Last Saturday, Overwatch team Seoul Dynasty revealed its newest coach: Lee "Hocury" Ho-cheol, the former head coach of GC Busan.
Hocury is one of the sharpest minds in Korean Overwatch, and his tactical genius was instrumental in Busan's OGN APEX Season 4 victory. According to sources, Dynasty owner Kevin Chou suggested the acquisition of Hocury after his team, Lunatic-Hai, lost twice in a row to Busan.
Hocury is soft-spoken and naturally humble. The first time I spoke with him was after his team took a clean 4-0 victory in last season's semifinals. The second was right after they won the whole thing. Even in the heat of those monumental victories, he showed only a relieved smile.
He hadn't changed since. An hour before the announcement, I met Hocury at the lobby of the Incheon Paradise City hotel, where Overwatch fans were swarming -- waiting for the Seoul Dynasty fan meet to start. He was wearing a black Dynasty t-shirt with a huge "VIP" lanyard around his neck.
"Your outfit makes it too obvious," I said.
He was genuinely puzzled. "Huh?"
"A lot of the fans here will have recognized you already."
"No way," he said. "Why would anyone recognize me?"
Later that day, hundreds of fans started screaming as soon as he walked onto the stage.
APEX Season 4 Chamions former GC Busan Coach (이호철) has joined Seoul Dynasty! pic.twitter.com/7QSXru7NaR
— Seoul Dynasty 🐯 (@SeoulDynasty) November 18, 2017
Had he not received that fateful call from the Dynasty, Hocury wouldn't have joined the Overwatch League. Not for a lack of offers, though. A number of other Overwatch League teams wanted him, including the London Spitfire, which signed the rest of GC Busan's championship roster (minus Moon "Ariel" Ji-seok). But Hocury declined them all. To him, staying behind and building GC Busan's second iteration from the ground up was more appealing.
Before that, Hocury spent a year coaching League of Legends teams in Japan. He enjoyed the experience, but he learned that there wasn't much an imported coach could do within a foreign team, except for, well, coach. And Hocury had ambitions beyond that.
"At the moment, coaching is probably what I'm best at," he told me at the hotel's café. "But I really want to do more than that, particularly on the administrative end of things. That's why I was going to stay at Busan as head coach."
But the Dynasty's offer was special. "The opportunity to represent Seoul and Korea was a big draw," he said. "And KSV's vision as an organization, as well as its vision for Korean esports, lined up perfectly with mine. I felt bad about leaving GC Busan, but I couldn't turn down the opportunity."
If all goes well, Hocury will eventually transition into another role in KSV -- or at least wear additional hats -- after a few seasons. There are many capable minds in Korean Overwatch that will be able to fill the hole he will one day leave behind, including his new coaching colleagues at the Seoul Dynasty. In the near future, however, Hocury will only serve as a coach.
I wondered how he was adapting to his new work environment. He was an amazing head coach for GC Busan, but it's not uncommon for great coaches to lose efficacy when thrown into a different team with a different atmosphere. GC Busan was famous for being a particularly tight-knit squad: the players' camaraderie was always palpable, and their trust in their coaching staff was said to be absolute. I asked Hocury if Seoul Dynasty's dynamic was comparable.
"The team atmosphere was already good when I joined, but I think it's gotten even better since then," he answered, beaming. "Maybe it's all just in my head, but I already think of the players as my younger brothers -- all of them are so cute and lovable -- and I think my sincerity is getting through to them."
He also credited Ryu "ryujehong" Je-hong's cheery-big-brother presence. "His leadership is fantastic," Hocury said. "He really takes good care of his younger teammates."
Aside from the familial vibes, something else about his new team is making Hocury happy and excited: the presence of certain players he had long wanted to coach. One of them was ryujehong. Another was Kim "Fleta" Byeong-seon.
"Watching Fleta play, I often found myself thinking: 'How on earth did he even think of that play?'" Hocury said. "I really wanted to get inside his head, to understand how he approaches the game. What he did on Flash Lux -- continuously shining by himself on a continuously losing team -- is really difficult. And he's never been involved in any kind of drama, either. When I finally got to work with him, I couldn't help but be awed at his drive. He's only 19, but he's so serious, so determined to improve. It's amazing."
Hocury also had high praise for his fellow Dynasty coaches, Kim "nuGget" Yo-han and Chae "alwaysoov" Ho-jeong. While the exact method of cooperative coaching is still being worked out, he believes that the three coaches will be able to avoid spoiling the broth.
"We're still experimenting, but we're already working well together," he said. "For example, Coach nuGget is great at providing detailed micro-level feedback, whereas Coach alwaysoov is great at piecing together big-picture strategies. I have faith that our combined coaching will turn out to be really great."
As much as Hocury is excited about his new team, he is wary of feeling too optimistic about their chances in the Overwatch League's inaugural season. He is convinced that every single team in the league will be far stronger than most fans' current estimations.
"I think people are massively underrating all the non-Korean teams," he said. "The skill gaps between teams are surprisingly small at the moment. Diligence will decide everything."
I asked Hocury whether or not Dynasty would have any advantages over other teams at the league's start. He wasn't too sure, as most Korean teams bound for the Overwatch League weren't showing that much in scrims. Still, he offered some hopeful words on two fronts.
"We probably won't suffer as much from stage nerves, since many of our players have so much experience overcoming the pressure to win tournaments," he said. "And this is more of an individual thing, but fans should look forward to [Gong "Miro" Jin-hyeok]'s performance in the league."
"Miro will be really good now," he stressed, nodding slowly with a glint in his eye. "Really, really good."
Some 30 minutes had passed by now, and Hocury had to get ready for another schedule. Before he left, I asked if he had left anything unsaid to his former Busan players, now at the London Spitfire. Hocury sat quietly for a while, gathering his thoughts.
"I'd like to tell them to be proud of how far they've come, and what they've gone through," he said. "They literally went through every step of the way, from the bottom to the top, from the third division to the second division to becoming the champions of APEX and APAC. I hope they'll always be proud of that, and play with that pride in the Overwatch League."