aKm: The Professional

There are many types of players. There are the stars who wow the crowds as they pull off incredible feats to secure victory. There are the charismatic heels who revel in the gasps and murmurs that rumble through the internet whenever they grasp the mic. There are the personable charmers whose winning smile earns thousands of followers eager to see whatever goofy antic is next posted on social media.

But the player who never receives the attention and admiration they deserve is the one who squares their shoulders, holds their tongue and does their job. They are the ones who let the public fervor wash over them with the immutable stoic resilience of a lighthouse unyielding before the storming sea.

Dylan "aKm" Bignet is one such player. The DPS for the Dallas Fuel has maintained an impeccable image throughout his Overwatch career with his unshakable mentality, consummate behavior and unwavering ability. As one of the game's most accomplished and tenured veterans, he is a paragon of professionalism to whom upcoming players should look towards as their exemplar.

The Prince of Rogue

It wasn't always like this; before he was one of League's veterans, aKm was the young gun superstar of the world's best team, and a founding member of Overwatch's oldest and longest-lasting dynasty: Rogue.

Image courtesy of OGN
Image courtesy of OGN / MinuteMedia

On Rogue, aKm honed his reputation as one of the hitscan gods of the game, and formed one third of the Holy McCree Triumvirate alongside Timo "Taimou" Kettunen and Lane "Surefour" Roberts. During the Beyblade meta he showed off impressive ability on Reaper, and he gained resurgence in 2017 on Soldier: 76, a hero on which he was matched only by mechanical monster Daniel "dafran" Francesca.

It is 2018, though, that sees the most understated part of aKm rise most prominently: his reliability and unbreakable will to improve both himself and his team by doing whatever is required of him.

After the announcement that Rogue would be disbanding its Overwatch team after the organization was rejected for an Overwatch League franchise, aKm was left without a team and with an uncertain future.

Going into the 2018 season, fans were clamoring to see one of the game's most accomplished stars see play in its most prestigious league. Fans hotly debated which of the franchises could best benefit from a player with hitscan prowess and championship experience.

Of the various possibilities tossed about, absolutely no one predicted aKm would join the Dallas Fuel.

From the Machine to the Fire

It was a head-scratching addition. Rogue and Team Envy been the premier Overwatch rivalry, and it had been all the more enjoyable thanks to the head-to-head match-up between aKm and Taimou as well as the two team's vastly differing cultures.

Team Envy had been a loose, player-run team, full of goofballs and wacky personalities whose strength wasn't their tactical preparation but their synergy and explosive skill.

Rogue had been above all else professional, with a clear strategic vision, led by the minds of Michaël "winz" Bignet and Jean-Louis "KnOxXx" Boyer. They were ruthlessly technical that knew exactly how to use the individual talents as part of the greater whole.

"Interacting with the full French lineup of Rogue was an interesting experience," said Josh "Sideshow" Wilkinson, Overwatch League desk analyst. "In games like CS:GO, the French scene is mired in drama and roster shuffles, people with feuds and passionate individuals who think in the short-term rather than the long-term. Rogue's roster with aKm, SoOn, KnOxXx, winz, NiCO and uNKOE was nothing like that. All of them had experience at the top level in previous games as far as I'm aware, whether it be TF2, Shootmania or Quake, and that professional attitude, calm head, and knowledge of what it took to win carried through."

Going from that type of focused, disciplined environment to the well-documented train crash that was the 2018 Fuel was probably about as easy as a fish trying to navigate the Sahara Desert.

Drama at every turn, imploding players, failing coach-player relations, collapsing season, fans hounding the team at every turn, rotating emergency substitutes in the critical Main Tank position and a meta that didn't favor his normal hero pool.

It would be an understatement to say that aKm was in a tough position.

The season-defining moment for aKm in many fans' eyes was the infamous match on Temple of Anubis against the San Francisco Shock which coined the meme "aKm Blade."

The False aKm Blade Narrative

This meme is a prime example of how fan ignorance can cause irreparable damage to a player's reputation.

Over the course of the Dallas Fuel's four-minute offense round, the Fuel secured zero ticks of progress and one kill.

It took aKm three minutes and forty-three seconds to get his first Dragonblade on Genji.

