It's widely accepted that Lunatic-Hai's Yang "Tobi" Jin-mo is the best Lucio player in the world, but who's the runner-up?
Many Korean experts point to Cloud9 KongDoo's unsung hero, An "wakawaka" Jee-ho. A number of analysts and coaches, in fact, only rate Tobi and wakawaka's Lucios as truly world-class.
Six months ago, wakawaka wasn't even playing Lucio. He competed in all of OGN Overwatch APEX Season 1 as KongDoo Panthera's DPS, then became a flex off-tank/DPS for Season 2. Over the two seasons, he earned praise for his consistent level of play and wide hero pool, but his style would occasionally be criticized for being perhaps a bit too safe for his role; he never looked terrible, but never set the world on fire either, save for some standout games on Pharah or D.Va.
KongDoo's post-Season 2 decision to move wakawaka into the primary support position, and transfer Kim "Birdring" Ji-hyuk from Uncia to Panthera, was understandable.
"All I can do is lament my level of skill [as a DPS] -- I'm retreating to the Lucio role," wakawaka said jokingly at the start of Season 3. "Birdring's playstyle is much more aggressive than mine, and unlike me, he can play Genji, so we will now be able to play a wider variety of compositions."
At the beginning of his transition, wakawaka looked rather shaky. Even though his defensive tendencies were supposed to fit the role well, there would be many moments in which he would get picked off due to his lack of experience. But he made massive improvements over the course of the season, particularly in his quarterfinal matches against Lunatic-Hai and LW Blue. By the time KongDoo Panthera met EnVyUs in the semifinals, the team was so confident in wakawaka's abilities that they didn't even think it necessary to devise any specific strategies against superstar Tracer player Kim "EFFECT" Hyeon's backline flanks.
"Our answer to EFFECT was wakawaka," Birdring said right after Panthera's 4-0 sweep over EnVyUs. "Sometimes we had to use Defense Matrix as well, but overall we didn't have too much trouble."
Both Tobi and wakawaka originally were DPS players; Tobi was renowned for his Tracer before joining Lunatic-Hai and picking up Lucio. Perhaps due to this shared background, the two players' LMB aim and evasive movements are impeccable. This allows them to regularly outplay enemy Tracers and Genjis in 1v1s -- a highly appreciated skill in the dive meta which has dominated most of APEX Season 3 and 4.
Another huge advantage granted by superb LMB aim is that they can position more freely. Lucio players with mediocre shot accuracy must rely on healing numbers to charge Sound Barrier, which forces them to stick close to the team's main group lest they lose the ult race. Players such as Tobi and wakawaka, on the other hand, can afford to heal a bit less and stay in more tactically advantageous locations if needed.
Although KongDoo Panthera ultimately lost 3-4 to Lunatic-Hai in the APEX Season 3 finals, the team has only improved since then (something that cannot be said for Lunatic-Hai). By replacing secondary support Yang "Luffy" Seong-hyun with Choi "BDosin" Seung-tae, the squad has become even more proactive and aggressive, as BDosin tends to stay further forward than most players in his position.
For wakawaka, the clash between his own conservative instincts and BDosin's highly combative style -- "[BDosin] is always confident in his skill and just goes [straight] into the thick of combat, so I'm dying more than I used to, trying to look out for him," wakawaka grumbled -- has forced him to adopt an alien mentality. And although he may not be enjoying the new high-risk approach, it seems to be elevating his play to new levels, even accounting for the fact that his team has yet to face elite opposition this season.
C9 KongDoo are currently considered the clear favorites to take home the APEX Season 4 championship. With LW Blue forfeiting the tournament for undisclosed reasons, and Lunatic-Hai still busy figuring out how to best utilize its four-man DPS rotation, C9's path to glory seems to be carpeted in red. But wakawaka is wary of letting his guard down, even after having dismantled NC Foxes in dominant fashion.
"Lunatic-Hai has looked disarrayed in some recent games, particularly against GC Busan, but I believe they're still a very good team," he said. "And speaking of GC Busan, they've improved so much in the last few weeks -- it's amazing how far they've come. So I think those two teams will pose the most danger."
With Blizzard Entertainment's Overwatch League set to launch in December, Season 4 may be OGN APEX's final run as the world's premier Overwatch esports tournament. C9 KongDoo is intent on becoming the last team to win APEX as we know it, and its new sponsorship has only added motivation.
"I watch a lot of other esports such as League of Legends and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, so Cloud9 was a very familiar name to me," wakawaka said. "I always thought the C9 brand was cool -- their logo is pretty, and I like pretty things -- so I was surprised and happy when we learned of the deal. The team is very happy that we've gotten to head to the Overwatch League together, and we're working even harder as a result."
"We are determined to leave with [an APEX victory] in our hands."