This article discusses suicide and self-harm. If you are struggling, do not hesitate to call a hotline or otherwise seek help. It may seem like an empty platitude but you are not alone.
Depression is a shadow. It’s the one thing you can never escape. Try as you might to run away, your shadow will follow in lock-step. You can turn away from it, but eventually the sun’s orbit will force you to face it again. The light behind you causes the darkness to leap forward. To someone who’s struggling, that darkness is distorted to be a reflection of oneself. An impenetrably black shadow. An impenetrably black you.
This is the shadow that Hyeon “EFFECT” Hwang faces. Considered by many to be one of the greatest DPS (damage dealer) players in competitive Overwatch history, EFFECT faces battles on two fronts: the clash between video-game heroes and the tussle with his inner demons. He began his career on team Meta Athena but rose to prominence when he joined EnVyUs, at the time considered the best Western team in Overwatch. He and his new teammates dominated Contenders Season 1, a prelude to Overwatch League where they’d transition into becoming the Dallas Fuel.
Fans expected the Fuel to be a top 4 team in the league and potential (albeit somewhat underdog) contenders to win the entire season. Those hopes were quickly nixed as EFFECT and co. struggled to adapt to their new environment, losing the vast majority of their matches. A struggle to succeed would put pressure on any player, but EFFECT placed the burden on his own shoulders to carry his struggling team. He was always the first to show up in their practice space and would take to social media to apologize when he felt he had failed his fans.
With time, the toll this burden was taking on his psyche became ever more visible. His distress showed in streams and on stage. It became clear that EFFECT needed a break from the league and returned to Korea in the final stage of the season to heal, unsure if he would return.
In that time, EFFECT took one particularly brave step towards finding himself: he came out as bisexual, being the second player in the league to to come out as LGBT after Houston Outlaws’ Muma. In Korea, LGBT rights are almost non-existent. Those who identify outside of heterosexual norms are discriminated against, often by law. LGBT suicides in South Korea account for roughly 54% of all suicide in the country. Sexual relations are considered by law to be “reciprocal rape.” Despite knowing the humiliation from others that coming out might cause, EFFECT proved his strength as an individual in this moment and stated that he would indeed return to Overwatch League in its 2019 season, committed to being a better teammate and most importantly a better him.
And thus he did, but to mixed success. After underperforming in his opening games on Zarya–a hero he wasn’t comfortable playing– he was replaced by teammate AKM in the Fuel’s starting lineup. We can’t know for certain the impact this had on EFFECT behind the scenes (or circumstances beyond that), but on April 6th, 2019, he announced his retirement as a professional Overwatch player.
Before discussing further, I recommend you read the message he posted on Facebook announcing his retirement. However, it must be prefaced with a trigger warning as he discusses suicidal urges and self-harm. Also, take note that this is a translation of a message posted in Korean. Credit to @swingchip930 for the translation.
I always carry a sense of shame around with me, but some days that feeling of shame gets so severe, that I get strong urges to kill myself.
I should just forget about it and do productive/positive things, but I can’t do it. I get filled with endless negative thoughts and the idea that everything is meaningless. My life is a bucket with a hole in the bottom. No matter how much I try to fill it, and fill it again, my greed knows no limits, and I found something to temporarily block the hole but the weight grows bit by bit until it eventually breaks apart and it all spills out again.
The first time I felt this sense of shame was when I was a child and watched a movie. It was an amazingly cool fantastical movie. But in comparison I felt so small. I was so envious of the dazzlingly bright main character. And I wanted to become like them. And that was when for the first time I thought to myself, “Should I die, instead of continuing to live like this?”. I checked on the internet, and that movie came out 10 years ago, so I was 13 years old back then. When my family exited the theater amazed at the CG, I was thinking about suicide.
I needed something to forget this sense of shame. The best escape was video games, of course. If I played games I couldn’t think of anything else because I had to focus on what was at hand, and whenever I carried a match, or advanced in rankings, I felt like I had become the main character of the game. That’s why I played video games. I would feel satisfied once I reached high rankings. I also did music. Whenever I played beautiful melodies and exciting beats, I would get so excited. And I’d feel happy when I could share what I’d prepared to someone else. Because in that moment, I was the star of the show.
