Geguri: 'I want to keep trying harder and make all my fans proud'

Kim "Geguri" Se-yeon prepares to take the stage at the Overwatch League. Provided by Blizzard

On screen, Ra Zenyatta, a pharaoh version of Overwatch's mechanical healing hero, slowly bobbed up and down. After a flurry of keystrokes, a cheerful chiptunes version of Katamari Damacy's "Lonely Rolling Star" began to play. The music was immediately interrupted by a frog-faced D.Va running across the screen, accompanied by the message of a new eight-month Twitch subscriber.

A small video screen appeared above the Twitch chat box, aimed away from the player at a keyboard and mouse setup. Kim "Geguri" Se-yeon thanked the subscriber before squeezing a plush toy of Overwatch's marketable half-onion, half-octopus named Pachimari. Like always, only her keyboard, mouse and Pachimari were visible.

Disclosure's "You & Me (Flume Remix)" began to play. As D.Va, Geguri loaded up into the Practice Range and began quick, sweeping movements with her mouse to warm up.

Gonna be you. Click, click, click, click.
And me. Click, click, click, click.
Gonna be everything you. Click, click, click, click.
You've ever dreamed. Click, click, click, click.

The jerky motions, a reflection of Geguri's notoriously high mouse sensitivity, moved on beat with the violins in the song. With every subscription and cheer, she called out the username with a quick "kamsahamnida -- thank you!" combining both Korean and English into a rush of thanks. She punctuated this with a few quick squeezes and squeaks from Pachimari as the chat scrolled merrily along, also in a mixture of Korean and English.

This was the beginning of Geguri's final stream in South Korea.

A day later, Geguri boarded a plane for a 12-hour flight to Los Angeles. An off-tank/flex player, she was one of five offseason acquisitions of the Overwatch League's Shanghai Dragons. It was her first time on an airplane.

"The only thought I had was this flight is too long," she said.

Above the Overwatch League stage, next to the skybox that overlooks the entire Blizzard Arena, Geguri bowed quickly to me as she walked in the room with Shanghai Dragons Operations Director, and impromptu Korean to English translator, Michael Sun. Echoing her on-stage mannerisms, she bowed lowly. She looked at the ground more often than anywhere else. After sitting, she pulled out her phone, complete with a bright green frog phone case. She had the majority of my interview questions typed out in Korean in advance.

Geguri was always brief with her answers, even in a relaxed setting like her Twitch stream or Discord channel. Sometimes, this was due to caution. She often took extra care in what she was about to say. Other times, she could spit out blunt, almost sarcastic reactions. Her Discord channel is full of Geguri-isms like "salt. I can only give you salt," where she descended in chat to tell community members to go be fans of someone else who is a better player. It was a self-deprecating shield that her fans embraced. Geguri loved them and drew inspiration from them -- but she also worried that she'd disappoint or fail them.

Before I sat down with Geguri, the Shanghai Dragons had asked for a description of the interview, or a list of questions. Initially, I thought this was for some type of vetting process, to ensure that I wasn't asking something objectionable -- or the unavoidable question she's already answered countless times: What is it like to be the first woman in the Overwatch League? The last time I heard her answer was at the Shanghai Dragons' first Stage 3 press conference.

Her response was a weary and clipped, "I just want to play Overwatch."

Instead, she began the interview glued to her phone screen, determined to answer the questions as precisely as possible. It wasn't solely to vet them. It was so she was prepared.

There was no way that she could know I was just as nervous interviewing her. A lot has been written about Geguri, but not much of it has bothered to describe her outside of her title as the first woman in OGN's Overwatch APEX tournament, and now the first woman in the Overwatch League. This also happened to be Michael's first foray into translating, and he was a bit nervous as well.

"We're all kind of introverts here," he joked. "You, me and Geguri."

Although he was fairly new in his position with the Shanghai Dragons, he described Geguri as a delight to be around since she cracked a lot of jokes and could dispel potentially tense situations. Some of her dry humor trickled out in social media, especially when sharing anecdotes of communication difficulties on a South Korean and Chinese hybrid roster, some of which have been shared on the Overwatch League broadcast.

Halfway through the interview, Geguri started to look up from her phone. She smiled a bit more and laughed shyly while insisting, through Michael, that she expressly purchased the special edition of Overwatch upon release. She talked about her first impressions of Los Angeles (there were a lot of trees, the buildings weren't as tall as she thought they would be) and wondered about the lack of people walking around the streets.

Her love of video games came from her parents, who introduced her to Crazy Arcade when she was five years old. It was a free Korean online multiplayer game where up to eight people battled each other. She played it with her mother. This love of video games precipitated her career in Overwatch, which she bought after falling in love with the game's bright and colorful heroes in a pre-release trailer.

"They didn't really like me playing too many video games, like most parents, but they saw that I was really passionate about it," she said.

"I never really envisioned myself as a pro gamer, but when I started playing, people encouraged me as I started getting better. Then I started attracting fans and that's when I started thinking maybe I have a shot at this."

Even when comfortable, Geguri's answers were concise. The only time she paused was when she had to describe what it felt like to receive the call from the Shanghai Dragons to play in the Overwatch League. Her words were then slow, tripping forward without her usual quickness. For her, it was a tough decision.

"I contemplated quite a bit, but I knew it was a good opportunity," she said. "I wanted to experience a lot of things and a lot of fans were pushing for me. It was a challenge, so I took that opportunity."

For all her shyness, Geguri has attacked every challenge -- false accusations of aimbotting, the pressure of being the first woman in OGN APEX -- facing them head-on, garnering fan support with every step forward.

"I'm kind of quiet and introverted, so I had never been around big crowds," she said, describing her first experience onstage at OGN's e-Stadium. "When I went onstage and saw all those people, I was really nervous. I was amazed by the amount of fans but we lost that game. Since I wasn't able to win, I felt a bit sorry."

Geguri's presence in the Overwatch League attracted commentary from all sides, especially since the story of her rise as a pro is so well-documented. Yet, at every turn, and with every new challenge, her fanbase has only grown, especially when curious Overwatch viewers experienced her dry humor on stream or social media.

Geguri was her own harshest critic, but she insisted her fans were a source of inspiration and the catalyst that drove her forward. At the end of the interview, I asked if there was anything she would want to say to them.

"Mianhaeyo." Sorry.

She apologized without hesitation, wiping her hands on a handkerchief. When prodded by Michael, she amended her answer.

"I want to keep trying harder and make all my fans proud."

Two days later, the Shanghai Dragons' potential first-ever match victory slipped through their fingers on Junkertown, the map that the team have looked better on than any other. Geguri was visibly disappointed. The loudest roars from the crowd were often for her, which buoyed her spirits. It also added pressure, keeping her singularly focused on becoming the best.

"She's so hilarious," one of the fans told me after a match. "She's the kind of person that you just really want to see happy."