Ji-Soo “AKaros” Jang is a familiar voice for anyone tuning in to the Korean-language broadcast of the Overwatch League, Overwatch Contenders, and the Overwatch World Cup. Thanks to her ability to break down the flow of a game in a calm and methodical way, as well as analysis that always seems to be two or three steps ahead of the action, AKaros has accumulated a fanbase that flocks to watch her personal streams.
Before APEX, the predecessor to Contenders Korea, came into existence in 2016, AKaros made a name for herself as a player through competitions like the Nexus Cup as a member of UW Artisan (later EHOME Artisan), and was known in particular for her impressive Genji play, which gave birth to the nickname “Genjisoo.” Today, AKaros is known to fans more as a caster and analyst, but it’s clear that without pro player AKaros, we would not have analyst AKaros.
Take, for example, the way she watches VODs at 1.5x or 2x speed. It’s difficult to imagine for regular Overwatch viewers, who are busy just keeping up with the match and the kill feed, but AKaros can process all the action easily due to her experience as a pro player.
“I know what they’re about to do at specific moments, and I know what to look for when I’m watching at double speed,” she explained. “A lot of those things I picked up during my pro career.”
AKaros’ analysis is interesting in part because she is adept at neatly summing up what happened in a match—what went right, what went wrong—but also because she is able to speak to what a player is thinking and planning to do in certain moments. She can see the moments in which players are agonizing over decisions, or looking for angles to go in.
“The easiest thing to notice is when players are looking for a good opportunity to use their ultimate,” she said. “When a player is clearly antsy, when a Genji has Dragonblade but is hesitating to use it, when a player is waiting for a Nano-Boost, things like that. In APEX, with the Reinhardt faceoffs, if a Reinhardt suddenly backed off and turned a corner for seemingly no reason, you’d know that it was to bait out the other Reinhardt.”
As we’ve seen in recent pro play, including at the Overwatch World Cup, Reinhardt has once again returned as the center of the triple-tank, triple-support composition that has dominated the current meta. This time, however, Reinhardt play feels quite different from the Reinhardt play of late 2016 and early 2017.
“Before, Reinhardt players really looked for the one moment to get a big Earthshatter, but now, with the [triple-triple] meta, you have a composition where the supports are less vulnerable, and in general everyone is less susceptible to Widowmaker,” AKaros said. “So it feels like Reinhardt can really rely on his supports while he swings his hammer around. Moreover, you have the Shield Bash–Earthshatter combo [with Brigitte], which means you can create your own opportunities to use Earthshatter, so I think Reinhardt is a lot more aggressive in playstyle than before.”
As we saw in the Overwatch World Cup at BlizzCon, a triple-triple composition in the hands of a well-versed team like the United Kingdom can be a truly fearsome force.
“The thing is, it isn’t a composition where you can win with one superb performance,” AKaros said. “It’s a composition that’s all about the combinations and the follow-ups. You have to survive when the enemy focuses you down, and you have to protect your supports. Because everyone’s less squishy than before, when you get both teams playing [triple-triple], the team fights seem to be longer.”
Despite AKaros’ analytical abilities, her match predictions often turn out hilariously wrong, which is why another one of her nicknames is “Jang Pelé”—after Pelé, the Brazilian soccer legend who also is famous for incorrect predictions. Kyu-Hyung “YongBongTang” Hwang, another Korean commentator and the general manager of South Korea for the Overwatch World Cup, even joked that the biggest “unknown factor” for the Korean team was AKaros’ predictions—which are famously inaccurate to the point where “AKaros’ Curse” has become a popular phrase, and has even reached the Overwatch League.
'아카로스' 장지수 해설의 소위 말하는 그 펠레력이 미국 본토까지 소문 쫙 퍼졌는지, 오버워치 리그 현지 본방송에 'Break Akaros's Curse!'라는 피켓이 올라옴 ㅋㅋㅋㅋ 경기 다시 보다 이거 보고 터졌네 pic.twitter.com/QzCxh4qeAu— 와이번씰 (@WyvernSeal) July 22, 2018
Thanks to fellow caster Park Sang-Hyun’s good-natured jokes about it, it’s a running gag that fans enjoy, but AKaros herself clarifies that she isn’t exactly being serious when she makes predictions.
“The biggest reason why my predictions are wrong is that I don’t get to watch scrims,” she explained. “I don’t contact coaches or players privately, I don’t watch scrims, so all I have to go on are pro matches, recent performances, teams’ records against each other, et cetera. If a team has prepared something in particular, or if someone’s performance has recently really improved in scrims, then I don’t know about it.”
