Afreeca Freecs Blue is in the best form in its history. The squad has yet to drop a set on its ongoing run through OGN Overwatch APEX Season 3.
Exceptional teamwork and conspicuous lack of any weak link have been highly praised, and many players and analysts consider Afreeca Freecs Blue the tournament’s favorites.
The team’s dominance this season comes after a sorely disappointing performance in the previous season, which it dropped out of after losing four out of five matches. While many problems were on full display, the obvious Achilles’ heel was the support duo, and few were surprised when an open tryout to replace them was held as soon as the team was eliminated from APEX. The two recruits to result from the tryout — Yu “Lucid” Jun-seo and Park “iDK” Ho-jin — have performed impeccably so far, meshing perfectly alongside the other four and rejuvenating their play as well as their health bars.
Head coach Kim “TaiRong” Tae-yeong, however, is wary of crediting the roster move overmuch for the team’s revival. He claims that it is actually only half of why Afreeca Freecs Blue has improved so dramatically.
“We used to suffer from the huge difference in game knowledge that existed between [Jeong “ArHaN” Won-hyup] and the other members,” TaiRong said, explaining that even the players who played very well on stage last season, such as Jeong “Recry” Taek-hyun and Kim “Mano” Dong-gyu, had been lacking in this regard. “But we’ve significantly narrowed the gap via continuous feedback.”
Secondary tank player Bae “DongHyuN” Dong-hyun agreed. “With ArHaN at the core, we recently made some great strides and are coming together towards a shared understanding of the game,” he said.
TaiRong is a strong believer in taking a structured approach to solving problems. He stresses that internal feedback processes are essential to treating not only matters concerning the entire team but also those concerning individuals, such as when a player is tasked with learning a new meta pick.
“When we need to equip a new hero, we first analyze how our competitors utilize it in scrims,” he said. “Then we gather our heads to form a concrete guideline for how the hero should be piloted within our particular style of play. Only once that guideline is set can the player work efficiently. As in many other professions, theory and practice must go together in Overwatch.”
The most recent example is when DongHyuN had to pick up D.Va at the start of the season. “I hadn’t played D.Va much after her rework, so I couldn’t use her well right away,” DongHyuN said. “Specifically, I was clueless about how exactly Defense Matrix should be utilized. But my teammates continued to provide feedback and waited patiently while I worked on it. I eventually figured it out. Now I’m decent at providing cover.”
DongHyuN’s use of Defense Matrix might have become decent (an understatement, judging by his recent on-air performances), but it has not become the center of his gameplay. He has always loved to get in his opponents’ faces, and the bellicose streak has not changed at all. His MEKAs are more often seen diving a backline rather than protecting one.
“Many players primarily use D.Va to take care of their team, such as LW Blue’s [Kim “Mek0″ Tae-hong], who I feel is the best at that style,” DongHyuN said. “But I’m highly aggressive and tend to use Self-Destructs as carefully angled kill shots.”
His self-assessment is supported by statistics. He comfortably leads the field in both kills per minute (32 percent above average) and kills per ultimate (a whopping 178 percent above average).
TaiRong explains that DongHyuN’s hyper-combative tendencies on D.Va are something actively fostered by the team, as they fit well with their approach to the game. “We play like a breaking wave,” the head coach said. “ArHaN and Mano dive in first and drill a crack. Then the others go in and burst it into a hole. When we come crashing down, we can pry any defense open no matter what.”
The veracity of TaiRong’s claim will be put to the test on Friday, when his team faces off against its sturdiest foe yet, Lunatic-Hai. Clinically ripping apart flimsier opposition is one thing; replicating it against those of similar mettle is another.
The team remains self-assured, however. “I think [our being considered the tournament’s favorites] is natural,” DongHyuN said with confidence. “It’s the result of our long hours and hard work.”
Afreeca Freecs Blue’s true strength will soon be gauged.