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Runaway: watching the legend grow and what it meant to me in the end.

I didn’t want to write about Runaway. I planned on trying to skip all the emotions I was feeling and go straight into theorycrafting about what’s going to happen next. I started to write several times in the last two days. I kept trying, but nothing felt right.

I was writing as if the disbandment of Runaway didn’t affect me, even though I was crying with each new piece of information that came to light. I was pretending like this wasn’t one of the worst moments in Overwatch esports history, like I wasn’t watching something I had believed in so fiercely crumble before my eyes.

It felt disingenuous. It felt wrong.

I realized that before I could even pretend to move on from Runaway, from what it meant to me, I had to say goodbye. To the team, the players, and most importantly, to what they stood for.

“Time is the longest distance between two places.” — Tennessee Williams

I’ve got an interesting perspective on Runaway. When I started watching pro-Overwatch, way back in late-2016, I was watching mostly NA-based tournaments. I was a high school student who couldn’t afford to stay up to watch APEX and didn’t see the point in investing in something I couldn’t watch live.

Then, Team Envy made it to APEX Season 1 finals, and I decided to watch the VOD. I saw what the hype around APEX was all about, and I fell in love.

Runaway vs Lunatic-Hai graphic made by OGN

APEX was different from anything happening in pro-Overwatch at that time, and even today there’s nothing that comes close to it. Nothing in existence right now is remotely similar to the hype, the content, and the sheer joy APEX brought with it. I know I sound pretentious, but go back and watch a VOD (I recommend Season 2 LW Blue vs Runaway) and you’ll see what I mean. I was hooked.

I followed Season 2 as closely as I could, through a combination of VODs, staying up far later than I should have, and setting an interesting system of alarms so I would wake up to watch games. I watched the start of Runaway’s story live and in color. But, at first, they weren’t my favorite team. That’s where I think my perspective differs.

My favorite team was LW Blue (who has now gone on to form the core of NYXL). LW Blue had SBB, one of the most entertaining players of all time, along with Gambler, Flow3r, Luna, and Janus. All the players are well known now, but they were known even better back then thanks to APEX’s incredible content team.

So, Runaway was not my favorite team. But, despite that, I loved them. I don’t think there was a single person watching at that time who didn’t. Their story was just so perfect.

Runaway had come out of nowhere after a poor showing in Season 1. They had no sponsors, no team house, and not even a place to practice together. And somehow, they excelled. They were excellent in interviews, personable on stream, and most of all, when Runaway played, it was evident they were hungry to prove themselves.

There’s never been a team so hungry for a win. Aside from Runner: the owner, shot-caller, and main support player; Runaway was a bunch of kids with no money who wanted to show they were as good as anyone else. Their level of passion was respected by everyone, from the fans of the pro scene to the other players. They were given less than a 20% chance to beat LW Blue in the semi-finals. But they did, and Runner destroyed the ceiling in joy. And I wasn’t even upset! They beat my favorite team and I was happy for them.

Runaway deserved to win. They wanted to win. And it really, really looked like they could do it. All the interviews, with their talk of being a family and conquering the hardships, fed into the hype that is the legend of Runaway. Going into APEX Season 2 finals against Lunatic-Hai, everyone felt like Runaway was on top of the world. They were underdogs, but who doesn’t like an underdog?

Lunatic-Hai, however, put a stop to that narrative in devastating fashion. They had a grueling seven-map game, with both teams showcasing a level of play I don’t believe has been seen since. It all ended on Eichenwalde. To this day, fans of Runaway have nightmares about that map.

Runaway played as hard as they could. They seemed destined for the royal road, but in the end it was ripped away from them in devastating fashion. Both teams played spectacularly, but Lunatic-Hai came out on top.

Haksal cried after it was over. I’ll always remember that.

The next season Runaway faded into the background, despite all the fans and praise they had won from their Season 2 run. Still, the narrative progressed. Runaway was a family. They had made that much clear in Season 2 and continued to show it despite their losses in APEX Season 3. Runner and his wife Flowervin were still there helping Runaway, even though they had a daughter of their own. The idea of the players going their separate ways was preposterous, despite their poor season.

Lunatic-Hai beat Kongdoo Panthera (another favorite of mine, I miss you Wakawaka) to win the APEX Season 3 trophy. However, in APEX Season 4, Lunatic-Hai didn’t make it into the finals. Finally, some room had opened up for another team to win the trophy.

Things were rough in Season 4. Runner was doing his military service, leaving the team without their main support or shot caller. Most people assumed they would disband. The team had been very clear that it was Runner keeping them together. They had little funding and no leader. Why would they stay?

Flowervin is why. She took on the role of GM while also caring for her own young daughter. She led Runaway to their second Finals appearance ever. She kept the team together when it was looking like they would break into pieces. Flowervin convinced Runner to allow her to continue the team, saying that “the kids deserve one more chance.” She gave them two chances as the squad everyone calls the OG Runaway and turned the team into a name that continues to this day in Contenders.

Runaway’s players took the chance she gave them and ran with it. In the end, they made it to the Season 4 finals against GC Busan. GC Busan mirrored Runaway’s story in many ways. They came out of nowhere, made it to the finals, and were simply a group of young kids playing at a very high level. There was no denying GC Busan was good — very, very good. Still, Runaway fans weren’t worried. To the fans — and me, at that point — Runaway deserved the win. They deserved the victory after all their defeats. Runaway would get it. They couldn’t fall short again.

It wasn’t meant to be. Once again, it was a heartbreaking 4–3 finals for Runaway. In one fell swoop, GC Busan had gotten everything that had eluded Runaway for years.

