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Meet the 21-year-old pro gamer who's an All-Star on D.C.'s Overwatch team

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In the gaming world, he's only known as ArK. He's one of the best and most popular players in the Overwatch League -- a professional and international esports league consisting of 20 city-based teams ranging from Boston to Paris to Shanghai.

But his real name is Yeonjun Hong, and he's a 21-year-old native of Seoul, South Korea now living in Pasadena, Calif., and he's the only member of D.C.'s Washington Justice roster representing the team in this week's Overwatch League 2019 All-Stars competitions.

The Overwatch League season is broken into four stages plus a postseason playoff (February into the fall). There is also an All-Star break between the end of the second stage and start of the third.

The D.C. expansion team (new in 2019) traded for ArK -- who plays a support role and is what's known as a shot-caller, helping lead his team in communication -- prior to the start of the second stage in April, paying what team owner Mark Ein told The Washington Post was "a reasonably steep price to get him."

At the end of Stage 2, the Justice are ranked No. 18 out of 20 teams with a 1-6 record ahead of the All-Star break. 

NBC Sports Washington spoke with ArK by phone Monday -- he was at Blizzard Arena in Burbank, Calif. -- about Washington's Overwatch League team, the All-Star competition and what makes him so good. 

 

This interview has been edited and condensed.

How did you first get interested in esports in general and then Overwatch?
Since Korean culture is basically a lot about the game, not every but many students really like to … play the game after school. So I just got interested in gaming when I was really young and started it. And specifically with Overwatch, my friend let me do it and it was really fun, so I just tried hard. 

What was fun about it?
Basically, it was my first FPS (first-person shooter) game, but it had more non-FPS things inside it. So it was kind of easy for me to start it. 

You're relatively new to the Washington Justice, so how would you describe your style to fans who are still getting to know you?
Basically, I think I try to play smarter than other players and try to talk more inside the game. ... There are many shot calls inside the game -- like people say what you should do or something to each other -- and I try to do a large portion of it. 

Do you and the other players feel a lot of support from fans online?
We feel it a lot. And we’re also going to Washington soon (the Justice are visiting D.C. this week during the All-Star break), so we are also looking forward to having a fan base offline too.

The Justice are hosting home matches for the first time next season. What do you think those will be like? 
I think the idea is really good, but I’m kind of worried about … if we’ll be on a plane all the time with the timeline and jet lag. Except for that, I think if we have home matches, that will be great. … I think we’ll be staying in Washington, but I’m not sure. But we’re going to be riding a plane a lot, (I'm) worried about that if there’s an away match and we go.

How do you prepare for each match? Do you have a routine?
Our team just tries to prepare for the overall teams. The matches are almost every three days or four days, so we just try to adapt to how we’re going to play. And we just prepare for the specific team the day before.

And what about your preparation individually? 
I, individually, try to look at lots of media of how we play and how we should play so I can do better shot-calls. Not only (how the other team plays) but also us. 

What are you looking for when you watch how your team plays?
I just try to see how we use the ultimate or how we adapt the position from each circumstance. 

How do you train or practice to be a better player?
I try to make a routine every day. Many esports players are unhealthy, so I just try to be healthier than them, like having a breakfast or doing some exercise. I try to start with the little things that can change my life.  ... And also as a team, we practice with the (scrimmages) with other teams.

Does your diet play a role in that as well?
At first, I was actually having a lot of soda, so I try to reduce that a lot. And I just try not to eat greasy food at night, just things like that.

Do you find you play better when you don’t drink soda or eat greasy food?
I think it’s better, and not in large portions, but I think it’s going to make change if I go longer and longer.

For people who aren’t too familiar with Overwatch, how would you describe your role as a support player?
I feel like the support player is like the player who (is) not only healing the team or protecting but also tries to manage the teammates with how to move. … Like a goalkeeper in soccer, we can just try to manage more positioning. 

What is your biggest strength as a player?
As a player, I think I’m probably one of the best shot-callers and also really good at knowing how to move the teammates.

What does it mean to you to be a starter in the All-Star lineup?
About that, I always thank my fans because they always support me. And even though I just joined the team, I thank all the Washington Justice fans.

For people who are looking to become fans of esports but aren’t sure where to start, why would you tell them to watch the Overwatch League?
I think if you want to go have fun with esports, I think you guys can have fun with Overwatch. … And you can just start watching one or two matches … and I think you can just get into it.

 

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