Mano’s quiet consistency masks bigger dreams
Long considered "one of" the best Overwatch League players across four seasons, he is hoping to shed any qualifiers
There are very few pro Overwatch players who have managed to remain both relevant and consistent through the Overwatch League’s four-year lifespan. Many of the star players of yore have since fallen by the wayside, either benched or forgotten. For example, when the faded stars in the Overwatch League come up, thoughts of the New York Excelsior are typically quick to follow. When they first started out in 2018, NYXL were the undisputed best team in the league. Original players like Park “Saebyeolbe” Jong-ryeol and Kim “MekO” Tae-hong were considered the best in the world. Now they’re either not in the league anymore or they never see playtime on their current teams. The ones still actively playing, like inaugural MVP Bang “JJonak” Seong-hyun, aren’t held in nearly as high regard as they used to be. Only one member of that original Overwatch League NYXL roster has stood the test of time: main tank Kim “Mano” Dong-gyu.
Mano is one of the few league veterans whose reputation has never truly diminished. He’s almost never been benched, never had a rough patch and never done anything to fall out of the community’s favor. Four seasons in and he’s still considered one of the most solid players in the league — not just in his role, but overall, too.
For all of NYXL’s problems over the years, Mano’s quietly consistent play allowed him to avoid being the main target of criticism in the same way some of his former teammates and coaches have been. He entered the conversation for best main tank in the league during his debut season and never really left it. Though others, like Dallas’ Lee “Fearless” Eui-seok and San Francisco’s Matthew “Super” DeLisi, have risen above him at varying times, Mano is universally regarded as a reliable main tank whose fundamental playstyle needs no adjustments.
“Playing main tank hasn’t changed that much,” said Mano. “I just keep playing the same way as I always have.”
For three years, NYXL were moderately successful and continued to orbit the top teams, but they never quite reached the heights they’d had prior, especially not at the level of winning a championship. The team eventually dropped the majority of its roster and rebuilt entirely.
For Mano, it was difficult to say goodbye, both to his teammates and to the team. The culture that the NYXL had established over the years was unique, boasting a devoted local fanbase and a strong brand solidly built around its players. When Mano found out he wasn’t going to be part of it anymore, it took time to sink in.
“I didn’t really feel much of an emotional difference at first,” he said. “But after seeing the official announcement on social media and seeing everyone talk about it, I had a very strange new feeling. I actually did feel pretty sad for a moment, but I’m adapting well to my new team now.”
In 2021, Mano is leading the charge for the Philadelphia Fusion in the Overwatch League. It’s the first time he’s played with a different group of players since 2017, and some unforeseen circumstances have made it even harder for the roster to find its footing. The team, which is based in South Korea this year, was plagued with visa issues when it came to their non-Korean players, forcing them to bring on players like flex tank Choi “HOTBA” Hong-jun and Yang “Tobi” Jin-mo as temporary replacements. HOTBA and Tobi have since been promoted to full-time players, but getting everyone on the same page required a lot of work given how little time they had.
“It definitely hasn’t been easy,” said Mano. “We pulled a roster together and had less than a week of practice.”
Even with all these challenges, the Fusion are currently undefeated in the regular season. It helps that every member of the starting roster is an Overwatch League veteran through and through. All of them have been playing professionally since 2017, when OGN APEX was the premier Korean Overwatch tournament.
According to Mano, it’s been a big advantage for them, though it also caused some confusion at first.
“Our team is basically made up of players from a lot of different teams, so we definitely had a rough start,” he said. “Everyone was making different calls, and it was hard to even consider ourselves as a real team. But as time passed, everyone worked really hard to make this happen. And since all of us are veterans, it really shows in our play that we have experience playing in the league and in tournaments.”
The Fusion are a team perpetually on the verge of greatness. On paper, they’re fully capable of winning it all — but in practice, they’ve never managed to cross that line.
It seems fitting for Mano to have come to this team, then. He’s been held in high regard his entire Overwatch League career, but neither he nor NYXL ever managed to reach the heights that everyone knew they could, and it’s been several years since anyone has definitively called him the best. Perhaps with this new start, on this new team, Mano will finally be able to be the best again, and shed the one of qualifier.
“I want people to think of me when they think of a certain hero,” he said. “For example, everyone — including me — thinks of Super whenever they discuss Reinhardt. I want to take that title from him this season.”