I’m not ashamed to say I held a grudge against those GC Busan players for a long, long time. There was just something about the injustice of it all. A lot of my friends shared the same sentiment: Runaway had struggled for years as an eternal bridesmaid. They fought against all the odds to stay together. They were considered a family by the players and the fans. Then this new team comes along and gets everything Runaway deserved? It left a sense of injustice clawing at my chest. I felt empty.

It was brutal to the fans. I can’t imagine how it felt to the players. But still, Runaway stuck together.

You can’t comprehend the situation. There’s nothing to compare it to in modern Overwatch esports. At the time, teams were disbanding left and right. Historic teams were being torn to shreds to create Frankenstein combinations of players for the new Overwatch League. Teams people had known for years were dissolving right before our eyes. Most people expected Runaway to get picked apart like all the other teams.

They didn’t. Despite all the odds, despite what was probably smart, Runaway stayed together. Flowervin continued as the GM, the players kept working for their big victory, and Runaway entered the first season of Contenders Korea as one of the only remaining classic groups. Other teams had the same names as old groups, but their players were completely different. Everything was completely different. Everything except for Runaway.

Despite the lower production value, the new production company, and the brand new teams (I can’t imagine the sudden disappearance of that many friends and coworkers was easy), Runaway never faltered. Unfortunately, their hard work didn’t pay off at first. For Contenders Korea Season 1, they came in 3rd. Not a bad placement, but did it justify staying together?

That question was especially important because several players were getting offers from teams in the Overwatch League. At the time, Runner and Flowervin were urging them to take the offers. But instead of taking the payout and joining a higher level team, Runaway’s players held their ground. They insisted on going to Overwatch League as a team or not at all.

Bold words from players who still hadn’t won a single major tournament.

Or maybe it wasn’t bold. Maybe it just made sense. Runaway did have one of the largest and most intense fanbases in pro-Overwatch at the time. After everything they had been through, people were eager to see them succeed. So what, nothing had worked out so far? That didn’t matter. Everyone knew Runaway had the potential to be the best team in Overwatch — we just knew it, deep down, where instinct lives and logic is banished.

Runaway knew it too. They stayed together for Contenders Korea Season 2, their last chance to win a tournament before the end of Overwatch League Season 1. This time, Runaway made it back to the finals, facing the brand new version of Kongdoo Panthera.

This final also ended in a 4–3 split. This time, however, that split was in favor of Runaway.

I’ll never be able to describe the euphoria of seeing them run for that trophy, finally standing on stage as winners, hugging each other and Flowervin in victory instead of defeat. It was a catharsis that had been building since January 2017, finally finished over a year later after 4 long seasons of heartache. The sense of pride and vindication was so great that I was hysterical for hours afterward.

I can’t fathom it. There’s nothing like it. I don’t think anything else can come close. The sweet relief and joy I felt… it’s untenable for someone who didn’t live through it. I sometimes wonder if I’m exaggerating it in my memory, if the feeling wasn’t as strong as I believe it was.

Of course, then I go back and watch it again and I’m thrown into the same sense of euphoria and hysteria and relief. I can’t imagine what it was like for the players, who struggled so long and gave up so much for that moment. It’s incomprehensible.

Runaway was a family on top of the world. Unbreakable, unshakable, victorious. They even got picked up into Overwatch League together, exactly like they wanted. Everything seemed perfect.

Of course, we now know differently. The Vancouver Titans never made use of the amazing storyline they bought. The Titans lacked media presence, and the team wasn’t even able to talk to the press until stage 3 because of the lack of a translator. The team itself was in a brand new place and experiencing a new phenomenon: they were winning — handily, in fact — but they weren’t happy.

Runaway’s support structure, the one that had kept the team together even while they were without money and losing badly, was completely gone. From what rumors can be reasonably believed, the Titans were without any significant support in their new jobs. The players were expected to win and be happy with just winning despite the lack of fan interaction, a support structure, or even any media presence.

It wasn’t sustainable. And now it’s gone. I don’t want to rehash the situation. Everyone knows it. But it still hurts. After everything they’ve been through, after all the victories and defeats, it wasn’t enough to keep them together. It wasn’t enough to make the people who bought Runaway respect them.

Sometimes family isn’t enough. Connection isn’t enough. Sometimes you have to do what is best for yourself, even if it hurts. That’s what the players have done. Haksal, SLime, SeoMinSoo, Stitch, Twilight, Bumper, and Jjanu have been forced to part in order to do what’s best for themselves. It hurts, and it especially hurts that it was no fault of their own.

The worst part, to me, is that such an incredible story was allowed to disappear the moment Runaway was brought it into the Overwatch League. It seemed like that was it; the amazing tale was over. Runaway proved what everyone had said for so long: in the right situation, Runaway could be the best team in the world, but it didn’t seem to matter. From the second they became the Vancouver Titans, Runaway’s story started to fade. The players were made into villains: untouchable and cold. That hurt. The players were so full of life, joy, and happiness, but got turned into something they weren’t to the world-at-large.

Runaway’s story appeared to fade and fizzle. People referred to Runaway as though they were a thing of the past, ignoring the fact that the players were still together and going strong. The big Runaway narrative is only coming back now as an acknowledgment their tale was, in fact, continuing through the Overwatch League, and it has finally ended. It’s nice to remind people that Runaway didn’t end when they joined Overwatch League. It’s nice to know that by some their story was never forgotten.

Runaway never will be forgotten. There will never be anything like them again. Now that they’re gone, I’m just glad I got to appreciate Runaway while it was here. I’ll support the players individually, of course. But Runaway — that golden, scrappy team that has been around since the beginning — is finally gone.

I don’t know what that means for Overwatch. Something unique and beautiful was crushed, and it’s gone forever. Personally, I’m going to go watch Runaway’s greatest hits, remember the good times, and mourn what could have been.

a fan of useless analysis, usually of video games, movies, and tv shows