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In-depth interview with RunAway owner Runner

RunAway owner Runner wants to be in Overwatch League

Slingshot’s Andrew Kim caught up with Yoon “Runner” Dae-hoon, owner of Korean Overwatch fan favorite RunAway (in Korean and translated to English), to talk about how the team came together and how it almost fell apart.

Andrew Kim: You have a background as a streamer on AfreecaTV and now as the coach and owner of an Overwatch team. How did that transition come about?

Yoon “Runner” Dae-hoon: My streaming style is one that emphasized enjoyable gameplay so that the viewers can have fun. Before APEX, there was a small Overwatch contents competition on Afreeca featuring teams made up of streamers and other members that they chose. I made up a team with Ryujehong (Ryu Je-hong) and LEETAEJUN (Lee Tae-jun) and Haksal (Kim Hyo-jong), and we won. That was the start. LEETAEJUN and Ryujehong were already a part of Lunatic-Hai, so they went their own way, and since Haksal didn’t have a team affiliation, I thought of competing with him for fun. I gathered my teammates through my streams, and that’s how I added players like Kaiser (Ryu Sang-hoon). We competed with a half-fun and half-serious mentality, but we ended up making it out of the group of death for the offline qualifiers for APEX. I had no idea that it would evolve into something like this at that time.

AK: Unlike other teams, you have a strong streaming and YouTube presence where you talk about the inner workings of the team. Can you tell me more about your philosophy in terms of team management in that direction?

YDH: I think that’s what sets us apart from the other teams, that it has me as a previous streaming personality at the helm, with a sizable YouTube subscriber count of about 600,000. I wanted to use that as a platform to communicate with fans and create new fans. I’ve heard that our team is the second most popular one domestically, and the reason behind that is because of that constant communication and video content that the fans want to see. I have hired staffers for YouTube content like filmers and editors, and our team gathered a following as I was working with them. I think that there aren’t a lot of teams that actively talk with their fans through content, and I think what we’re doing it great, and it makes the fans happy too.

AK: Your team also recently moved into a gaming house of sorts at great personal expense. How did you make the decision to move into a place with the team?

YDH: Honestly the final decision came down to my wife. I was thinking a lot about going into a gaming house but was unsure because of the associated costs with it, and the time investment that goes into creating that environment, creating roles in it, and managing it. It’s not like this team is my main source of income, and I have a family of my own including a child, so it was a very difficult thing to think about. Initially I thought that a gaming house would be impossible, since it would be too heavy of a decision but my wife — who is also a streamer on Afreeca — told me that we should try to create an environment for the team for at least one season, since the players all followed me faithfully. The players also wanted to go into a gaming house, so she told me that giving them a gaming house would be a way to repay that faith. This was all possible thanks to her. It might seem like it was all me, but in actually she did everything from looking for a good location, buying things that the players need, and setting everything up. She was an immense help.

I’ve kept hearing from people around me that what I was trying to do was insane. It’s not like there are a lot of teams that make money with Overwatch, and in Korea there aren’t a lot of prospective sponsors for an Overwatch team. Looking back though, I don’t regret my decision at all. It gave me a great amount of inner peace, and I think our team’s current success is at least in part thanks to the new gaming house.

AK: You recently tweeted that you were looking for an Overwatch League team to join, but since Haksal is too young, he’d have to sit out for the first season. What are your plans in that regard?

YDH: Haksal is a player that was with me from the very beginning, but he’s too young to compete in the OWL right now, but I don’t want to send him away to another team or anything. If we do get to compete in the OWL, we’ll have to find a replacement and I was confident that I can find a good player using my experience and my new eye for player talent. The reason I mentioned Haksal at all was because I’ve heard voices overseas that RunAway can’t compete in the OWL since Haksal is so young. Undoubtedly Haksal is a unique player that does well, but it’s also the team that sets him up so he can wreak havoc. I think it was a bit frustrating because it seemed like the evaluations of our team were slightly off.

