No one can really know what it’s like to be on the Overwatch stage unless they’ve been there. Like any other performance that is watched by so many people around the world, the pressure is on to ultimately make sure you don’t make a fool of yourself on a live broadcast, despite whether you suffer from stage fright or not. While some people can be charming on camera, some people have no interest in it at all. At the end of the day, it’s still a human being living and breathing right on your screen and it can be difficult for a lot of people to remember that.
Gyeong-mu “Yakpung” Jo, tank player for the Toronto Defiant, is definitely a shy guy: quiet and very focused on his gameplay. I admit that when I asked to interview him I was initially worried that my more outgoing personality may scare him a little, so I planned on spending a few minutes in the interview room before he arrived to try to tone down my excitability, since the last thing I wanted to do was make him uncomfortable.
The problem is that I am notoriously incapable of having my plans work out, so of course, Yakpung was already seated in the room, waiting for his translator. Again, my main goal was to make sure anyone around me was comfortable, but how does one do that when there is a clear language barrier? I’m learning Korean, sure, but not enough to be comfortable speaking it. So what do I do?
I congratulated him on his win, and thankfully, replied graciously as I fumbled with my recorder to try to kill the silence in the room. As his translator entered, Yakpung actually surprised me with how shy he wasn’t, and it turned out to be a very vibrant interview. We talked about our common backgrounds with skeptical parents, the one (tragic) thing he misses about Korea, and really solid advice for all of you who wish to go pro in any game.
Nice work on the win! This season so far has been a lot of firsts for you; your first stage in OWL, your first stage playoff berth, and with this win, you’re really cementing the dark horse reputation the Defiant seems to have adopted. After such an eventful stage 1, what are you looking forward to in stage 2?
Stage 1 was very nice, it was exciting, but it feels bad that we ended up in the final eight only to lose the first game. I think that stage 2 will probably end up being the same [in that] we’ll win and get to the playoffs once again.
Considering that you are newer to the community, why don’t you introduce yourself to the fans? What do you want to accomplish in Overwatch League?
So I’m from Gwangju, South Korea and I started playing Overwatch when I was 15-ish? In season one, I ranked really high on the competitive ladder. LW was the first team who contacted me, but at the time, my mother said no, basically.
After that, I said, “Okay, whatever,” and just kept playing. Later on, Team O2 contacted me again and I got onto the team since I was a little bit older, yet I wasn’t really thinking that much about taking this too seriously. But then O2 got to the semifinals, so after that season ended, Toronto contacted me, I tried out, and that’s how I got onto the Defiant.
So on that subject, you also played with Ivy on O2 Ardeont and as a result, you are both playing with the Defiant. Given that the team roster was composed of a mix of seasoned players like yourselves along with relative unknowns to the scene, was having that experience an integral building block for the final roster?
Toronto Defiant wasn’t really built on top of O2, but rather on top of Envy. So their option at that time was really to choose the best players from Contenders. Since Ivy and I were the best, that’s why we were picked in order to help define Toronto Defiant’s synergy.
You mentioned your mom’s thoughts on your initial invitation to go pro, and I can honestly relate to that kind of skepticism with my own parents. Now that you have gone pro, how important is it to you to have that support from your family and friends?
So my family never really stopped me from playing video games, thankfully, but they were just worried about how professional gaming is not the same as playing traditional sports. They were just afraid that something would go wrong or that bad stuff would be happening. But my mom saw how strong-willed I was, so finally she said, “Okay! Whatever, just you do you.” That’s literally what happened (laughs).
Ever since then, my family has been very supportive. Plus, a bunch of my friends are just that–they’re just great friends. But the funny thing is that in school, my teachers were actually really supportive of me! They knew I was going to be a professional gamer and that requires a lot of dedication and work hours on top of school. So my teacher said, “I don’t care what you do, but just DO NOT SLEEP in my lecture.”
Wow! That’s so cool!
Yeah, it was really nice. And it was pretty much a bonus.
That’s emblematic of how much Korea really supports and even is enthusiastic, to say the least, about a career in esports. Given that your home country is that supportive, what else do you miss about it? And on the opposite end, what are you enjoying the most about being in America?
One thing I really miss from Korea is my dogs. I used to own three dogs. But my favorite dog was lost and and was run over by a car.
Oh, my God! That’s horrible! I’m so sorry!
Yeah, I really missed him because he was my favorite. But I miss my other two dogs as well, of course.
But one thing I like about America is that my bed is very soft.
Perfect. Priorities are definitely sorted. You gotta sleep.
So back to Overwatch, what is one hero you wish you knew how to play? You try as hard as you might, but you just can’t do it?
I used to play one-tank meta as D.Va, so I really miss that. Plus, I want to play Ana and Zenyatta.
Play Ana. Please play Ana. She is my main this season. I used to play main tank and then I was backed into a corner and forced to play Ana. I never looked back. You won’t regret it.
Which team do you believe is the biggest threat to you?
New York Excelsior. With other teams we play against, it always feels like it’s winnable. But with New York, it feels like they’re untouchable! But to be honest, if we really try hard and prepare, it would be winnable, but there’s just a lot of pressure.
Speaking of pressure, here’s my last one. A lot of players are out there who want to go pro and obviously a lot of them realize how difficult it can be to do so. What’s the one piece of advice you’d like to give those who want to one day play in the Overwatch League?
Yeah, I put you on the spot!
(laughs) Okay, so this is actually really juicy.
So if you really want to be pro, whether it be in Overwatch or whatever. Just go into the online communities; there are a lot of sections there that are titled “Looking for Player.” There’s a lot of pro teams that are looking for players, so just try to apply as much as you can so you can receive trials. That way, you get noticed and get more opportunities.
So in basically any of the online communities supporting those games?
Exactly, so in communities like Reddit, they’ll be there. But there is a big community called Inven that hosts the biggest Overwatch community in Korea. And right on that site is a “Looking for Player” section, where a lot of pro teams search for those looking to try out with them, from amateur teams to fully-fledged pro teams. So apply there, get trials, and see where that takes you.
That brings a lot of hope to people who want to join a professional team! Thank you so much, Yakpung!
Of course! Anytime!
Watch Yakpung and the rest of the Toronto Defiant take on the Philadelphia Fusion tonight (April 11th) at 9:15pm PST on Twitch, OWL.com, or the ESPN App.