“There are no two words in the English language more harmful than 'good job'” - Fletcher, played by J.K. Simmons in Whiplash (2014).
What is it like to get so close, to grasp the hand on the edge of the cliff high above the clouds, only to slip from the rock and plummet?
Some might comment saying “good job at least”. But there's an aching pain that slashes thoughts when the word’s ‘good job’ are uttered. There could’ve been a world where the final hurdle was jumped over, where the ledge at the peak of the mountain was climbed, where someone can stand tall and say “I fucking did it”.
But when the fall happens so short to the goal, all that transpires is the illusion that something was accomplished, so close to seizing. It isn't the same as actually completing it.
The two finalists of Korea’s most prestigious tournament now stand near the APEX of the world. To the left stands a lineup that felt the pain of falling down right below the summit. On the right are a group that were only in Challengers a few months ago, yet they passed through champions and dreamers that slipped and fell. At the end of Saturday, only one of them can pitch their flag at the top, while the other can only watch from the ground below the peak.
The dust of Lunatic-Hai
OGN APEX Season 4's end marks the Korean league’s 1st anniversary in the Overwatch scene. In just a year some of the best teams and players have transcended from mere whispers on forums and Reddit threads to idolization and talent beyond imagination.
In APEX’s fourth iteration, the absence of foreign Western teams, and the automatic promotion of APEX Challengers Season 4’s top five teams were the the changing winds of the tournament. Yet in spite of that, the tournament still remained exciting to watch after rosters added upcoming players to their teams. The tournament only became more exciting when players and the audience began to realize the potential of some Korean players/teams to be picked up for the upcoming Overwatch League depending on their performances.
But all dynasties end at some point in time, and LH’s fall was the Ozymandias of competitive Overwatch, their empire turning into mere grains of sand.
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
In their wake over the sand dunes rose two teams with different stories to tell.
Pink sweater parade
RunAway’s story is one of resurgence. Earler this year, they won the hearts of many fans across the world with an incredible run in APEX Season 2, from playing in Super Week in the preseason just to say alive, to clutch plays earning their pass to the finals.
They had to fight against Lunatic-Hai in the grand finals, who at the time were considered the uncrowned kings of Korea. Halfway into the series, almost everything fell into place: a 3-1 lead against LH in the best-of-seven series, with the team one game away from taking the series and the championship.
But when it looked like RunAway had it under control, their grasp became slippery, and their opponents took the opportunity to mount a courageous comeback. Suddenly, the series was no longer theirs, and as the timer ticked down on the last map, LH crossed their deficit, and were the APEX Season 2 champions. As they ran down towards the stage to grab the trophy, RunAway could only watch from the booth, knowing deep down that if they’d changed something, they could’ve closed the series for themselves.
Then came their slump in APEX Season 3. After the loss of tank player Kaiser to Cloud9, RunAway looked like a shadow of their former selves, and fell to a revitalized Afreeca Freecs (known as AF Blue at the time) and rookies X6-Gaming. It was a whimper for the team and their fans in their fall from grace.
Runner, the team captain of RunAway, almost gave up on the team he created from scratch. But with the support of his family and the fans, they got together the resources to stay together. Along the way, they picked up fresh blood in the form of former Rhinos Gaming Wings' tank TiZi and support ranked ladder player JJANU. The team were also welcomed with the return their old friend Kaiser after Cloud9’s uncertain state.
While RunAway went through their struggle in APEX Season 3, one team fought from the distance, away from the dazzling lights of the OGN e-Stadium.
A ticket to APEX
Below the APEX tier is Challengers, the development league of APEX. Challengers attracts a fair share of viewers that scout for upcoming teams, as the past two seasons of APEX saw challengers teams from Meta Athena in APEX Season 2 to X6-Gaming in APEX Season 3 going beyond expectations. In the lineup of Challenger Season 4's teams were GC Busan.
