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Every year, the Overwatch World Cup plays a big role in attracting new fans to Esports, and this year’s competition promises to be the biggest one yet. Just twenty-four teams will participate in the World Cup this year as opposed to last year’s thirty-six, with four group stages taking place around the world. The top two teams from each group stage will advance to the BlizzCon playoffs in November.

For the past two years, the South Korean team has been the team to beat. Though other nations like the United States and France gave them some trouble in 2017, there was never any doubt that they would ultimately come out on top. This year, the expectation has not changed, as South Korean teams and players continue to perform at a higher level than their Western counterparts across several tiers.

2018’s South Korean team is largely made up of players from the New York Excelsior, the most consistently dominant team through the Overwatch League’s inaugural season. Their seven-man starting roster, five of whom hail from the NYXL, will play at the Incheon group stage, which begins on August 17th.

Of the twelve players on the 2018 World Cup team, the only returning member from previous years is Jong-Ryeol “Saebyeolbe” Park, who first gained international recognition for his stellar Tracer play in 2017’s World Cup. He has since widened his hero pool, displaying proficiency in other hitscan heroes and picking up non-hitscan heroes like Brigitte and Hanzo. As the team captain, Saebyeolbe has the responsibility of making in-game decisions and keeping the atmosphere positive, something he’s been doing all year as captain of the NYXL as well.

His DPS partner on the NYXL, Hae-Seong “Libero” Kim, is known as one of the most flexible players in the world, being able to play nearly every DPS hero with no noticeable drop-off in performance. Rounding out the team’s DPS lineup is Jae-Hyeok “Carpe” of the Philadelphia Fusion, a frontrunner for MVP of the Overwatch League’s inaugural season. Carpe is notorious for his long-range hitscan, particularly his Widowmaker, and has often been singled out by other Overwatch League players as the scariest Widowmaker to play against.

Libero and Saebyeolbe’s familiarity with each other will give them a big advantage over the other teams in their group. We can only speculate on how Carpe will fit into this lineup until we see him in action, but the X-factor and remarkable consistency that he brings will be invaluable to the South Korean team’s success.

Pan-Seung “Fate” Koo of the LA Valiant is the other non-NYXL addition, taking on the main tank role. The LA Valiant is known for their strong engages and tank-focused play, as most of their success comes from enabling their tanks to aggress and secure kills. The NYXL, on the other hand, are more used to playing defensively, and Fate may need to dial back his aggression to fit this team’s playstyle. Fate’s strength as a main tank comes from his sharp gamesense and ability to stay alive, although how much of the latter is due to the resources that LA Valiant invests in him remains to be seen.

Fate’s tank partner on this roster is Tae-Hong “Meko” Kim, who is often called one of the best D.Vas in the world. His decision-making and ability to know when to peel for the backline and when to help the frontline often goes unnoticed but has always been a big factor in his team’s success. One concern about Meko is that his proficiency on other off-tanks, while still being top-tier, may be somewhat lacking compared to his excellent D.Va. With Wrecking Ball now in the game and teams across the world still figuring out how he fits into the tank lineup, it will be interesting to see whether or not Meko decides to give the hamster a try in the World Cup, and what kinds of results it may yield.

The established synergy between the team’s frontline and backline will also give the South Korean team a leg up over the competition. The two support players on the starting lineup are both NYXL players – namely, Yeon-Jun “Ark” Hong and, of course, Overwatch League MVP Seong-Hyun “Jjonak” Bang.

Jjonak rapidly gained notoriety in 2018 as the best Zenyatta player in the Overwatch League, and his selection for this year’s roster has been a surprise to nobody. In this meta, however, flex supports are now expected to flex across roles, and even if he won’t be on his famous Zenyatta all the time anymore, Jjonak’s mechanical skill is no doubt good enough for him to be able to perform at a high level on any hero. It remains to be seen how much the meta’s shift away from Zenyatta will affect the NYXL core, a team that has historically found great success in investing resources into their star Zenyatta player.

Ark is something of an unsung hero when it comes to NYXL’s support line; all the attention is typically given to Jjonak, but it’s Ark who spends most of his time keeping Jjonak alive and enabling him to do damage. Ark’s gamesense and survivability is often regarded as being among the best in the Overwatch League, and with the meta moving away from Zenyatta-Mercy as a support duo, the onus will be on Ark to stay alive and peel for Jjonak as well as keep his tanks alive.

After the first season of the Overwatch League, other countries’ players and coaches have improved rapidly and some nations will undoubtedly prove challenging to the South Korean team. Despite all this, South Korea are still the clear favorites to win this year’s Overwatch World Cup for the third time in a row, and will be looking to begin asserting their dominance in the Incheon group stage come Friday.

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