In a sea of blue and white jerseys, there are six players clad in pink sweatshirts. The arena itself is eerily quiet, save for a small group of South Korean fans who scream "RunAway fighting!" each time the players show up on screen. A week after RunAway's loss to GC Busan at Overwatch APEX, the players are taking the stage once more in Shanghai to participate in APAC, a last hurrah for the world's best teams before the Overwatch League inevitably renders APEX into a player-farming system.
In the midst of it all, instead of Yoon "Runner" Dae-hoon -- the team's founder, leader and lovable "dad" who once broke a ceiling tile in celebration -- there is a small blond woman. Her name is Lee "Flowervin" Hyuna.
Flowervin, 32, is a full-time YouTuber, streamer and mother. Along with her 2-year-old baby girl, she has seven sons in RunAway -- the darling team of Overwatch APEX -- a team that her husband Runner conceived in 2016.
Flowervin first met Runner at an award ceremony for streamers in 2014. It was hard not to notice him, as he came and went from his seat collecting multiple awards. At the time, she wondered, "Who is this guy? Why is he on stage so much?" Later on, he jumped into her chat room while she was streaming, and not long after that, they were dating.
Together, they built the team. If Lunatic-Hai was APEX's polished machine and GC Busan the underdogs from nowhere, then RunAway was the league's ragtag band of misfits. Their appeal is obvious: Known for its signature pink jerseys, RunAway is colorful, vibrant and easy to latch onto. Never mind the infamous clip of Runner punching out a ceiling tile in celebration, Flowervin kept fans up to speed with daily vlogs and updates on the team. Sometimes, she'd invite the players on to talk. It was easy to root for RunAway because you felt like you knew RunAway.
When asked about Runner and Flowervin, the players glow with adoration. They throw around words like trustworthy, admirable and family. For Kaiser, Runner was his "god" -- and Flowervin his goddess. "RunAway was the one chance I had in life," he says. "And I got it."
For Flowervin, Runner's dream became her own. But running the team and living her own life requires a delicate balancing act.
Now, that dream may be coming to an end.
Flowervin will never forget the day she and Runner surprised the team with a gaming house.
Each player was blindfolded, holding onto each other in a line like a runaway train, just before the start of APEX Season 4. They shuffled clumsily through the front entrance of the two-bathroom apartment complex. Once they entered the gaming room -- computers set up on manicured hardwood floors -- they removed the blindfolds. Flowervin stood holding a cake with candles.
The team house marked a new beginning, but also a final chance. RunAway was always so close, but never close enough. A string of second-place victories prevented it from cementing a spot in the nascent Overwatch League. Runner and Flowervin hoped that a team house would help the players take home the APEX title, which would mean attention from sponsors. It would mean the possibility of setting up shop in the OWL. Financial stability. Secure futures. A team house that would eventually pay itself off.
But first, the team house would require an immense amount of effort, not to mention capital. Runner and Flowervin paid for the apartment out of their own streaming incomes. Flowervin's vlogs boasted more than 600,000 YouTube subscribers, but a team house wasn't cheap. Rent in Seoul averages $840, about a fifth of the average monthly income, and that didn't begin to cover the cost of furnishing the apartment, feeding the players and most importantly, maintaining her own home with her baby.
"It sort of felt like I had made a new house and a new family," Flowervin says.
At one point, the apartment even became a topic of contention between Flowervin and Runner. He wanted the gaming house to be a place to eat, game and sleep. "To just get a place, set up computers and have the kids live there," Flowervin laughs.
But she knew that buying a house wasn't the same thing as making a home. So she set out to make it livable. Metal lunch trays for the boys to use. Matching blue towels. Kitchen amenities. Pots and pans. Food. One fan even donated a washing machine anonymously.
The team would eventually make it to the finals of APEX Season 4. Everything was coming together. But then, at the finals, when it mattered most, they fell at the hands of GC Busan. The title had eluded the team once again. So close, but never close enough. That would be RunAway's legacy.
In the following days, Cloud9 signed the GC Busan roster for a spot in the Overwatch League. RunAway's future became murkier than ever.
After the games wrap up at APAC, the Chinese media interviews Flowervin. She sits in front of the camera while the players chat in the background, munching on snacks. She sits with her ankles crossed, hands folded on her lap, back straight. She smiles and laughs prettily every time the host tells a joke.
After finishing the interview, she walks over to my table and greets me with a smile and a bow. Up close, she looks tired and frail.
"The team is like a child to me," she says. "But I don't think I'm balancing it well."
Between sponsorship meetings, vlogging for her YouTube channel, streaming, taking care of her baby and taking care of the boys, it feels like she is never doing enough.
She sighs softly, "I'm never satisfied."
But when I ask her for her favorite memory with RunAway, she says right now. No matter what happens with the team, even if the boys in pink are signed by Overwatch League teams next season, they are still her boys. This is her favorite moment with RunAway. Every day, until the end. For now, that might just be enough.