This week, Seoul, Korea's Overwatch League team announced its player roster. Unsurprisingly, they opted to basically snatch up Lunatic Hai, the two-time winners of South Korea's biggest Overwatch tournament, APEX. There were, however, a couple of curious omissions.
Overwatch's pro scene, largely the result of a series of smaller, unaffiliated tournaments held over the course of the past year, is getting seriously shaken up by Blizzard's impending multi-million dollar Overwatch League, which has attracted team owners such as New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and New York Mets COO Jeff Wilpon. Suddenly, there are new rules and regulations, and precious few team slots to go around.
To the disappointment of many, Lunatic Hai's Lee "Whoru" Seung Joon didn't make the cut for Seoul's Overwatch League team. It isn't because Whoru isn't good -- in fact, many regard him as the world's best player of lightning-quick green Power Ranger knock-off Genji. Among many other feats, Whoru is known for slicing the wings off Pharah-Mercy combos in dazzling displays of high-flying accuracy. The main issue is that, at a mere 16 years of age, he's too young for Overwatch League.
I reached out to Blizzard about Whoru's absence from the roster, and a rep passed along Overwatch League's official age policy:
"Players must be 18 years old in order to compete in the Overwatch League. Players who are not yet 18 but will turn 18 before April 5, 2018 may still sign contracts (together with their parent or legal guardian) and practice with Overwatch League teams for Season 1, but they cannot play in Overwatch League games until they turn 18."
Unfortunately, Whoru isn't 18, nor will he be by April 5. This is made even more of a shame by the fact that we haven't seen Whoru play with his Lunatic Hai teammates in months. The organisation "punished" him for some undisclosed infraction by benching him for much of APEX season three, and he's yet to play in any season four matches.
Another current Lunatic Hai player, Lee Tae-jun, was also not part of the initial roster announcement. Tae-jun has also taken some lumps of late, having recently returned from a controversial suspension. During a press conference, however, Team Seoul's director said that when it comes to Tae-jun, the team is "open to any possibilities" and "details should be announced later on with additional roster" (translation courtesy of Inven).
In Whoru's case, the situation is a bummer, but it also makes sense, up to a point. In order to play in Blizzard's official Overwatch League -- as opposed to the smaller, scrappier regional scenes that have formed around the game so far -- players will have to uproot their lives and travel around the world. Adding to the complication, ESPN claims that Lunatic Hai will be temporarily relocating to Los Angeles this spring. Whoru might be the ultimate virtual cyborg ninja, but he's still just a kid in real life.
That said, pros in esports often skew younger than pros in other sports. It isn't that unusual to see somebody Whoru's age competing at a game's highest levels. On the upside, Blizzard isn't entirely turning a blind eye to this element of esports culture. While Overwatch League is passing on younger players for now, Blizzard's official minor league, Overwatch Contenders, allows players aged 13-17 to compete as long as they have a parent or guardian's permission. The thing is, it doesn't currently extend to Korea, though one could argue that APEX performs a similar role in that region. For now, Whoru's future is up in the air, but he isn't entirely without options. And hey, if his record against Pharmercys is any indication, Whoru is pretty damn comfortable up in the air.