GC Busan started their journey in Challengers Season 4 by qualifying via a first place finish in the Road to APEX tournament. Their run in the season was impressive, placing first and second in the 1st and 2nd group stages respectively. With their results on display, there was a consideration that they could surprise in APEX Season 4.
The team would’ve originally competed in Super Week, APEX’s promotion and relegation tournament in the preseason. But then luck came into play when OGN announced auto-promotion for the top five teams in Challengers Season 4. With no hurdles in the way, GC Busan got their tickets for APEX, and brought along Closer from MVP Space and WHOOYAL from the free agency pool.
In the group stage draw for APEX Season 4, RunAway and GC Busan were put into separate groups. The former got attention when they were drawn into Group A, which eventually earned APEX’s tri-annual “Group of Death” title, featuring Lunatic-Hai, Meta Athena, and MVP Space. In Group C, GC Busan met up with fellow challengers LuxuryWatch Red and ROX Orcas, with Afreeca Freecs rounding out the group.
For RunAway, their return back to the APEX began, and their group stage matches were the first stepping stones. The new roster got through as the 2nd seed in the group with wins against Meta Athena and MVP Space, and a loss against the APEX Season 3 champions, though there was some sweat on the forehead when MVP Space looked like a potential spoiler in the ranks.
GC Busan found themselves in the booths of the APEX stage, looking to pass through the round robin. Their first APEX match didn’t go well against LW Red, but they shrugged it off by beating ROX Orcas and upsetting Afreeca Freecs. With a 2-1 record and AF below them in the standings, they advanced to the quarterfinals as the 2nd seed from their group.
*Mic drop noise*
When the quarterfinals came, RunAway and GC Busan had their opponents decided in the playoff draw by the 1st seeds. Lunatic-Hai decided to go for the latter, while X6-Gaming had to grab the former, who were the last team in the pool draw, with all of them in the same GSL group.
RunAway fought in their first nail-biting series against X6-Gaming, the team that knocked them out of playoff contention in APEX Season 3. Both teams dragged each other to the final map, with smart hero changes and clutch moments allowing RunAway to finish the series in their favor and move to the upper bracket finals.
In GC Busan’s match, many predicted them to fall to Lunatic-Hai, as the APEX champions have been praised for their adaptability. Maybe GC would take a map off, but that was the only expectations out of the underdogs. But when the match rolled into play, viewers couldn’t believe what they were seeing. The map score went 1-0, then 2-0, and ended at 3-0. The winners? GC Busan. Normally LH doesn’t go down without a fight, but a wipeout was the last scenario anyone anticipated as GC's DPS duo flexed their muscles.
GC Busan went on to face RunAway in the upper bracket finals of the GSL group, and with both team’s recent rise, the series could’ve gone either way. In the midst of the chaos, game after game, it all came down to the final map, and RunAway kept their perseverance together to defeat GC and qualify for the top four.
After their loss, GC Busan were set for a rematch against Lunatic-Hai in the lower bracket finals of the group, with the latter eliminating X6-Gaming in the lower first round. Despite GC’s success before, many still pegged LH to win the match; after all, they’re a team that’s been able to recover no matter how hard they fall. But the LH we envisioned never appeared, and GC Busan completely overpowered them. By the end of the series, jaws were dropped to the floor as GC eliminated the reigning champs and advanced to the the semifinals.
Anything you do I Kongdoo better
The semifinals got packed with teams old and new, and laid out the groundwork for a potential number of storylines: the previous APEX runner ups could meet in the finals, a challenger team gets to face the old guard, or the challengers could steal the grand final stage all together.
GC Busan met up with another elite team in their semifinal match: Cloud9 Kongdoo. After Lunatic-Hai were knocked out, the APEX Season 3 runner-ups were declared the new favorites to take the APEX trophy, and GC were predicted to have their royal road come to an end. But GC Busan didn't take no for an answer, and astonished everyone even further by demolishing Kongdoo in a 4-0 victory, and became the first ever Challenger team to reach the APEX finals.
