RunAway vs. Element Mystic a testament to Overwatch Contenders Korea's depth

Overwatch Contenders Korea team RunAway hoists the Season 2 trophy following the organization's first championship on Aug. 11, 2018. RunAway will face Element Mystic in the Season 3 final at midnight ET on Friday. Provided by Blizzard Entertainment

RunAway support Lee "LeeJaeGon" Jae-gon shared a familiar refrain in a postgame interview following his team's perfect run through Overwatch Contenders 2018 Season 3: Korea.

"It's unbelievable."

RunAway's burgeoning fan base was thinking the same thing in 2017 when the team was an unlikely finalist going up against then-emerging powerhouse Lunatic-Hai in OGN APEX Season 2. Lunatic Hai had at least made the playoffs in Season 1 before falling to Kongdoo Uncia in the quarterfinals. RunAway, meanwhile, had failed to make it out of their Season 1 group.

After a grueling 4-3 series, RunAway lost. Lunatic-Hai ascended to the top of South Korean Overwatch, and owner and then-support Yoon "Runner" Dae-hoon thought the team had lost its last shot at glory.

But the team's unlikely appearance in the APEX Season 2 finals was just the beginning for a grassroots brand run by Runner and his wife, Lee "Flowervin" Hyuna, that has somehow withstood the test of time. From OGN to the rise of the Overwatch League to the Vancouver Titans scooping up RunAway's South Korean Contenders Season 2-winning roster, RunAway has managed to stick around.

And the domination of this most recent RunAway team -- one of the most statistically successful iterations of the organization despite an entirely fresh lineup -- remains nothing short of impressive. The team will compete against Element Mystic for the Contenders Korea Season 3 title at midnight on Friday.

Contenders Korea, and the Contenders system as a whole, is constantly in flux. Following the demise of APEX, the inaugural Overwatch League season and the creation of Contenders Korea, a wave of South Korean talent flooded Los Angeles. This did not include RunAway, who remained in Contenders Korea unlike their top-tier counterparts and even entire teams. Lunatic-Hai became the Seoul Dynasty. Luxury Watch Blue became the New York Excelsior. RunAway got left behind.

RunAway's fellow Contenders finalists, Element Mystic, are a group born from Contenders and have been at the forefront of every Contenders Korea discussion since Season 1. Their initial rise came at an awkward time: Element Mystic earned a promotion to an APEX Season 5 that never was. Instead, they razed through Contenders Season 1 with a 5-0 record only to lose to O2 Ardeont in the quarterfinals.

Element Mystic failed to make the finals in Season 2 as well despite some phenomenal regular-season performances. The team to eliminate them in last season's semifinals was none other than the RunAway-turned-Vancouver-Titans lineup. Like most other Contenders Korea teams, Element Mystic lost a lot of players to the Overwatch League Season 2 roster shuffle, including support player Lee "Jecse" Seung-soo to the Seoul Dynasty and the tank line of Park "Pokpo" Hyeon-jun and Seo "DACO" Dong-hyeong to the Atlanta Reign.

Element Mystic found new talent in main tank Lee "Takoyaki" Young-hyun to complement team staples such as 16-year-old DPS player Kim "Sp9rk1e" Yeong-han, whose age is the only thing keeping him out of the Overwatch League for now.

While StormQuake began trotting out quad-DPS compositions on Route 66 as a meta counter, Element Mystic started playing around Sp9rk1e's uncanny flanking abilities on Doomfist. The Doomfist hasn't always looked like the best pick -- and in the worst-case scenario strands Sp9rk1e on the Doomfist when his team needs a D.Va with Choi "Hanbin" Han-been already on Zarya -- but Element Mystic keep winning with it, even in seemingly suboptimal situations. As the more standard-style RunAway tank and support line of Kim "Mag" Tae-sung, Yu "QoQ" Sung-jun, Gang "Gangnamjin" Nam-jin and LeeJaeGon prepares for the final, Sp9rk1e's Doomfist is something they will keep in mind.

Element Mystic's flexibility as a team should also be commended, especially Jung "Xzi" Ki-hyo's transition from DPS to flex support.

RunAway has become an organization with an eye for spotting and signing up-and-coming South Korean talent. Yet with the last of the "old RunAway" players like Lee "Stitch" Choong-hui, Park "Bumper" Sang-beom and Kim "Haksal" Hyo-jong leaving South Korea, expectations were varied for an entirely new RunAway lineup in Season 3 and South Korean Overwatch as a whole. RunAway wasn't the only team to lose players. As a second wave of South Korean pros were picked up for various Overwatch League Season 2 squads, the strength of the Contenders Korea landscape was thought to have weakened significantly.

Despite the dilution of its talent pool, Contenders Korea Season 3 has been full of up-and-coming players along with some more shocking upsets. The rise of teams like StormQuake and WGS Armament not only showcased unique strategies on certain maps to break down the meta triple-tank, triple-support (GOATS) compositions, but showed off rising talents like Choi "Karayan" San-ha (WGS) and the rebirth of original RunAway main tank Ryu "Kaiser" Sang-hoon on StormQuake.

RunAway meeting Element Mystic in this particular final is not only a relevant narrative around South Korean Overwatch, but also a testament to the region's depth, strength and flexibility.