Lunatic-Hai vs. KongDoo Panthera: a clash of two styles


“Meet the Koreans” is a series of articles dedicated to introducing and popularizing Korean Overwatch and its storylines among Western fans. This entry's focus will be the upcoming blockbuster of a final that is Lunatic-Hai vs. KongDoo Panthera.

The long-awaited final match-up of APEX S3 is happening later this week. It will show the clash between not only the two best Overwatch teams in the world, but also two vastly different styles of teams. One is a squad based around the core of super-star players in supportive positions. The other relies on two of the best damage dealers in the world. A team known for its fluidity and impeccable teamplay will face one with a rigid structure and a deep playbook. Korea's most successful Overwatch players are looking to win back-to-back seasons of APEX, while KongDoo Panthera will be trying to prove once and for all they're no longer the onliners they began their journey as last year.

The carry supports

Ever since Lunatic-Hai burst onto the scene they've been a team propelled forward by the ability of their support and tank players. The damage dealers, traditionally a position tasked with the role of carrying, on the team have been a little more than necessary roleplayers, rather than the engine behind Korea's most successful team. Even as far back as their early days, when the team played around an overly aggressive EscA and dedicated the majority of the resources to him, he was -- at best of times -- the third most important player on the roster's success. Both ryujehong and Miro were already doing more for the team and soon after tobi surpassed him as well, to cement his role within what we now know as the deadliest trio of two supports and a main tank player in competitive Overwatch.


The second iteration of APEX saw the line-up of Korea's golden boys change, but, just as they remained a fan-favorites, so had endured the principle of DPS players not being crucial to their success. Replacing dean stabilized and gave slight boost in performance to ryujehong and Miro as they no longer had to switch between their respective main positions and off-tank. In addition, even though Zunba's playstyle was just as supportive as dean's and he didn't rival the explosive playmaking of someone like Hoon, the BlizzCon champion and former CONBOX star brought some potential for it and extra firepower.

The other new inclusion to the team, a young soloqueue hero and Genji specialist WhoRU, took over EscA as the focal point. The latter's impact and performance plummeted as he struggled to adapt playing without the majority of the team's resources, while also having to learn new heroes. The young gun on the other hand, showed some skills and ability for explosive plays. And even though his level was impressive for a sixteen-years-old rookie, it was nothing extraordinary compared to other top Genji players, especially combined with the shallow hero pool he had. With ryujehong and tobi only increasing their impact, and Miro benefiting from Winston's return to the metagame, the Genji specialist competed with zunba for the fourth most valuable player on the team. Even his best performance -- APEX's S2 finals, for which he received an MVP award -- saw a number of pundits and analysts argue that the veteran super-star ryujehong outperformed him. His addition was certainly a welcome improvement, but it was very much still up to the supportive trio to earn the wins.

This season has been more of the same for Lunatic-Hai, but to an even more extreme degree. Gido replacing WhoRU has only put more emphasis on the trio to carry. The change has undoubtedly been most beneficial to Miro, whom fans have seen seen reach new heights in terms of game impact, even surpassing his MVP level at 2016's BlizzCon World Cup. His Winston has continued being as elusive as ever, but this is now supplemented by doing high amounts of damage and picking up a substantial portion of Lunatic-Hai's kills. On top of it, he's doing it against the best teams in the world and not mixes including players whose participation in the tournament is predicated on being popular as opposed to based on their ability on the server.

The duo of star dealers

KongDoo Panthera on the other hand, as a team started with the three highest ranked ladder players at the time, somewhat intuitively finds itself almost entirely on the other end of the spectrum. Instead of supports, they depend on the traditional carry positions, damage dealers, to do the heavy lifting. Before joining their forces, both birdring and Rascal were 'the man' on respectively Uncia and Panthera's previous iteration. Rascal emerged as such only after a few games even though Panthera was supposed to be EVERMORE's team. The latter was the first player to reach 5,000 SR on the ladder. Yet, a combination of opponents preparing specifically for his Roadhog and lack of depth in his hero pool made for inconsistent performances in offline tournaments. Rascal started as a similarly raw player, but quickly improved on his decision-making and showcased the ability to have a significant impact on multiple heroes.


Throughout APEX's first two seasons and IEM Gyeonggi, despite Rascal's individual growth, the squad maintained a similar status. The star dealer was a consistent presence and the best player on the team. EVERMORE, a secondary threat as an explosive but an inconsistent explosive force. And Wakawaka as a tertiary carry took the role of a more supportive DPS. Ultimately, Panthera's previous line-ups failed to improve on, or even replicate, Uncia's top 4 APEX S1 finish, or become a true contender, despite seemingly being the team the KongDoo organization was focused on.

Parallel to this, birdring was on a self-improvement journey of his own. APEX's first season saw him and DNCE trying to figure out who's playing the second fiddle to Panker's devastating Reinhardt. In the playoffs, thanks to some impressive Roadhog play, he distinguished himself as the team's secondary threat. His calculated playstyle was both effective and efficient, but lacked in terms of playmaking and explosiveness compared to other top players. Along with mastering new heroes, this is exactly the side of his game he developed during APEX S2. birdring retained the same measured and intelligent playstyle, but rather than relying on his team for engages and peeling, he was on a constant hunt for flanks and to create picks on his own. The results were disastrous for his opponent and his impact on the game skyrocketed. As new addition and former Panthera player Butcherr's ability failed to manifest against the top teams, and Panker's impact lessened, birdring now stood head and shoulders above the rest of his team as the single best and most impactful player. Yet, in part as a result of Butcherr hurting the team's ability to execute and in part due to meeting the two finalists in the Ro8, Uncia finished APEX S2 at 5th-6th spot, same as Panthera.


