The Florida Mayhem’s Jeong-Woo “Sayaplayer” Ha is the best Widowmaker duelist in the world.

If you’re feeling immediately skeptical, consider this: of all the Widowmaker specialists in the league, Sayaplayer has the highest Widow vs. Widow final blow-to-death ratio (3.26) through the first four weeks of Stage 3, and there’s a huge gap between him and second place, Seoul’s Byung-Sun “FLETA” Kim (2.03).

There’s also this: Sayaplayer has yet to lose a Widow duel since landing in the USA. He has gone 11-3 against Jae-Hyeok “Carpe” Lee, 11-3 against Jiri “LiNkzr” Masalin, 9-6 against Ji-Hyeok “birdring” Kim, 5-0 against Hae-Seong “Libero” Kim, and 9-1 against Terence “SoOn” Tarlier.

Admittedly, Widowmaker duels aren’t true one-on-one affairs, nor do their outcomes precisely represent the relative match influence of both snipers. But regardless of how you adjust for the variables, the fact remains: A newcomer to both the league and the country, working through a language barrier on a 10th-place team, is utterly dominating the field.

It isn’t cheap hype.

Taking His Shot

“I get really mad at myself when I start missing shots. I get really, really, really mad.”

It does sound somewhat excessive, Sayaplayer admits. But he means it. For him, connecting every shot isn’t the goal; it’s the baseline. Landing 12 consecutive shots with McCree doesn’t feel truly satisfactory unless at least seven were headshots. It may be an impossible standard, but he imposes it upon himself with unwavering obstinacy. He spends hours each day maintaining and perfecting his aim through a set of drills. The routine is almost circadian. He treats it as “the very least” of his professional responsibilities.

Sayaplayer
Jeong-Woo “Sayaplayer” Ha

If you haven’t seen him clicking on heads yet, go take a look. Try to watch him play through a whole game. It’s a different experience from the dynamic staccato of Do-Hyeon “Pine” Kim’s buoyant diagonal flicks, or the chaotic delight of Jong-Ryeol “Saebyeolbe” Park’s manic, twitchy tracking. There is an eerie tranquility in how precisely Sayaplayer’s aim glides towards his prey.

Both his flicking and tracking are world-class, and he often freely switches between the two methods in between shots. One moment, he’ll be demonstrating the visual definition for “economy of movement,” rotating digitally as if his crosshair were magnetically attached to his target; in the next, he’ll whirl around in one abrupt sweep and take out a flanking Tracer with just a single snappy bullet.

Occasionally, his accuracy falters. He will miss an easy shot, or a series of shots. It’s then that he starts to nudge his reticle, jiggling it ever so slightly to the left and back, left and back, in tiny measured trembles.

The machine, recalibrating.

Keep Calm and Tracer On

Sayaplayer could have easily joined the Overwatch League at its onset. He was approached by teams as early as last summer, with one organization allegedly waving the customary tryout and promising him a guaranteed spot on the roster. But he declined all offers and opted to remain with Meta Athena, his team at the time. Heading off elsewhere on his own would leave his teammates in a terrible position, and he didn’t want to ruin the team’s plans of getting picked up as a unit. He knew the chances might be slim, but his loyalty overrode his self-interest.

Unfortunately, Meta Athena ended up bombing out of the group stages in the fourth and final APEX season, disappointing all potential buyers in the process. There was no way the entire team was going to be signed for the Overwatch League after such an underwhelming performance. Sayaplayer’s noble gambit had failed.

“Maybe I was too naïve, too foolish,” Sayaplayer said, looking back on his decision. “But I really cared about our team. I wanted us all to go to America together.”

But he didn’t mope. After the Meta organization rebuilt its rosters, he started to work even harder in practice sessions, focusing on improving his previously dismal Tracer play—his primary limitation as a hitscan player. His aim on Tracer had always been impeccable, but his positional play, combat movement, and ability usage had always left much to be desired. He was determined to patch up his weak spots over the winter.

With the help of coach Hyun-Jin “r2der” Choi, who is also now with the Mayhem, Sayaplayer began studying film. He knew he didn’t have the kind of instinctive creativity that superstar Tracer specialists had; he would have to make up for it by picking up those players’ best moves. So first he watched clips of Saebyeolbe and Hyeon “EFFECT” Hwang, playing them over and over, learning how Tracer should be piloted in every situation. Then he reviewed his own POV clips, meticulously analyzing how he could have avoided that death, won that duel, stuck that Pulse Bomb.

