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South Korea's JJoNak: 'Without cheating, no one can beat us'

Team South Korea hoists its third straight Overwatch World Cup trophy on Saturday during BlizzCon at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, California. In its 2018 title run, South Korea remained unbeaten at the World Cup the past three years. Robert Paul/Provided by Blizzard Entertainment

ANAHEIM, California -- Everyone expected South Korea, the now three-time Overwatch World Cup champions, to take the crown once again at BlizzCon on Saturday.

However, no one predicted how easy the road would be.

Going into the weekend's matches, all eyes were on Team USA and Team France to dethrone the reigning champions at some point in the tournament. Neither squad got anywhere close; both teams were eliminated in the quarterfinals, with the USA falling to the United Kingdom and France losing to Canada. After those matches, it felt like anything could happen on that stage in the Overwatch Arena at the Anaheim Convention Center.

South Korea didn't get the memo.

The powerful team made up of all kinds of top-tier Overwatch League talent smashed Australia, staved off a scrappy United Kingdom squad and stomped China in the finals without dropping a game. South Korea wasn't about to be on the losing side of another country's Cinderella story. This team didn't care about the story lines.

"Korean culture is very competitive. There are cyber cafes everywhere," South Korea's Koo "Fate" Pan-seung said after his team's 4-0 victory against China. "That was key in helping us win three world cups."

After titles in the 2016, 2017 and 2018 Overwatch World Cups, no one can figure out how to take down this commanding South Korean squad. ESPN asked the only ones qualified to answer that question: the South Koreans themselves. Overwatch League and World Cup MVP Bang "JJonak" Sung-hyeon didn't mince words.

"Without cheating," the support said, "no one can beat us."

Talk of South Korea's roster changes and lack of preparation heading into the weekend were clearly overblown. None of that could derail the machine-like efficiency of this squad.

"Everyone had their own schedule, so we didn't get nearly as much practice as we needed coming into BlizzCon," South Korean DPS Kim "Fleta" Byung-sun said, "but we were able to communicate really well during our matches, and that's why we won."

After the United States and France were eliminated, China was believed to be the front-runner to face South Korea in the finals. China was a mystery to most teams before the tournament, as most of the roster had been brought in from the Chinese Overwatch Contenders league.

Both Finland and Canada thought China could give South Korea a real challenge.

"I think what'll come down to is China's teamwork against South Korea's mechanical DPS skill," Canada's Lane "Surefour" Roberts said after his team's victory over the United Kingdom in the third-place match. "If China can pull through the pressure and not get picked off in team fights, then I think they can take it."

But China's teamwork fell apart against the unstoppable South Koreans in the championship match. Even with strong moments from main tank Xu "guxue" Qiulin and a late push on Watchpoint: Gibraltar, the young China squad dropped four maps in a row to South Korea.

"We knew from practice that there was going to be a major difference between our teams," Chinese off-tank Ma "Lateyoung" Tianbin said after the finals. "We didn't think it would be as intense as it was, though."

It got to the point that Fate was able to succeed by using the same strategy during two team fights on Anubis, catching China off-guard both times. He hid his Winston on a high ledge ahead of the second point, waiting for team China to pass by. Both times, they missed him and got sandwiched between his Tesla Canon and the rest of his team, which crushed both of China's attempts to push the final point.

"I occasionally use that spot in regular games," Fate said. "I saw that China was intimidated and decided to use it to surprise them. You can see that it worked both times."

"The tempo was on our side during the whole map," JJoNak added. "That helped us control it and perform well."

It was widely believed, and widely hoped, that the talent gap between regions had shrunk after the inaugural season of the Overwatch League. This weekend, JJoNak's Zenyatta and Lee "Carpe" Jae-hyeok's Widowmaker proved that South Korea's mechanical skills are still unrivaled. And yet, while other regions have a lot of work to do, the World Cup showed that stars are rising all over the world, especially in China, the United Kingdom and Australia.

Players who hadn't competed at a high level showed up and played their hearts out on the big stage, proving their worth while auditioning for a spot in the Overwatch League's second season. The Overwatch League might be dominated by South Korean talent right now, but that won't always be the case.

"There's no doubt in my mind that a lot of these players will probably be signed by Overwatch League teams," Fate said. "If they do come in, they'll be fine. They'll be just as good as they were here."