Unlike the London Spitfire, Paris Baguette is not a European Overwatch League franchise. It's a South Korean bakery chain that sells bland coffee and bakes terrible baguettes and really has nothing to do with France. But its egg tarts are decent, and Spitfire coach Kim "JeongFeel" Jeong-min is particularly fond of them. He bought two and ate them both before our late November interview even started.
JeongFeel's first long chat with media members was in May 2016 at another Paris Baguette. (He had egg tarts, then, too.) Back then, he wasn't an Overwatch coach, but a Heroes of the Storm player. He was a decent support with a good pocket Tyrande and a sharp mind for the game, but that wasn't enough to help him beat out the tough domestic competition. He never enjoyed meaningful competitive success, and soon after his first extended interview, he retired without much fanfare.
That turned out to be a blessing in disguise, however, because it led him to transition to Overwatch. At first he tried to extend his playing career in the new game, but then his former Heroes head coach, Kwon Pyung, offered him another option. Kwon had always thought highly of JeongFeel's strategic intelligence, and seeing his ex-pupil's potential, recommended him to GC Busan as a coach. JeongFeel took the job, and alongside head coach Lee "Hocury" Ho-cheol, built the foundations of the team that would later become the APEX Season 4 champions.
"Back when I first joined, they didn't even know how to position on high ground," JeongFeel said. "The coaches had to spend weeks on end pointing out elementary mistakes and teaching them the basics."
But the coaches' efforts paid off. Under their guidance, GC Busan took first place in South Korea's third-division Overwatch tournament, Road to APEX, to qualify for APEX Challengers Season 4.
Then Kwon called -- again. He had recently become Kongdoo's Overwatch head coach, and in light of JeongFeel's success at Busan, offered him a new coaching job at Kongdoo. Again, JeongFeel took Kwon's offer, and again he reaped impressive results in his first season with a team. JeongFeel led Kongdoo Panthera to the grand finals of APEX Season 3, where it lost 4-3 only by a hairsbreadth. Had Yang "Luffy" Seong-hyeon not whiffed his Transcendence in Game 6, Panthera would have most likely won 4-2.
JeongFeel still feels pangs when he recalls that finals.
"I'd never won anything as a player, so when we were on the verge of winning, all of my past losses started to flash before my eyes, one by one, like a phantasmagoria," the coach said. "But then, just when it was about to happen, we ended up losing."
He turned his gaze to the window, holding the pause like a cigarette.
"Still, it's okay. It happens. Another chance will come."
Despite the bitter ending, JeongFeel remembers the season as a thoroughly fulfilling time overall. He lit up when describing how excited he was when he first started working with the Panthera players.
"They would learn new tactics so quickly. They would extrapolate two or three completely new insights from every new idea I'd share," he said. "During my first three weeks, I slept at 6 a.m. every day because there was so much I wanted to do. Scrims ended at midnight. Then I'd do individual sessions until 4 a.m., one by one, for all 12 players. Then I'd analyze scrim film by myself until the sun came up."
For JeongFeel, such dedication is just an extension of how he's wired. Competition has been a part of his life ever since he was a boy. Prior to entering esports, JeongFeel was a track and field athlete, but then a serious traffic accident left him unable to compete.
Disillusioned by his misfortune, he spent a few years drifting, trying to find a new purpose in life, pursuing any non-sporting vocation that piqued his fancy and hoping it would quench his unsated drive. He joined a Korean traditional percussion band. He entered college and studied to become an hotelier. Yet eventually he lost interest in it all; he missed the thrill of the race. That's how he ended up coming back to sports -- only this time, electronic.
Considering his traditional sports background, perhaps it was fate that he would become a coach in the Overwatch League, arguably the most heavily traditional-sports-influenced esports project ever. Perhaps proving the merits of the approach, JeongFeel is extremely excited about wearing numbered uniforms and representing foreign cities. Back in school, whenever he wasn't training for track and field, he played soccer wearing a Fernando Torres No. 9 jersey, trying to beat pesky offside traps like his idol.
"I know the first season will be played in LA, but I'm really looking forward to living in London and going to football matches whenever I have the time and really immersing myself in British football culture," he said. "It might change when I get there, but right now, I like rooting for teams with Korean players, so I'll probably try to get Tottenham tickets, since Son Heung-min is playing there."
JeongFeel is also looking forward to the OWL teams engaging in friendly sporting activities while in Los Angeles.
"We used to play a lot of futsal (indoor soccer) back when I was on MVP," he said. "I think it would be great if everyone could befriend each other through futsal. Everyone has numbered uniforms, anyway, so we wouldn't even have to make new uniforms. Speaking of which, I'd love to play with other coaches if we can, so I hope the coaches will get numbered uniforms too."
Of course, JeongFeel is very much aware that the London Spitfire is a professional Overwatch team, not an amateur futsal team. He has spent the last few weeks discussing how to best utilize the team's four-man coaching staff, as well as getting reacquainted with the ex-GC Busan half of the Spitfire.
The process of blending together two wholly different squads, and four wholly different minds, won't be an easy task; it will most likely take a while for the team to perform at expected potential. But despite the foreseeable short-term pitfalls, JeongFeel is confident that the team is primed for success.
"I'm very happy with all of our coaches and all of our players -- every single member," he said. "Not only are they super talented, but they're also super easy to work with."
JeongFeel then added that he wanted to give a final shout-out to his tank players, which he called "the best tanks in the universe," smiling slightly to acknowledge the hyperbole.
"Our tanks -- all four of them -- are the only ones truly cooperating to improve as a group right now, and I couldn't love them more for that," he said. "Sure, it's natural, even inevitable, that players in the same position will try to get ahead of each other, since they all want to secure a place in the starting lineup. But the team comes first. Improvement comes first. Synergy comes first. So I hope my players will read this part of my interview when it comes out, and try to alter how they approach internal competition."