RunAway on the other side of the bracket had RX Foxes to face against, another team from Challengers Season 4 who defeated CONBOX and LW Red to move on from their GSL group. The foxes were unable to put up a fight, and RunAway swept the series and got to the finals once again.
After a long and treacherous road, RunAway and GC Busan meet for the biggest prize of the season: the title of APEX Season and the right to be the best team in Korea. Either the pink sweaters will finally win an APEX title, or the train to Busan could complete the long journey and become the first ever Challenger team to win the most prestigious tournament in Korea.
We finally now reach the predictions of the finals, with CommanderX, TISrobin311, and myself Snivy handing in our last forecasts of the season.
Snivy: 4-3 in favor of RunAway
While I was hoping Cloud9 Kongdoo versus RunAway would’ve been the final matchup, the upcoming grand finals is still something to get hyped about. The matchups regarding each role are more or less even, and in my mind I can’t really spot a weak point. Both have fantastic DPS duos, with Haksal and Profit being the standout players on their respective teams, good protection and peel from their tanks, and a solid backline with their supports.
This means that it’ll come down to what’s probably more important than in-game skill: mental skill. The finals in APEX are the biggest stages in Korea, and if one comes unprepared for such high stakes, the whiplash is the hardest hit to any player. To quote StarCraft player JulyZerg: “My belief in best-of-five series is not skill but your mind”.
RunAway has the mental advantage after playing in high stakes situations, and I’ve mentioned it multiple times in my predictions. In scenarios where a team like X6-Gaming or even GC Busan almost brought them to their knees, the pink sweaters kept themselves composed and punched back hard. Even then, GC Busan are nothing to scoff at, and they have some revenge from the upper bracket final match in the quarterfinals to return. The series will go all the way, but the pink sweaters are overdue for an offline title. Bring it home RunAway.
CommanderX: 4-2 in favor of GC Busan
What an unexpected final we have. GC Busan find themselves in a similar situation to RunAway in APEX Season 2, earning a lot of unexpected wins and gaining a lot of fans on their route to the finals. With Lunatic-Hai and Cloud9 Kongdoo moving to OWL it’s great to see the rise of other teams to take their place in APEX.
The match itself is tricky; on one hand RunAway beat GC Busan in their previous matchup last month. On the other, GC Busan have won ten straight maps against two of the best teams in the world. GC Busan were well prepared for both titans they slayed but struggled against a more chaotic style from RunAway. While I fully expect GC Busan to be better prepared this time around, I think RunAway will take an early lead. Their experience on the grand finals stage from Season 2 should see them off to a strong start but once GC Busan gain their composure they should quickly take over the finals. Either way RunAway always produce entertaining games so it should be a great watch.
TISrobin311: 4-3 in favor of RunAway
The finals without Lunatic-Hai is in theory supposed to be less hype-inducing, but RunAway versus GC Busan is a completely different story. GC Busan has been dealt with once by RunAway’s aggressive dive, and they won’t fall for the same trick twice. Meanwhile RunAway will think of new strategies to counter Busan’s refined teamwork. So in the end it all comes down to individual skills and experience. RunAway has something that GC Busan doesn’t: enduring the finals. RunAway has the stamina they didn’t have in APEX Season 2, and when it goes to beyond five maps the victory will be decided.
As the season comes to a close, I want to thank those that came along the ride throughout the series:
CommanderX for inspiring the series with the Contenders Prediction series and for his fantastic Kongdoo pun.
TISrobin311 for his tremendous help with Korean coverage and for having the guts to predict GC Busan beating Cloud9 Kongdoo.
CaptainPlanet and Elbion for their special guest appearances and the awesome content they write.
Admriable for being over.gg’s number one potato head and editor.
And to you guys, the fans that have been supportive of the series from beginning to end.
Thank you all very much, and I'm excited for lies ahead in the future of Overwatch.