We really messed up in Season 3 (of APEX) due to some undisclosed internal issues, and resulted in us failing to make it into Round 2 of groups. I think that it’s because of that we’re not able to move as quickly as other teams into the OWL. Even if we can’t make it into the OWL, I don’t think we’ll be incredibly disappointed because the players already have the mentality of “if not this season the next.” Of course if we do make it to the OWL, that would be the best case scenario.

In Korea there aren’t a lot of investors or title sponsors in Overwatch. Since overseas companies are a bit more open to the idea and have a positive outlook in the game’s future, beyond Overwatch League, I really want to find a sponsor or a title sponsor so that I can provide a better environment to my players.

I know that my players are at the caliber of the Overwatch League, and they’re proving it with Season 4. If we can make it this far after only a month of being in a gaming house, I was confident of our growth potential. I made that pose because of that confidence, but if we don’t make it to Season 1 because of our previous APEX season it’s our fault, and we can’t do anything about it.

AK: Did any of your players get offers from other teams?

YDH: A couple of my players got offers, but it’s ultimately the decision of the player. Like we’ve done with Kaiser in the past, I don’t want to tie the players down out of spite. If they want to leave and the interested team is bringing them in through the proper channels, then I’m more than willing to let them go. But again, it’s a call only the player can make, since he needs to want to go in order to play well and live well with his new team. I guess the players aren’t really eager to leave, as they’re still sitting on the offers.

AK: I think it could be a sign that the players just like you and the team that much. 

YDH: I guess that could be it (laughs). I think the players don’t want to leave by themselves. We have been seeing offers here and there, and we’re talking with the players about them.

AK: To talk about how RunAway functions as a team in APEX Season 4, how do you make the decision to play which player or switch entire roles?

YDH: There’s only one good thing when I go into the booth; the atmosphere and the mental recovery. They all listen to what I have to say, so if I’m going in then it means the players are quite off-kilter and are looking for me, and other than that I have no reason to go in. In the case of Kaiser, he’s the top Reinhardt player, and his position as either the starter or sub can be a source of pressure for the opposing team. They would think “oh RunAway is using Reinhardt,” and we can impact their hero picks strategically.

We’re currently moving the roles around like putting KoX (Kim Min-soo) as the DPS, Haksal as Lucio, or Bumper (Park Sang-beom) from a sub-tank to a sub-healer or Lucio right now. There is a fair bit of risk to this as it can mean that the players aren’t experts at their given roles, but they’re all so talented. They continue to follow instructions and do well despite the changes, which makes it work. The positive side of this is, if we look at Lunatic-Hai, Ryujehong has his own style, Zunba (kim Jun-hyuk) has his own D.Va style, etc. We use that information in competition to predict what they will do. On the other hand, our healers and DPS keep changing, so our opponents can’t prepare well against us.

This wasn’t a strategic choice originally. It started out as “hey why are you sucking as D.Va? Go try something else.” The match against MVP Space as the first time we did this on stage, and it left a large impression on us because it worked. It wasn’t like we played against a weak team, since MVP beat Lunatic-Hai. It was so unexpected and gave us the idea of using it as a strategy.

AK: On the topic of starting player choices, a lot of western fans are wondering why we haven’t been seeing Kaiser as of late. Can you elaborate on why?

YDH: Right now the main tank meta is Winston, and Kaiser isn’t as good on him as he is on Reinhardt, so he hasn’t been playing often. I think things will change based on how desperate he is in changing that. He can play if he works hard and brings his performance up to the level that we need it to be. I think it’s up to him now.

AK: Competitive players and pros have been talking about the game’s balance as of late. What are your opinions on the state of Overwatch?

YDH: I don’t know much about the live server because the tournament we’re in right now isn’t on the live patch, but an older one. I’ve been avoiding the live patch to prevent my own confusion. From what small parts I did see, I think Lucio’s reign has come to an end. So far there wasn’t a single meta where he wouldn’t be played, but I think the new one might be the first. Mercy is so unbelievably broken. Her dash and her 20 second ultimate duration are so busted. Winston is still the main tank of choice, which makes me think maybe it’s been like this for a bit too long. I hope that the balancing will be in the form where each team can use different main tanks based on their style of play, but from Season 3 onwards, I’ve only seen Winston, which did have an impact on the entertainment value of watching games. The most fun was when The Zarya and Reinhardt ulitmates were going off along with a nano-boosted Genji as the DPS.

