Close your eyes. Try to imagine the Chicago Bulls without Michael Jordan. Then imagine the New England Patriots without Tom Brady. Then try to picture the New York Excelsior without Bang “JJoNak” Sung-hyeon.

       It’s a sight that’s impossible.

       The aforementioned players are timeless. All three are unrelenting greats that have become legends of their sport, masters of their craft, and faces of their franchise. The value that they add to their respective teams is immeasurable and without them, their franchises would most definitely suffer.

       The legacy of an MVP lies not in their own performance, but how the team would perform if its star player was suddenly removed from the equation. For that is the true value of the Most Valuable Player.

       This is why it’s so difficult to imagine the NYXL without JJoNak. He is the face of the team, and without him, the Overwatch League’s perennial powerhouse would be practically lost.

       What’s even more impressive is the fact that JjoNak is more than an amazing player. He’s a trailblazer; a revolutionary, even. In the infancy of professional Overwatch, he rejected the notion and role of a traditional Support, and reinvented a position that hadn’t even been fully invented yet.

       With 92.82% of his time on stage spent playing Zenyatta, JjoNak clocked nearly 39 hours on the hero, as he single handedly restructured the framework of the Support role, becoming a force for damage and playmaking opportunities on a team already filled to the brim with playmakers.

       This season, the NYXL quickly established itself as one of the most dominant teams to ever grace any esport over the course of one season, as the gap between New York and the remainder of the league sat at 7.0 games when the dust settled. Additionally, the map difference between the Excelsior and the 2nd place Los Angeles Valiant finished off at +47, while the gap between first place New York and last place Shanghai sat at +203. New York’s regular season map differential of +83 was astonishing, even for a league with no precedents or prior statistics to be based off of.

       And although the team struggled relatively in each of the Stage playoffs, posting a record of 9-8 and claiming only two stage titles out of a possible four, the Excelsior showed consistent signs of success in each of the Regular Season’s stages, finishing in the top 3 four times, while ending atop the standings twice.

       And while there were plenty of reasons for the NYXL’s run to supremacy during the inaugural OWL season, JjoNak stands out as the prime suspect for the team’s utter dominance throughout the course of the year. With 13.55 E/10, 6814.28 DMG/10, and 6256.23 HEAL/10, JjoNak not only proved that he was one of the most versatile players in the entire Overwatch League, but in the entire history of esports.

       Yes, you heard that right.

       JjoNak’s 2018 campaign will be looked at as one of the most defining moments in esports history. Not only did JjoNak control the rest of the league with a vice grip, he burned a path of inspiration for future generations of support players across games that stretch far beyond Overwatch.

       Although he certainly had a major impact on the way we perceive the support role in Overwatch, JjoNak attacked an often forgotten and static archetype throughout gaming history and made it his own.

       He channeled trailblazers of old like Hong “MadLife” Min-gi, who redefined the Support position in League of Legends, making it more aggressive and impactful throughout the course of a game. Additionally, JjoNak showed strong signs of resemblance to Kim “Bisu” Taek Yong, a retired professional Starcraft player for SK Telecom T1, who revolutionized the “Protoss vs. Zerg” matchup in 2006, single handedly flipping the winrate of Protoss players in that matchup from ~46% to ~54% by changing his playstyle in a manner that allowed him to harass his opponents while still maintaining control over the map.

       For JjoNak, the scenarios are incredibly similar. The value of an MVP lies not in what they bring only to their team, but what they bring to their game. JjoNak gives fans a reason to watch the OWL.

       Just like LeBron James’ greatness gives NBA fans a reason to marvel at the sport of Basketball, and how Tom Brady’s unmatched longevity gives NFL fans a reason to watch Football each Sunday, JjoNak’s ability to control any map on the OWL stage gives each and every esports fan a reason to cheer.

       Sure, there are plenty of great players in the OWL could have been in the conversation for the MVP award, but this year, the honor goes to a player who not only drove the value of his team through the roof, but the value of his game and his league as well.

       Overwatch is flourishing, and years from now, a generation of players and fans alike will look back on the inaugural season of the game’s most prominent professional league and know exactly why JjoNak is not only the face of a game, but the face of a culture.
Photo Credit: Robert Paul via Blizzard Entertainment