ON JULY 29, 2017, The 123-floor Lotte World Tower glittered over the Lotte World Mall complex in Songpa-gu, Seoul, reflecting the setting sun. Beneath it, a well-lit stage and a crowd of thousands on the mall lawn.
Throngs of people gathered on the skybridge above and around five large screens set up around the central stage to watch reigning OGN APEX champions Lunatic-Hai take on talented upstart Kongdoo Panthera in the APEX Season 3 Finals.
Kongdoo Panthera had been consistently praised as one of the best teams in the world at the time behind DPS duo Kim "birdring" Ji-hyeok and Kim "Rascal" Dong-jun. After the match, the members of Lunatic-Hai cited main tank Baek "Fissure" Chan-hyung's Winston as the toughest part of facing the mechanically-gifted six of Kongdoo Panthera.
But it was the explosive DPS duo of Birdring and Rascal that had caught fans' attention and kept it throughout the season.
Unlike his Panthera DPS counterpart Rascal, who was known for his brash nature and natural ability to pick any DPS hero in the game, birdring was a grinder with similar flexibility. Before Overwatch launched, birdring had been playing League of Legends nonstop in an effort to grab the attention of a professional team.
It worked, and birdring received multiple offers. Unfortunately, he was still below the age limit for pro play in the game. During a hiatus from League, birdring began to play the recently-released Overwatch and climbed the solo queue ladder in similar fashion. He was one of the few picked up in the Kongdoo Company tryouts and was expected to be the superstar DPS of Kongdoo Uncia en route to Kongdoo Company becoming the greatest organization in Overwatch with its two sister teams.
It wasn't until he was partnered with Rascal on Panthera's DPS line, though, that Birdring was able to shake off the pressure and come into his own. Uncia's APEX Season 2 quarterfinals loss to Lunatic Hai shattered Uncia. Birdring was transferred to Panthera where he blossomed into one of the best DPS players in the world.
"On Uncia, I always played with a slight burden," birdring said before that APEX Season 3 final. "As one of the cornerstones of the team, I felt as if I could never [afford to] mess up. It was a weight on my chest. But on Panthera, there's less pressure; I can rely on other great players like Rascal and Fissure to [share] the load."
Four and a half hours and a full seven maps after the initial fan cheers welcomed both teams to the Lotte World Mall stage, birdring suffered yet another crushing defeat at the hands of Lunatic-Hai. His Tracer was as brilliant as it ever had been, but Lunatic-Hai's coordination and stunning performance from the team's support line, especially on escort maps, meant back-to-back APEX trophies for Lunatic-Hai.
ON JULY 29, 2018, a year after his exhausting loss to Lunatic-Hai -- a year and a day later, due to the time difference -- at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, Birdring and his team, the London Spitfire, became the first-ever Overwatch League champions.
The road they took to get there was anything but expected.
Following the team's APEX Season 3 finals loss, Kongdoo Panthera was still an easy favorite for Season 4. Amidst Overwatch League rumors and an undefeated group stage record, the Panthera roster was picked up by Cloud9 as a precursor lineup for its Overwatch League team: the London Spitfire.
The team that unexpectedly crushed C9 Kongdoo's hopes at an APEX title was the same lineup that would later join them on the Spitfire: the Royal Roaders of APEX Season 4, GC Busan.
GC Busan had its own stunning DPS duo of Park "Profit" Joon-Yeong and Lee "Hooreg" Dong-eun. With two powerhouse lineups and players like flex-tank Kim "Fury" Joon-ho filling in any gaps that remained, the Spitfire was easy season favorites, especially after the team's Stage 1 finals victory over the New York Excelsior.
There, the first seeds of what would eventually be the inaugural season title were planted. The DPS line of birdring and Profit, alongside Fury and former GC Busan main tank Hong "Gesture" Jae-hee, was a true combination of the best of both GC Busan and Panthera rather than swapping between two entire rosters.
Similar to his initial transfer from Uncia to Panthera, birdring seemed far more comfortable surrounded by top-tier talent, especially his new DPS partner, the former star of GC Busan in Profit. When Rascal left the team in Stage 2, it was Profit's incredible DPS flexibility that the team leaned on while birdring continued in more of a specialist role as he had on Panthera, this time on the Widowmaker.
Yet, a truly coordinated roster permutation of the Spitfire didn't start regularly until Stage 4. Birdring was plagued by a wrist injury throughout Stage 3, and the Spitfire shuffled all available players while trying to find consistency. As the Stage 1 champions faltered, the team's one true constant, Profit, flew under audiences' and analysts' radars.
Despite being one of the Spitfire's most reliable players, a true backbone of the team, Profit was near-absent from the MVP conversation due to the Spitfire's struggles outside of the Mercy dive meta in Stage 3. Profit even stepped into birdring's primary DPS role while birdring was injured, once again showcasing his own remarkable flexibility..
When the team made the somewhat-controversial decision to focus on one lineup of seven players, releasing the rest to find other teams, a recently-recovered birdring and Profit became the DPS duo of the Spitfire after various iterations of the roster throughout Stages 3 and 4. This roster returned both DPS players to their respective comfort zones while also using the flexibility of flex-support Choi "Bdosin" Seung-tae, making for a Spitfire lineup that clicked at exactly the right time.
This was the powerhouse team that was promised from the likes of GC Busan and Kongdoo Panthera. Profit, whose efforts had been so overshadowed by his team's struggles that he wasn't considered an MVP or an All-Star, won the Grand Finals MVP award. Birdring, a year after his crushing APEX Season 3 Finals defeat, became a champion.
"You know what? I think by the end of the tournament, it's going to hurt again," Birdring said on stream after the semifinals. "But I'm just going to go through it because afterwards I'm going to have to rest anyway."