To be clear though, I don’t know the clear state of balance right now. I think I played less than 10 competitive games on the new patch. As the coach and head coach, if I play too much of the live patch it would interfere with my thoughts, and I’m concerned it might get in the way of my preparing the team for the tournament.

AK: You mentioned that moving into a gaming house really seemed to have helped the team for this season. Can you describe what moving into the new place was like?

LDH: We moved into the gaming house three days before the deciding match for the second round of groups. It took a very long time to look for a place we liked to be in, and originally we wanted to find an officetel (a combination of office and hotel), since its affordable and electricity is cheaper, but the problem was that most of them only have one bathroom, with only a couple that have two. So we just pulled the trigger to move into an apartment even if the electricity bill ends up being $1,000. We couldn’t move into the apartment right away either. So with all that going on, we moved in on Sept. 2, three days before our match in Sept. 5, playing games back to back since.

My streams usually end at 1 or 2 a.m., and that’s when me, my wife, and the staff go get something to eat, but now we go to the gaming house and eat there. The pattern shifted in a weird way, like we’re keeping two families together. It’s like we have a separate newly-wed’s home since it’s small, the baby isn’t there, and my wife even cleans the gaming house, something I’m trying to tell her not to do. We’re doing ok. We found a new person to cook and clean and they’ve been with us for the past few weeks.

AK: You have a real eye for talent, based on how you built your team, which is performing admirably. Where did you develop such an eye? Do you have any players you’re looking at right now?

LDH: I don’t know if I have a really good analytical eye for the game. When I first saw Haksal for instance, at the time in Korea the best Genji player was someone else. But I got a strong feeling that Haksal is the best Genji ever and I worked with him since, and the same applied to Kaiser. When KoX took the tryout, a lot of the fans were against adding him to the team because he used very rough language. But I thought we should add him immediately. When I heard his briefing, I thought he was a player that knows how to win a game. Looking at his play, I said that KoX is an “entry level Flower.” He knows how to play all the heroes and knows how to play the game out. This was before he was popular. Another mysterious thing was when I was casting for the Open Division. I saw GC Busan there, and I said that they’ll come straight to the tier 1 tournament, and they’ve made it to quarters and even beat Lunatic-Hai. Looking at that I don’t feel like I have a strong understanding of the game, but maybe it’s some luck that I have a knack at scouting talent. I do have a number of players I’ve noticed, and I’ll have to move forward with the team.

AK: Still, I imagine it’s great to see RunAway do so well after its breakout performance in Season 2, your struggles in Season 3, and now your triumph in Season 4 after moving into a gaming house.

LDH: I really thought we would fail to make it to Round 2 this season too (laughs). When we moved in a lot of people around me told me after we moved into the gaming house “what are you going to do if you get eliminated from the tournament three days later?” (laughs) The pressure was intense. People might look at what I do as an investment, but it’s more about cultivating loyalty, passion, and personal connections with the team. It’s not something I did looking at the money, but the passion of the team  and created this good season. If I would have entered into this decision looking at money, then we wouldn’t have done this well.

It’ll be great to be in the Overwatch League, and even if we’re not, we’ll still be in APEX. I personally hope that I meet a title sponsor overseas that’s willing to support us. I can personally guarantee the high marketing power of the team. At first when I told the team to do certain reactions, they would be shy and not do it, but now they listen to what I have to say. I think they’ve been trained in that regard, so they know how to make the crowd happy and entertained. I know that giving the players benefits that rival the Overwatch League will be tough, but I want to create at least a similar level for them. It’s too difficult to do that just by myself, and we’ll need a good sponsor to make that happen.

In the event that we don’t join Season 1, I’m confident that we’ll get in for Season 2 no matter what, and the same goes for the rest of the team. We’re not going to be depressed or anything, and we’re working hard to continue to perform well.

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