Rigid tactics vs. teamplay and adaptation

The announcement for the two KongDoo star dealers joining forces arrived with a lot of justifiable hype from everyone who follows the Korean scene. However, concerns about the move weren't missing, even if they were less discussed from the community and not as obvious as the upside. The worries came from the fact that Panthera had never before looked like a coherent unit in the face of top team. Viewers saw many flashes of brilliance for the team's first two seasons, but those were largely predicated on the players' individual talents. Well-coordinated executes and a teamwide adaptation to what the opponents are doing was an anomaly, opposed to the regular occurrence it was in the play of their sister team, Uncia. Notably, this lack of teamplay and tactics was the reason for them suffering losses to a Fl0w3R-less -- and by extension considerably less skilled -- LuxuryWatch Blue and a shaky Reunited, who had just lost Kyb, in APEX S1's Ro16. During APEX S2, the squad incorporated some tactics into their gameplay, but their effectiveness was largely offset by EVERMORE's erratic level and insistence of sticking to Roadhog.

As for the excitement, the reason for it was as conspicuous as it gets, the move brought together two of the best DPS players in Korea. It took the clear-cut best player of a team that had just finished top 6 in APEX S2 and added it to another such a team, to form a KongDoo super-team of sorts. The current Panthera has been relying heavily on the duo and they haven't disappointed. birdring's strengths are utilized to turn him into a consistent, almost impossible to shut down, threat. Rascal on the other hand, depending on what the team needs has shown the ability to play both second fiddle to his co-star, or be 'the man' and run over the opponents himself while birdring's smarts keep him alive without much support. Additionally, the team has continued developing their playbook and have demonstrated themselves able to execute a wide variety of tactics.

In a fashion not dissimilar to Panthera, Lunatic-Hai have also increased the depth of their arsenal of tactics. The loss of WhoRU might have hindered them strategically, as they no longer have the option to play around one of their dealers, but it has also opened the door toward tactical depth. Since they've lost the Genji specialist the, squad has been increasingly reliant on executes, but, unlike KongDoo Panthera, Lunatic-Hai has also started adapting mid-game, which has helped overcome the loss of firepower. And despite all the roster changes, the team has also preserved their unbelievable level of synergy. This creates another mismatch in the upcoming final as Panthera, especially compared to Lunatic-Hai, are severely lacking in the aspect of teamplay.


Some hard evidence

The differences between the two squads can be seen clearly not only by watching the vods, but also in statistics. For APEX S3 supports, tanks and dealer heroes have so far averaged respectively 6,75%, 18,2%, and 23,37% of teams' kills. In Lunatic-Hai's case, a support hero is on average responsible for 9,47% of the team's kills and a tank for 19,55%; however, Miro's Winston goes above and beyond with 21,8% while recording the second lowest amount of deaths per minute among anyone who's played the hero for more than ten minutes. Even Mano, who had a breakout season and got selected instead of the 2016 World Cup MVP for Korea's 2017 World Cup team, suffers more deaths per minute while being responsible for a lower percentage of his team's kills. The team also averages the lowest percentage of team kills for DPS heroes in the tournament, 19,99%.

Similarly, stats also confirm that KongDoo Panthera relies on their two star dealers to do the heavy lifting as a DPS hero averages 25,12% of the squad's kills this season. Support and tank heroes both fall down the pecking order as they are respectively responsible for 5,5% and 18,63%. Not as an extreme of a divergence from the average stats for APEX S3 as in Lunatic-Hai's case, but a significant one nonetheless. Especially when a more in-depth look shows that birdring's Tracer, by far his most played hero, accounts for 27,3% of his teams' kills and Rascal's Genji and Pharah, close second and third most played, for respectively 27% and 26,4%.


The other players on the team are by no means freeloaders and contribute to their squads' success, but, in terms of individual players, the APEX S3 match-up will likely come down to how Lunatic-Hai's supportive core performs against birdring and Rascal's DPS play. While the former have the advantage in having already proven that they can rise up to the occasion of a final, they are by no means a sure bet. KongDoo's stars might not have proven they are better players than those of Lunatic-Hai, but they have the benefit of playing a position with more natural impact. Additionally, even though ryujehong's boys remain the team everyone else is scared to face, last time the two squads met KongDoo Panthera took the series in a convincing manner. The question is, will they be able to do it in a longer series, under the pressure of huge venue, filled with screaming fans?

Will KongDoo Panthera be crowned as the best team in the world, or will the APEX S3 finals be known as the first time we knew this is Lunatic-Hai's era?

Who do you think will lift the trophy? Let us know on twitter at @InvenGlobal and @RadoNonfire!

You can find the answer to that on July 29th, 19:00 KST (time zone converter) on or, should you prefer your Overwatch in Korean.

(Photo credits: OGN, Wolf Schroder)


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