Overwatch's healer-monk Zenyatta floats cross-legged while delivering voice lines like "embrace tranquility" and "be one with the universe." He was a frail, peace-loving healer, it seemed - until Sung-hyeon "JJonak" Bang's January debut in the Overwatch League.
Four days after the League launched, JJonak's Zenyatta exacted an absolutely bonkers 10,764 damage, 24 per cent of his entire team's output on the Junkertown map. Later that game, he stole more damage than any of his New York Excelsior teammates or their opponents, the Houston Outlaws. The broadcasters didn't know how to process what was happening in front of them - Zenyatta was spiking his monk's robes to the ground and going on a bloodthirsty rampage.
JJonak, who plays Zenyatta for the best Overwatch team, the NYXL, is a baby-faced 18-year-old whose bowl-cut hair was dyed bleached blonde for a while. Raised in Seoul, JJonak has called his younger self "naughty," not studying much in favour of first-person shooters and fighting games. His parents, whom he says he has a good relationship with, never chastised him. Behind his large, circular glasses, a little mischief is still visible in his eyes. The tag JJonak stands for "jjomullak najki," or "fumbling octopus."
He encountered the game at a PC Bang, one of South Korea's pay-per-hour, brick-and-mortar PC gaming locales, in his second year of high school while whiling time away before an event with his friends. In a video produced by NYXL, JJonak explains, "I played McCree for the first time and killed lots with my ults. I played well that time and got more interested in Overwatch, so I started playing more." More and more, he'd show up at PC Bangs to play Overwatch, and finally, when his mum gifted him a spare 50,000 won ($65), he purchased a copy for himself.
As he tells it, JJonak in elementary school answered the traditional "What do you want to be when you grow up?" quiz with his now-profession: a pro gamer.
He looked up to Seoul Dynasty's Je-hong "Ryujehong" Ryu, a famous support player, as a role model, whom he first saw on TV and at Overwatch tournaments. Modulating his mouse sensitivity to match Ryujehong's, and studying the support player's playstyle, keyboard, mouse and mouse pad choices, JJonak trained in Ryujehong's image. After climbing the competitive ladder in Overwatch, JJonak began applying to teams in Korea, but he was still relatively green when he joined the OWL: his first NYXL match was his pro debut.
"I was very nervous," JJonak says, adding, "The more fun I had, the better I played." The NYXL are leading the OWL at 16-2 right now, and JJonak is arguably their most valuable player. At this point, he's surpassed his idol Ryujehong in Zenyatta play. He's not the best simply because of how effective he is; it's because he unlocked the full, savage potential of an underestimated support hero.
"[JJonak] is literally one of the best debuts we have ever seen from a guy pulled out from the competitive ladder," Overwatch analyst Josh "Sideshow" Wilkinson told Cybersport in an interview yesterday.
Zenyatta has two main abilities, an orb of harmony and an orb of discord.Traditionally, Zenyatta players strategically place the harmony orb on allies to heal them and the discord orb on enemies to weaken them. Hovering above an enemy's head, Zenyatta's discord orb is essentially a damage-enhancing "kick me!" sign for DPS (high damage-dealing) teammates. His secondary fire is orbs he can fire at opponents. Charged, they do a fatal 230 damage, but more often, players will fire them in quick succession at 46 damage per orb. What you really need to know is that for the vast majority of Overwatch players, Zenyatta's toolkit frames him as a support hero, boosting and healing allies while doing a little damage to help them out, too.
JJonak sees something different in Zenyatta. To him, Zenyatta is a powerhouse. His playstyle hinges on three things: a near-psychic ability to predict where opponents will be, perfect aim, and plain bravery. For two seconds, JJonak charges his orbs to their maximum damage while approaching somewhere an opponent might end up. (Overwatch moves fast, so seeing two seconds into the future is very, very tricky.) Then, JJonak releases them, often landing headshots or cross-map snipes like some trick-shotting DPS player. On his own, without the help of a tank or DPS player, he'll venture to maps' corners and eddys, or over to enemies' backlines, picking off weaker heroes with just one well-aimed shot. He ends fights before they begin.
— NYXL (@NYXL) March 18, 2018
In his first pro game ever, against the Boston Uprising, Jjonak sent a fully charged set of orbs as far as he could see across the map, instantly killing the Uprising's support player. Within seconds, he played a part in four other kills:
In a tight game against the Seoul Dynasty last week, JJonak ventured onto the second point on Hanamura to take out a Soldier 76, who was shooting out tons of damage with his ultimate ability. Midway through that Soldier 76's ult, JJonak lands a killing headshot, allowing the NYXL to take the point:
Somewhat hilariously, JJonak often flies right by allies who are bleeding out on his way to a kill. Sometimes, instead of anticipating a big attack against allies and handing them a precautionary healing orb, he'll just charge a big, punching shot. Healing is his side-gig. Apparently, that works:
In Overwatch, super-effective damage-dealers often have healers attached to them to keep them alive or boost their attack strength. Venturing into enemy territory, a Zenyatta would ride shotgun with a DPS player on a mission while his teammate gets the glory. JJonak is different. He's the DPS and the bodyguard, yes, but a lot of the time, he gets his own bodyguard. Famously, in Overwatch League's first stage — before the healer Mercy received a big nerf — NYXL's Mercy player Yeon-joon "Ark" Hong attached his damage-enhancing beam to JJonak's Zenyatta, amplifying his fatal attacks. Relegating Mercy's beam to a support hero for long periods of time, to lots of viewers, came off surprising and strange, but the support duo paired off were a terror that shredded through teams and played a huge part in NYXL's 9-1 Stage 1 record.
All of a sudden, Overwatch's humble, peace-loving monk has ripped off his mask to reveal a monster. It was JJonak's hands that tore it off, and in the months to come, all we can do is pity whomever else is on the other end of them.