As my head got bigger and I grew older, I was running out of ways to block the sense of shame. So I just did whatever I wanted to do. I played games and did music. Honestly, I played games more. For music I just practiced hard. But with that flimsy amount of skill, there was no way I could have adapted to college, where only the elite would gather. Their musical world was completely different from mine.
Overwatch got released, and I played Overwatch. Because I wanted to become a star in the game, I made strategy posts. I made a Youtube channel. I started streaming. And I tried my best. There was no space to think of negative thoughts because I had my hands full. I kept working hard and I kept pushing forward.
Because of that, I ended up getting here, but too much time has passed. Overwatch hasn’t changed at all. The game itself couldn’t tug at my interest anymore and I couldn’t become the star. The same comps, the same maps, the same strategies. And when I took my break, my physical form got to the worst possible state, so I should have practiced like my life depended on it but it wasn’t fun. I couldn’t even feel the allure of becoming a star anymore.
Because the negative thoughts and shame started permeating my thoughts while I was doing nothing else, when I came to my senses I realized I’d been self-harming. I’d fallen into a moment’s depression and made the wrong decision. When I thought to myself “The depression inside of me has become this big”, I felt afraid. Because I felt like if I continued on like this, I might eventually kill myself in a heated moment.
No matter how I think about it, I feel like I’ve reached the end of my mental rope. I’ve become a lot more anxious compared to what I was like before, and I no longer have the confidence to endure in a world where positive outlooks have turned negative and a world that used to be filled with praise has turned into a world of curses and criticism. I don’t want to foolishly act upon it and commit something like suicide. But no matter how I think about it, I think I need healing. I think I need to consult with doctors. I feel the need to block these growing negative thoughts. I feel like if I can’t stop this, my emotions will become like that of a landslide, and bury me and swallow me up. I feel so ashamed at how I had been so brash and outspoken, but now I can’t even do anything, so that’s why I’m making this painful and scary decision.
I returned to the league with such energy, but I regret that I couldn’t really show people anything before leaving. But Overwatch is seriously no fun anymore, and I don’t want to keep stressfully practicing. I also felt rough receiving a salary that was more than what I was worth, and felt so sorry and ashamed of it. So I am going to retire as a pro gamer. I’ll probably return to Youtube and streaming so I can provide for myself, but I think I’ll still need some time before I’ll be ready to return back to that like normal, too.
I’m sorry for the TMI. I’m usually not good at expressing my emotions with words, so once I get started, I can’t stop. Thank you for reading this long post, and I’d really like to thank you for cheering for me all this time. I’ll let you guys know I’m alive via the occasional social media post. Well, that’s all, I’ll be signing off now.
As I feel EFFECT effectively communicated his struggles, I don’t want to dwell on his words. However, what struck me most about his post is how once again he showed strength in knowing himself. Instead of suffering until his breaking point, EFFECT recognized his issues and took the steps he deemed necessary to work on healing himself. Leaving behind a dream career and comfy salary is no easy decision, but it’s important to put one’s well-being before everything else. EFFECT knew this and took a step many would be scared to take.
It also needs to be stated again that posting about his struggles as he did here is a taboo in his home country. He knowingly ran the risk of alienation. But the Western community embraced his decision as they did when he decided to leave the league and came out as bisexual. Many have and are creating tributes to one of Overwatch’s greatest (myself included with this post). His legacy is one that will not be forgotten, and I don’t say that as a platitude. It’s a rare breed of human that can exhibit the strength EFFECT has throughout the past years. Sure, he’ll be remembered for sick Tracer jukes, but more importantly he’ll be remembered for his empowering qualities as a person.
While a big part of my choosing to write this was to pay tribute to one of my favorite Overwatch players, another was to further the discussion on mental health. To return to the analogy of a shadow: just like how a literal shadow isn’t something we can make go away, so too is depression or any mental illness. There are no cures for clinical depression, anxiety, bipolar, trauma, and any number of other mental ailments. Speaking from experience as someone who’s also diagnosed by multiple of these (and whose life is impacted by it on a daily basis), the best we can do is to learn how to come to terms with what we’re facing and learn coping mechanisms. This is no easy task but EFFECT’s decision to work on himself sends a powerful message as to why it’s important to seek the support necessary to battle back against our metaphorical shadows.
Every person and object projects a shadow. It’s a natural element of existence in a physical space. But the shadow is only what we choose it to be. We can all learn from EFFECT to make our shadow not a reflection of ourselves but rather a reflection of who we’re not.