She also acknowledges that her instinct for predictions is just not very good. “When it looks like a toss-up between two teams, you have to go with your gut, and I’ve found that my gut is almost always wrong.”
Throughout the inaugural season of the Overwatch League, AKaros observed how teams developed over time, as rosters stabilized and the meta shifted; teams that seemed clunky and uncoordinated earlier in the season went on to mature, and her interest shifted from team to team for each of the four stages. Because the Overwatch League had quite a bit of turnover in terms of team rankings, AKaros says she had the most fun watching teams suddenly rise or fall, depending on how well they adapted to the meta or polished their teamwork.
“I thought teams like Dallas Fuel, who had a sudden surge thanks to Brigitte, were the most fun to watch,” she said. “I usually like the underdog teams or the developing teams. I thought it was a shame with San Francisco Shock, because they were on an upswing and then they slipped at the end; the Los Angeles Gladiators really developed too, but they never managed to win a stage or win in the playoffs. And then with the Shanghai Dragons and the Florida Mayhem, I felt like they lost games that they really could have won, if only they hadn’t run out of steam at the end.”
Her favorite players to watch were the ones who were always positive, like Philadelphia Fusion main tank Joona “Fragi” Laine or Dallas Fuel flex tank Pongphop “Mickie” Rattanasangchod. “If we’re talking about in-game, then I think [LA Valiant flex tank] Space stood out a lot to me. I would marvel at his D.Va play, it was so good. Whenever the [enemy] Mercy was trying to resurrect someone, he was so good at flying over and booping her [to interrupt the resurrection].”
Of course, the 2019 Overwatch League season will bring with it eight new teams and plenty more new potential stars. In her recent Reddit AMA with YongBongTang, AKaros said she was most excited to see the NYXL’s newest player, Yeon-Kwan “Nenne” Jeong, who she has been bullish on since his debut in APEX Challengers, as well as former players from Kongdoo Panthera and Element Mystic, who have been picked up by various Overwatch League teams.
“The reason I said I wanted to see Nenne in the Overwatch League was literally just that I wanted to see him play in the Overwatch League,” she said. “He had a fantastic debut in APEX Challengers, and even though at the time it hadn’t been that long since he had started playing Tracer, he really popped off. He missed out on a few opportunities due to visa troubles, so I just really want to see him in the Overwatch League, although I know it’ll be harder [for him] now since his main hero was Tracer.”
At the time of the interview, some of the new teams had yet to finalize their rosters, and at first, AKaros hesitated to predict how they would do. In the end, she decided to just go for it, as she usually does.
“Well, I’ll start by safely putting Vancouver in the ‘good’ team list,” she said. “I think Hangzhou will be pretty good—it’s made up of players from X6 Gaming, Team Seven, and the good players from Team China [at the Overwatch World Cup]. I think Shanghai is definitely going to do better than last season, so I’ll put Shanghai up there.”
Aside from new players and teams in both the Overwatch League and Contenders Korea, AKaros has her eye on other Contenders regions.
“I cast Pacific Contenders as well, so I’ve been watching their matches,” she said. “Last season almost half the teams were either full or mixed Korean rosters. Of course, those teams were strong, but now we see Japanese and Thai teams coming up, and I really felt like in general the skill level is rising. And of course, China did really well at the Overwatch World Cup. Korean Overwatch fans have been watching Chinese players for a while now, dating back to the Nexus Cup, and back in the day, Chinese teams always lost to Korean teams, but watching these other Contenders regions, I think we’re going to see other countries rise to the challenge more and more.”
While fans hope to have AKaros around as an Overwatch caster for a long time, she said in her Reddit AMA that she missed playing as a pro, and, “If I get the opportunity, I might take it”—an answer that clearly speaks to lingering ambitions. AKaros never formally retired, but rather was forced to rest due to a shoulder injury. While she was taking a break from pro play and earning income through her personal stream, she was contacted by OGN, who offered her a guest caster/analyst spot. This was the start of her broadcast career, although AKaros says she occasionally grinds it out in competitive play and had also joined a team at one point and even scrimmaged with them.
“To be honest, at this point it feels too late to pick up my pro career again,” she says, her voice tinged with regret. “And it’s too hard to play Overwatch while also working as a caster. I haven’t practiced in a while, and that’s only going to continue, so I think it’s probably going to be hard to make a comeback as a pro player.” But whether or not that happens, as professional Overwatch continues to shift and grow, fans hope AKaros will be there to cast it all.