The crown was never too heavy for New York Excelsior's support Bang "JJoNak" Sung-hyeon. After one of the most successful rookie campaigns in esports history on the league's top team, he was awarded the inaugural Overwatch League MVP award.
When he entered the league as a fresh-faced rookie, not eligible in the preseason due to not being 18 years old at the time, every opposing player had their eyes on the hyped prospect coming out of South Korea's online ladder. At media day preceding the opening week of the first season of Overwatch League, JJoNak's name was whispered around the halls as if the world's greatest secret was about to be sprung into the daylight.
"The one worthy of that title [of MVP] is JJoNak," said Los Angeles Gladiators' Baek "Fissure" Chan-Hyung, the runner-up in the MVP voting.
From beginning to end, the Zenyatta maestro did not disappoint onstage, becoming a de facto third DPS player for his team with his attacking prowess. While other supports in the league stood behind as utility bystanders, JJoNak showed little to no fear at times, playing up front and skewing the overall Zenyatta stats of the entire league with his in-your-face style. His 6,703 damage per 10 minutes was highest among all support players in the league, and the added dynamic of his play helped the generally defensive NYXL have an extra weapon in its arsenal.
Usually, when rookies play, they aren't expected to be linchpins of their teams. Even in traditional sports, some of the future greats will sit on the bench to learn from veterans, or sometimes even take entire years off to learn before dipping their feet in the shark-infested waters. Not JJoNak. Coming from his computer chair at home to under the bright lights of the Blizzard Arena in Los Angeles, he was the iron man for his team throughout 40 matches. In his first professional season, he played a total of 41 hours and 58 minutes, tying himself with his off-tank team member Kim "Meko" Tae-hong for most minutes played in the league.
"If I was on a bad team, solo carrying every day, I wouldn't have gotten MVP," JJoNak said in a news conference following the announcement of his award. "So I want to thank my teammates. Also, all my teammates did really well, they played really well, and just want to thank everyone."
In a league where rampant debates go on about which player is the best at Tracer or which is the best at Winston, there is no debate who the best Zenyatta in the world is. JJoNak has become synonymous with the hero, clocking in at 38 hours and 55 minutes played on Zenyatta, the most minutes by any player on any hero in the competition. Instead of players thriving to become the best Zenyatta, more players stood behind the league MVP to learn from him, his polished mechanics and solid game sense resembling more so an iconic veteran than a rookie with only a few months of pro experience.
Only a year ago, JJoNak sat at home, looking up to South Korea's most legendary support player at the time, Ryu "Ryujehong" Je-hong, the two-time domestic and two-time World Cup champion, even copying his idol's mouse settings and the way he sat in his chair. Over the course of the season, JJoNak surpassed the support player he learned the most from, watching as his NYXL became the first powerhouse in Overwatch League history while Ryujehong's Seoul Dynasty went from being a title favorite to not even making the season playoffs. Although JJoNak still shows the utmost respect for his idol and elder, there's no denying that at least for the present, the student has overtaken the master.
At this year's World Cup event with defending champion South Korea expected to three-peat, it won't be Ryujehong playing at the flex-support position. This time it will be JJoNak putting on the uniform of the man he pretended to replicate at home while watching him on television, hoping to continue the dream and legacy of the captain who paved the way for the South Korean dynasty in Overwatch.
Standing in front of a packed crowd at the Blizzard Arena during the first round of the playoffs with his new hardware situated to his side, the rookie marvel was asked how he was able to transition so seamlessly from the bedroom to the grand stage. A wry smile on his face, the new MVP of the league answered in a manner expected from someone who failed to let his surroundings change the supreme confidence he holds in himself.
"So, [it's] 30 percent hard work, 70 percent talent."
ESPN Stats & Info contributed to this content.