Hai were the ones to wear the crown. “People started to recognize me on the streets and it still feels surreal,” Tobi continued, “but it hasn’t affected me too much since I am focused on gaming.” Again, as the story goes, once you reach the top, that is merely the beginning of the journey. That sentiment echoes true with the journey of Tobi as he and his team continued forward into their next ventures.

The Overwatch World Cup brought national teams from all across Asian, North America, and Europe. “I felt proud of the fact that I was chosen to be on a team that would represent South Korea.” Tobi and the South Korean national team took a clean sweep throughout the tournament held at BlizzCon 2017.

After a disappointing finish during OGN’s Overwatch APEX Season 4, the team prepared for the big dance, the Overwatch League. Blizzard Entertainment was ready to start unveiling their newest venture into the esports space which excited and entice players and fans alike and Tobi and Lunatic-Hai were front-runners the South Korea representatives. Lunatic-Hai was signed under the KSV Esports banner and were rebranded as the Seoul Dynasty, but one integral piece were missing as they prepared their flights to North America.

One of Tobi’s dear friends and longtime clanmates, Kim "EscA" In-jae decided to part ways with the team and try his hand at PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG). “It was hard for me to learn that my friend who was always beside me could no longer be there in person with us.” Understandably, Tobi was disappointed, but there was no time to linger on past memories as he stepped up and became a major vocal presence in his friend’s absence.

“It was a challenge at first since I was shot-calling for the entire team,” Tobi touched on their Stage 1 performance and communication structure, “but now everyone helps me with the calls so it’s much smoother.” Seoul’s performance echoed that same principle in Stage 1. With the pressure on the support line to quickly learn and adapt to the new Mercy centric metagame, Tobi and ryujehong fell behind compared to their expectations. This played a large role in why the Seoul Dynasty was absent from the stage playoffs. “I’m pleased that Stage 2 and the new patch creates an environment where it’s viable for teams to use almost every Support hero in the game.” Tobi quickly wrapped up and mentioned about his thoughts on the state of the game and his team performance in Stage 2. Sadly, it did not pan out as expected for Tobi and Seoul, as they were absent for their second consecutive stage playoffs.

Lao Tzu, the ancient Chinese philosopher who many experts credit as the founder of philosophical Taoism leaves us with one last brilliant quote; “The truth is not always beautiful, nor beautiful words the truth.” The truth just ‘is.’ One can only hope that the Spring will bear fruit and melt the Winter frost for Tobi and his brothers and arms, as they continue forward towards the conclusion of the Overwatch League’s inaugural season.

Looking ahead towards Stage 3, Tobi and the Seoul Dynasty press forward with the hope to prove themselves once again to their adoring fans. Tobi’s path towards the summit, where he sits now, has been lined with silver and gold. Each brick place careful placed into an intricate diagram of skill, passion, and an unwavering sense of determination. However, the untamed wood that lies ahead of him, permeates with thorns and sharp barbs. Imagery aside, who is to say what Stage 3 and beyond has in store for Tobi? Rest assured, he will approach this as he does with everything.

One foot, following the other.