Tobi embraces 'older brother' role in Seoul Dynasty's resurgence

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BURBANK, California -- Ryu "Ryujehong" Je-hong laughed and elbowed his Seoul Dynasty teammate Yang "Tobi" Jin-mo. Tobi cracked a smile, his hands never leaving his cell phone, eyes glued to the screen, as his fellow support pondered what qualities Tobi brings as a player and person to his Overwatch League squad.

Both veteran support players had walked in the room, ushered, as usual, by Gen.G's U.S. manager of operations and sometimes Korean-to-English translator, Annie Cho. Tobi gave no outward signs that he was listening, although Tobi seems the type of person to always be listening.

Ryujehong confirmed that notion seconds later.

"Not just our team, but whenever there are a lot of people, there tends to be arguments; people disagree and things like that," Ryujehong said via his translator. "But with Tobi being there, he helps the team mentally. Mentality-wise, he supports the team in that way, and he gives direction when we don't know where to go. He is the support of the team."

His words carried past the current 12-man Seoul Dynasty roster into their shared past on Lunatic-Hai, one of South Korea's most successful Overwatch teams prior to the OWL's existence.

Tobi, Ryujehong and the Seoul Dynasty are currently 3-1 in Stage 3 of the league. Their map differential, which plagued the team last year, is a strong plus-13, and the Dynasty are 10-8 overall. Given the overwhelming success of the Vancouver Titans, San Francisco Shock and New York Excelsior, it's not a bad position, and Seoul has a strong chance to make up for a disappointing 2018 with a season playoff appearance.

Seoul started exorcising its demons with an upset victory over the NYXL in this year's Stage 1 playoffs but cemented its resurgence in Stage 2, thanks in part to Tobi's transcendent second season. A decisive loss to San Francisco on Saturday notwithstanding, the Dynasty seem to have turned their fortunes around this year.

"I can't really say that [success] relieves all of our pressure in Season 2, because every match is really important for us," Tobi said. "Sometimes, we have pressure because of the fact that we didn't really do a great job in Season 1. It kind of makes us think that we need to make up for it. We need to do better in Season 2, and sometimes that pressures me a little more."

More often than not, the Dynasty have pushed past that stress and pulled together in clutch moments. Perhaps the best example came a month ago.

On April 20, during Week 3 of Stage 2, the Dallas Fuel had more than five minutes to push their payload from the capped assault Point A across the Eichenwalde bridge to Point B. During Seoul's attack run, Dallas had held the Dynasty to just one point. This was Dallas' map to lose, and they appeared to have everything firmly in hand.

The payload arrived at the bridge with four minutes to spare and a short distance to overtake Seoul's prior push just beyond the bridge, before Point B. Dallas' first attempt brought them all the way to the point itself. One more push would net Dallas the win.

Seoul's last stand started with a late Sound Barrier from Tobi's Lúcio to save his teammates from Dylan "aKm" Bignet's Graviton Surge on Zarya, and Tobi sent the Fuel's' Benjamin "uNKOE" Chevasson off of the bridge with a well-positioned boop for good measure. On the next push, Tobi booped aKm and uNKOE off of the bridge together.

These were the first three of eight environmental kills for Tobi on Eichenwalde and nine total environmental kills in the match; he set Overwatch League records for both. Tobi celebrated with a quick yell, bouncing up and down in his seat. For a player who usually is quiet and controlled, it was a rare moment of jubilation during a remarkable performance.

Seoul went on to win the map and the match.

The weekly grind of a league setting can sometimes cause games to blend together into a mediocre soup. On that day, Tobi put on a special performance, dazzling even those who were not Seoul Dynasty fans. It reminded those who had been with South Korean Overwatch since the beginning of one of its greatest players in Tobi, a support who in years past had been a part of many shocking holds on that same Eichenwalde bridge.

In that moment, Tobi bridged a gap between old Lunatic-Hai and the current Seoul lineup: a strong 12-man unit with veterans and rookies alike. The name Lunatic-Hai still means something in Overwatch and always will, but what that name means has changed with the passage of time. Similarly, the handle of "Tobi" is a part of Overwatch history. He also is an integral player to Seoul's more recent success by helping encourage the team's 2019 rookie arrivals to the lineup.

"I'm sad that I'm old now because I was the youngest before, so this is kind of sad," Tobi said, laughing. "But our young players on the team, they have good characters and really like it when I tease them. They tease me too, so it's kind of a good environment and a good thing."

Above all else, Tobi doesn't want them to have the same regrets and guilt that he had during the Overwatch League's inaugural season.

"I advise them a lot, personally," Tobi said of his role on the team. "And to my teammates, what I want to say to them is, 'Do your best in every single match, and don't think about what others say or what others view. Just be a part of the team and contribute to the team atmosphere. Just enjoy. You are far away from home, you are in L.A. -- just enjoy. I wasn't able to do that last year, so I advise them to enjoy."

Before a single match of Overwatch was played at the Blizzard Arena here, Tobi and the Seoul Dynasty entered the inaugural Overwatch League season as the default kings of the league. Many expected them to run through the then-12-team field with ease. Instead, the Dynasty failed to make a single stage playoff appearance and missed season playoffs altogether.

"Seoul is the only team representing Korea, and that sometimes pressured me and the team," Tobi said. "Also, because we didn't meet the fans' expectations in Season 1, I sometimes felt guilty and pressure throughout the season.

"Regarding last season, we didn't really adjust to the meta changes. I can say that we didn't really know Overwatch that well. To our critics: I think they are also interested in Overwatch. They love Overwatch, and even if they're not our fans, they're fans of other teams and fans of Overwatch. So although they are not saying good things for us, I want to say thank you for loving Overwatch and that I will work harder to show a better self."

Now, especially after his record-setting Eichenwalde performance, Tobi, alongside Ryujehong, is having a small career renaissance. This is partially due to his signature Lúcio becoming a meta staple again, but also due to his role in bringing the team together. As Ryujehong said, Tobi is a support in and out of the game. It's difficult to see Seoul's constant juggling of 12 players working out without a strong hand from Seoul's coaching staff and continued leadership from Tobi.

"Me and Tobi, we try our best always; but more than that, there are always people around us to help us grow more quickly," Ryujehong sad. "That has helped us a lot."

Despite how well the veteran player is doing now, retirement isn't a nebulous point in the distance for Tobi, 25, as it is for many young esports players fresh off the ladder. It's a real fixture in his future, but also one that he has some amount of agency in deciding because he already has served his mandatory military service in South Korea.

Whenever he steps away, Tobi said he wants to be remembered for moments such as that April 20 showing and his marquee performances for Lunatic-Hai.

"When I retire, I want to be remembered as a good player who was once at the top," Tobi said. "And to the younger players, I want to be remembered as a good 'older brother' who does his best always."