What Seong-Hyun “Jjonak” Bang remembers the most from his first time onstage at Blizzard Arena Los Angeles isn’t the adrenaline, or the nerves, or his first final blow, or anything related to the match. What he remembers is the sensation of excitement traveling from the crowd, through the floor, and up into his own body.

“You could feel the reverberations through the ground,” he said.

That day—Thursday, January 11—wasn’t accompanied by much fanfare, as Jjonak wasn’t one of the most hyped players going into the inaugural season, at least among the general public. That kind of honor belonged to his New York Excelsior teammates and other longtime pro players with established fan bases, including his idol, Seoul Dynasty support Je-Hong “Ryujehong” Ryu.

But that changed, and quickly.

Soon, Jjonak was sending out his own tremors, electrifying the crowd with every orb that connected with an opponent’s head, every enemy Tracer crushed in the backline, and every aggressive snipe and maneuver. And on Wednesday evening, the first day of the playoffs, Jjonak felt those reverberations again when he stood front and center in a packed house and accepted the trophy as the Overwatch League’s Most Valuable Player.

Ballot Box


In addition to the T-Mobile fan vote, a group of coaches, broadcasters, and media submitted their top three candidates. Each vote had an assigned point value: three points for first place, two for second place, and one for third place. Here’s how the votes broke down:

Jjonak: 31-13-5 (124 points)
Fissure: 6-15-11 (59 points)
Carpe: 6-7-6 (38 points)

Full list of votes (PDF)
 

There were worthy alternates for MVP—Chan-Hyung “Fissure” Baek was the conduit for the LA Gladiators’ second-half surge, and there were a few DPS superstars with legitimate claims to the title. But no one had the kind of sustained, eye-opening performances that Jjonak showed throughout the entire regular season, and no one else redefined their role the way Jjonak did, putting up numbers on Zenyatta, specifically, that rendered the term “healer” almost absurd.

In terms of raw offensive output, Jjonak’s 6,942 damage per 10 minutes was 22.8 percent better than the league-average Zenyatta, while his 5.08 final blows per 10 minutes outpaced his peers by 36.6 percent. His final blow participation—he contributed 21.5 percent of damage in eliminations, compared to the league average of 17.4 percent—was also off the charts. As caster Mitch “Uber” Leslie remarked once on broadcast, “He’s showing us the true potential of Zenyatta, and it is so frightening.”

Jjonak said that he felt like the MVP would go to a DPS player rather than a support, but it’s not uncommon to see Jjonak putting up more damage than DPS players, thanks to his ability to aim Orb Volleys with deadly accuracy. While others have studied and imitated this trait throughout the season, and some have even been able to replicate this playstyle, Jjonak’s instincts and understanding of the game have kept him at a level above other aggressive Zenyatta players.

There’s no real illuminating answer to what makes Jjonak so good—as with a vast majority of the best gamers in the world, it comes down to some alchemy of innate talent, confidence, untold hours of practice, and a love for the game that acts as a motor, driving him forward.

“It's unbelievable, how much he plays Overwatch,” NYXL player manager Andrew Kim remarked. “For example, after the Stage 3 Finals, where we played two straight best-of-five series, as well as all the media requests, he still comes home and plays Overwatch for another eight hours. People ask him, ‘Aren't you tired?’ or ‘Don't you want to rest?’ and he replies, ‘Playing Overwatch is resting for me.’ It’s something that will always define Jjonak in my mind.”

The other component to Jjonak’s individual success has been the NYXL’s ability to build their primary playstyle around his skill on Zenyatta, protecting and enabling him with Mercy and D.Va. (And it works—he ranks second among league Zenyatta players with just 4.88 deaths per 10 minutes.) This strategy evolved naturally, NYXL head coach Hyeon-Sang “Pavane” Yoo explains, because “it was too obvious that he was killing everybody.”

This was evident even from Jjonak’s early days on the Korean server, where he made a name for himself before signing with LuxuryWatch Blue, one of Korea’s most storied organizations. Needless to say, internal expectations were high.

“At the time [we signed him] he was really famous in ranked,” team captain Jong-Ryeol “Saebyeolbe” Park explained. “He was ranked number one a lot, and his Ana was said to be better than Ryujehong, so when he came it was just like, oh wow, we got the best healer in the world.”

Jjonak never got to prove himself in the APEX tournament, as LW Blue was acquired at the start of Season 4 and withdrew from the competition, meaning his professional debut would be pushed all the way to the start of the Overwatch League, due to a late-December birthday that kept him out of the preseason.

“Inexperienced players tend to get nervous, so I did worry a little bit [about him],” Pavane admitted. “However, the opposite happened—our opponents started getting nervous about him! I definitely believed he could be our X-factor in our first season, but I didn't think anyone was better than him at his position.”

Six months into his professional career, Jjonak has surpassed not only his own expectations and those of his teammates and coaches, but also the benchmarks set by those who came before him, and the title of MVP is validation of that. Jjonak—not Ryujehong or anyone else—is now the king of the orbs, the player all others must measure up to, and unlike that January day, his name is enough to inspire thunderous ovations that make the building shake in anticipation.

Jjonak and the Excelsior will face the lowest-seeded team that advances out of the quarterfinals on July 18 at 7 p.m. PDT, and tickets are still available! The entire playoffs will be streamed live on Twitch, OverwatchLeague.com and the Overwatch League app, and on MLG.com and on the MLG app.