Sitting across the table from me, Dong-ha “Doha” Kim was in a chipper mood, but Joon “Fielder” Kwon would rather be somewhere else. His eyes stayed focused on the hotel lobby-like rug that swirled around our feet. I asked them if they liked this part of the job; talking to reporters.
“I like it,” Doha popped quickly.
Fielder thought for a second before speaking with assistant general manager Helen “Dear” Jang, who was translating our conversation.
“No,” he said, before Doha urged him to say more. “I get nervous,” he added. “I don’t know why.”
It felt like a normal day for Fielder. He got up, brushed his teeth, washed up and headed downstairs with his roommate, Dong-ha “Doha” Kim. Instead of taking an Uber to the Dallas Fuel practice facility, they hopped into a shuttle that took them directly to the Esports Arena in Arlington. They were finally going to play in front of fans again, but that also meant they must do some in-person interviews, too.
Dallas Fuel are back on LAN for the Battle for Texas
There were no nerves about playing on stage for the first time in Fielder’s Overwatch League career. It was only the interview, the 1-1 intimacy that required him to share his thoughts on all sorts of topics, that bothered him. The stage was what he’s been waiting for since signing with the Paris Eternal in May 2020.
“This is something that I’ve always wanted to do,” Fielder told me in a back room of the Esports Arena. They had been running rehearsals and playing in scrimmages all day in the lead up to the return of in-person play for the West Division in the Overwatch League. The convention center was filled with 1,250 foldable chairs. More seats were sold for this event than Dallas’s last homestand event that took place before the pandemic in February of 2020.
Doha was relaxed after taking a dinner break during another busy day of preparing for their match against the Houston Outlaws. This wasn’t just any offline match; it was another iteration of the battle for Texas. An astroturfed rivalry that only exists because two Overwatch League teams play out of the same state. It’s still a rivalry, though, so the stakes are higher than any online match that came before.
“You know, playing online is less pressure,” Doha said. “Playing offline is far more pressure, but it’s something you want to do because of the fans.”
A different type of Overwatch struggle
While both players have been playing online for the majority of the last two seasons, Fielder spent all of his tenure on the Paris Eternal; playing on high ping in South Korea and getting up in the early morning. He never had the chance to meet his teammates in-person or take them out to a special victory chicken dinner in Seoul after winning the Summer Showdown. In October of 2020, he and several other players were released after finishing with an impressive 15-6 season record.
Fielder didn’t spend much time reconciling with the past. After parting ways with Paris, he quickly received offers from a number of teams, including the Dallas Fuel.
“We were quite good last year. I was thinking we could go all the way this year,” he said. “But then we exploded.”
This season, Dallas’s success speaks for itself. The May Melee title, two trips to Hawaii and a first-place 7-3 record has made the squad heavyweights of western Overwatch. The success is one of the few differences that makes this season stand out when compared to last year.
Doha also went through major changes in the last season. He lost his friend, Gui-un “Decay” Jang after the Fuel released him from his contract and his head coach Aaron “Aero” Atkins, who left the organization soon after. Hee-won “RUSH” Yun has taken the wheel for the 2021 season.
“I think what I went through last year was different, but it is still a lot of work this year,” Doha said. “There are more people on the team now that have the ambition. But it’s still a struggle, just a different type of struggle.”
“It’s different because we are winning,” he added.
It’s nothing they haven’t done before
Fielder’s departure from Paris and the changes that Dallas went through feel like ancient history as I sit with both players ahead of what should be a big milestone for competitive Overwatch. But despite the palpable excitement in the Dallas Fuel Discord servers and Houston Outlaw Facebook groups, it was just another day for the players.
“It’s nothing I haven’t done before,” Doha said.
That sense of normalcy, especially in a year that has been anything but normal, is one of the main reasons for the Dallas Fuel’s success. Fielder and Doha view Overwatch as a job. It may have been the game that propelled them to fame from their bedroom’s in Seoul, but they view their team as a group of friends rather than a competitive unit.
Everything clicks in-game
“We’re good friends,” Doha said. “but I wouldn’t call us a family.”
Despite being roommates, Doha and Fielder don’t mesh much outside of their time in-game at Volskaya Industries or Kings Row. After finishing one of their 12-hour work days, they usually return to their apartments to unwind and play games on their own. It’s the type of culture that puts work ethic and pushing one another forward above all else. It’s a culture that has propelled the San Francisco Shock to back-to-back championship wins.
“Whenever I go back to my room in the apartment, I feel alone,” Fielder said, “but that’s not a bad thing.”
Fielder said that he doesn’t click with anyone on the team, although Doha did help him come out of his shell while we spoke. The way they interacted made them seem like old friends, especially with how easily little, friendly insults bounced between them.
“I have no complaints living with him,” Doha said before chuckling, “but I can’t think of any positives either.”