“I improved my Tracer play by creating a personal mental playbook of sorts,” Sayaplayer explained. “I don’t think I lack game sense when I’m playing Widowmaker or McCree or Soldier—on those heroes, taking up creative positions and going for unexpected flanks comes naturally. But I just couldn’t reach that level of intuition on Tracer. So instead of making decisions on the fly, I decided to pick them out from memory.”

His efforts were not in vain. By the end of January, his Tracer play had noticeably improved, Meta Athena started performing extraordinarily well in scrims, and reports of Sayaplayer’s exploits began to reach the other side of the Pacific Ocean.

Soon enough, the Florida Mayhem extended an offer. Sayaplayer was favorable to the move but suggested that more reinforcements might be necessary to properly strengthen the team. Florida agreed, picking up r2der and main tank Sung-Hoon “aWesomeGuy” Kim as well.

And so, Sayaplayer finally made it to the Overwatch League.

Mad Respect

His former colleagues are unanimously confident in his chances of success—and so far they haven’t been wrong.

“I have absolute faith that Sayaplayer will kill it in the Overwatch League,” said longtime Meta Athena teammate Jun-Soo “Kris” Choi. “His aim is second to none. The only thing that might hold him back a bit at first is the language barrier.”

“Sayaplayer is the kind of player who naturally inspires the rest of his team just through his work ethic,” added coach Min-Gyu “Vol’Jin” Kang, who joined the Dallas Fuel from Meta. “Whenever Saya had something to say, everyone would listen. He was one of the pillars of the team.”

“He always made sure everyone was giving their all,” Kris said, nodding. “If someone was slacking off or wasn’t concentrating, he wouldn’t hesitate to point it out and ask them to step it up. And we respected that because he had a right to give that kind of feedback. Because he was the hardest worker on the team.”

Aiming High

By now the trend is obvious. Aim and dedication—these are the two qualities that define Sayaplayer as a competitor.

The aim came naturally. Sayaplayer had played first-person shooter games since he was six, trying virtually every popular title released in Korea—and he would always be pretty proficient at them. When Overwatch came out, he was unsurprisingly good at it. What he didn’t know was just how good he was.

Before all the top teams in Korea came knocking, Sayaplayer had never considered becoming a professional gamer. He hadn’t even known that his stats were freakishly off the charts—that his competitive play results were being described with adjectives like “phenomenal” and “otherworldly”. He was just an ordinary student in his last year of high school who happened to love shooting games; he had planned to study police administration in college. But he was simply too good to go unnoticed.

Sayaplayer’s first professional tryout was for LuxuryWatch, one of Korea’s strongest teams at the time. After only two scrim rounds, he was told that the session was over, that they had seen enough. He logged off, dismayed, surmising that he had been so unimpressive as to not be worth of extensive trial.

But the next day he received a call: it was a yes, an absolute yes, and they wanted him right away. He ended up not joining LW, as he couldn’t commit to a team house lifestyle before taking his College Scholastic Ability Test, but the experience had opened his eyes to the magnitude of his own potential. By the time he was accepted to the school of his choice, his heart was already set on professional gaming.

Unlike his talent, Sayaplayer’s dedication comes from a different place. He wasn’t born with it. He was never all that diligent a student, nor did he ever apply himself with such rigor to any of his hobbies. He isn’t chronically competitive, either; unlike many pros, he isn’t infused with a particularly intense hatred of losing or love of winning. Yet his drive easily surpasses those of his peers.

What Sayaplayer wants from a professional Overwatch career is financial success—the bigger, the better.

“I always try my hardest because I want to provide for my family,” he explained. “Everyone sacrificed so much just so I could grow up in better conditions. I want to earn enough to shoulder all of our burdens.”

For him, the Overwatch League represents a chance to improve his family’s material fortunes. Working any less than he possibly can isn’t an option.

“No one in our family has ever lived in comfort,” he added. “My grandma is over 80, and she’s still working every day to support all of her children. We’re not living off tree bark or anything, but when I think of how tough our family has had it, I just feel… why do our lives have to be like this?”

It might take a while for Sayaplayer to realize his dreams, considering he only just arrived in America a few weeks ago. But every paycheck is a baby step.

“Grandma’s birthday is coming up soon, so I’m planning to send her half of my first paycheck,” he said. “Then I’ll ask Mom if she wants anything. I want to get her what she wants. I want Mom to be happy.”

Sayaplayer and the Florida Mayhem are back in action today at 4 p.m. PDT when they take on the San Francisco Shock. Watch live on Twitch, MLG.com and the MLG app,OverwatchLeague.com, or the official Overwatch League app.