He isn't even married yet, but Baek Kwang-jin, 35, gives off more dad vibes than most young fathers in South Korea. Maybe it's that jolly paternal smile he always wears with warmth. Or maybe it's him being so blatantly uninterested in keeping up with the latest hairstyle and fashion trends. It might be because he actually is a dad, sort of, to his 11 Overwatch players.
Baek is the head coach of the Seoul Dynasty, and has held that position since the squad's days as Lunatic-Hai. A good chunk of the team's fans, however, would struggle to think of what else they know about him. Compared to how much public attention his players have received over their Overwatch careers, it's shocking how little has been published about their head honcho. But Baek never minded; keeping the focus on his players was always his goal.
To learn about Baek's background, his coaching philosophy, and what he thinks of his players, ESPN sat down with the head coach before Dynasty flew off to Los Angeles for their Overwatch League preseason games.
[This interview has been translated and edited for clarity.]
ESPN: Can you tell us about your background prior to becoming Lunatic-Hai's head coach?
Baek: I had no prior esports experience -- I was just a corporate employee who worked in sales strategy. When the Lunatic-Hai company first started its esports operations, I was a part of the team staff, but I wasn't involved in coaching. I only became head coach when the original head coach left the post due to personal reasons and I was asked to step up to the role. That was around August 2016, and I've been serving as head coach ever since.
How would you describe your coaching philosophy?
Baek: Overwatch is a very fast-paced game. Teams go through many urgent and desperate moments as they play, and even the best players will make mistakes. This is why I believe mutual trust is the most important value. You can't afford to doubt someone after they make a bad play. You have to have each other's backs all the way. There will always be 6 winners and 6 losers at the end of each round. How you rally when you're losing is really important.
Would you call yourself a strict coach? One would be inclined to think so when thinking back to APEX Season 3. Not many would make the decision to bench their superstar DPS in the latter stages of a tournament with only an unproven substitute as backup.
Baek: I'd say Coach Chae "alwaysoov" Ho-jeong is the strict one. I do put a lot of emphasis on keeping basic team discipline, such as being respectful to each other and staying focused during practice hours, but apart from those things I wouldn't call myself all that strict. Outside of work, I'm mostly like an older brother, even if my age is more in the uncle range, I guess, for many of them.
You've mentioned the [Lee "Whoru" Seung-joon] incident -- that was actually a case in which I hadn't been strict enough. I think that if I had been stricter from the very beginning, the issues wouldn't have festered to the point where it became a huge problem. That was a learning experience.
Would you like to talk briefly about your players, one by one? Many foreign fans don't know them very well yet, particularly the newer signings who haven't really gotten to play with the team on stage.
Baek: Right, sure. So I guess I'll go through them like a list.
Ryu "ryujehong" Je-hong: He's the oldest and also the purest. His younger teammates absolutely adore him because he's sort of like the village-idiot big brother -- you know, a bit slow and goofy and excitable. But when it comes to the game he's incredibly quick and sharp. His passion and desire to improve has never dipped during our time together, not even once.
Gong "Miro" Jin-hyeok: He's a true monkey, and not just because of his amazing Winston play. How should I say it? He's pure in the head, so to speak. He's a lovable dimwit. He's just adorable. Once you get to know him, you'll start feeling protective.
Yang "tobi" Jin-mo: The brains of the team. He's a hard worker and a really smart player with great concentration. He's a bit of an introvert, but in game, he helps a lot with smoothing out our tactics on the fly. He's the one who refines ryujehong's shot-calls.
Kim "ZUNBA" Joon-hyeok: We really, really wanted to sign him after watching him play in the 2016 Overwatch World Cup. Luckily for us, he became a free agent soon afterwards, so we happily snatched him up. He's very selfless -- he's talented enough to play a crazy-aggressive style of Zarya and try to carry games on his own, but he always plays what the team needs, in the style the team needs. He's a real treasure.
Moon "gido" Gi-do: Some people say he was lucky to get the chances he got, but the reason why he successfully grasped those chances is because he was well prepared. He's still very young and he'll grow into a huge player. He's also great friends with every single person on the team. Everyone feels comfortable confiding their inner thoughts to him. He's that kind of guy.
Kim "FLETA" Byung-sun: Here's the thing. He sleeps way too much. He says he can sleep anywhere, anytime, and it seems to be true! On a more serious note, we had never played against him in APEX, so we weren't 100 percent sold on how good he was said to be. But then when he came in for his tryouts, he blew us all away. His play was so ridiculously composed.
Byun "Munchkin" Sang-beom: No one will doubt his skill. But sometimes, when we're practicing, he'll start muttering toxic things under his breath, just to himself. It's actually a bit cute in a way, but obviously we want him to change for the better, so when it happens, we immediately point it out and make fun of it and teach him to cut it out that way. Overall, he's matured quite a bit since he first joined.
Koo "XepheR" Jae-mo: We were looking for an off-tank player who could also flex to certain DPS heroes, and out of all of the candidates, XepheR performed the best in tryouts. We are aware of his indirect involvement in the Dizziness incident, of course, and we believe that he definitely deserves a share of the blame for what happened back then. Yes, he wasn't directly responsible for any of the wrongdoings, but he stood by and did nothing while some of his teammates were doing something wrong, and we don't think that's okay -- there is some degree of responsibility there. But we also believe that he has learned from his mistakes, and that he's figuring out how to make things right. So we hope that our fans will at least give him a chance to prove, through his actions, that he has changed for good.
Choi "Wekeed" Seok-woo: He's not too talkative, but he's reliable and responsible. He was actually the very first player we wanted to add to our initial roster of six, but the signing was delayed because we had to go through New York, as he used to be with LW Red. He's quick to learn, very self-critical, and analyzes his own mistakes very well. We think he'll improve by leaps and bounds once we start training in America.
Kim "KuKi" Dae-kuk: He's old, intelligent, and has natural leadership. We brought him in because we felt that he and Miro could really cover for each other's weaknesses and elevate each other's game. We believe he'll serve a crucial role within the team.
[Baek unfortunately forgot to mention Chae "Bunny" Jun-hyeok. Someone please interview Baek about Bunny so the poor guy doesn't feel left out.]
Seoul Dynasty will head to the Overwatch League as the team with the largest pressure to win. Due to both the squad and the city's history, anything less than the championship would be a disappointment. Are these kinds of expectations affecting you in some way?
Baek: The burden is there, but I wouldn't say that it's affecting me that much. It's just sports, anyway -- you're always supposed to play to win. And I feel that any kind of burden that comes from our fans' love and support should be fully welcomed.
Every APEX season we played in, we ran into a serious problem that we were forced to solve midseason. So although this sounds pessimistic and grim, I expect that we will run into serious trouble about two times over the first season of the Overwatch League. We will have to use our combined experience and knowledge to overcome those two periods. If we succeed in doing so, I think we'll be able to win.
Still, I'm optimistic because our coaching staff is stacked. People like to talk about our players, but I believe our team's true strength lies in our coaches. They're not only individually brilliant, but also make up a really well-rounded team with great personal chemistry to boot. I'm very happy that we managed to bring them all in, and I'm very grateful to our owner Kevin Chou for being so committed to our vision and making all the necessary investments.