In context, aKm was substituting last-minute on a hero he was not expected to play or practice. The hero in question, Genji, is known to be extremely difficult to gain ultimate charge if not engaging as part of a clean dive, into the near-impervious-to-poke composition of Orisa, D.Va, Junkrat, Widowmaker, Zenyatta and Mercy on a map with difficult-to-navigate approach architecture, and playing with a team plan that relied on a coordinated backline engage that never happened.

In contrast, his teammates were all playing expected roles save for the at-the-time in-flux off-tank position. It took Jonathon "HarryHook" Tejedor Rua two minutes and forty-six seconds to use his first Valkyrie ultimate on Mercy. It took accomplished Zenyatta player Benjamin "uNKOE" Chevasson two minutes and forty-seven seconds to get his first Transcendence ultimate. It took Min-seok "OGE" Son three minutes and nine seconds to gain his first Primal Rage ultimate on Winston. It took fan favorite Brandon "Seagull" Larned three minutes and thirty-eight seconds to get his first Self-Destruct ultimate on D.Va. It took star Tracer player Hyeon "EFFECT" Hwang three minutes and forty seconds to use his first Pulse Bomb ultimate.

Despite this, aKm became the target of ridicule for agreeing to step up and do what his team asked of him.

Accepting It, Moving on With it

It's credit to aKm that he was able to roll with the punches and accept that if the world would never forget, then he would not and instead armor himself in the meme so that it could not be used to hurt him.

"AKm seems to be a team player that will do what the team requires of him and will do so without showing attitude, at least publically," said Sascha "Yiska" Heinischm. When Fuel threw him into cold water and played him on Genji, it famously was a cause of mockery and he took it with grace."

"We all remember the infamous 'aKm blade.' How he reacted to that situation was so graceful," said Robert "hexagrams" Kirkbride, Overwatch League caster. "He could've blamed thet eam for putting him in an uncomfortable position, but instead he just leaned into it, took fully responsibility, tried to improve and moved on. That kind of poise amazes me in the current culture of esports. That moment in time really sold me on aKm."

"He doesn't seem to be worried about his optics as much as other players too," said Sideshow. "When Dallas asked him to play Genji despite having Rascal and Seagull on the team, he stepped up and then owned the meme about his poor performance - but importantly he wasn't shaken or put off by having to play a role he was never signed for, he just did what he thought was best for the team."

Maturing into the Fuel's Right Hand Man

If there's one aspect of aKm, it seems that he works best with a guiding authority. Previously in Rogue, his older brother Winz was well-respected for his leadership and captaincy of the squad, even if his public persona could be contentious. It does not seem coincidental that the introduction of Aaron "Aero" Atkins did wonders for the Dallas Fuel and for aKm.

Aero is strategically intelligent but more than anything else he seems to set a strong culture that helps guide players and brings them into the fold. Most importantly, the partnership between Aero and aKm has seen the Frenchman shift from carry superstar to dedicated supportive role-player who has expanded his hero pool to fit into the new Fuel's vision. It is telling that he has secured a starting roster position over both Taimou and EFFECT (before the latter's retirement) despite both having shown higher skill ceilings in recent times.

"The addition of a good Widowmaker and Zarya to his hero pool, along with a serviceable Sombra, show that aKm does have solid picks that he can branch out into when needed, if he's given the time and space within a roster to specialise," said Sideshow. "aKm is reliable, an asset that gives him a huge advantage over Taimou and Effect. He shares broadly the same hero pool as Taimou but you can rely on him to deliver consistently good performances every time you field himas long as the role fits well."

"aKm has successfully transitioned into a veteran player position, something at which many players across esports history have failed," said Yiska. "Usually once mechanics can't save you from your average decision-making skills because everyone else caught up in that department, only a few players can take their perceived weakness and turn it into one of their strengths. I honestly think aKm's Zarya looked cerebral in playstyle. His bubble timing and positioning was crisp and calculated."

If a coach asks aKm to accomplish something, he will do it even at the cost of his own reputation. For a competent coach who must often wrangle with player egos, it is a godsend to have someone dependable on the roster.

The French Esca?

There are strong parallels between aKm and In-jae "EscA" Kim.

EscA was the captain of Lunatic Hai, the team that eventually became the Seoul Dynasty and was one of the legendary teams in the pre-OWL era. In the early days, EscA was a superstar in his own right: a legend of the Korean FPS scene, EscA showed off his mechanical prowess on McCree and Mei at OGN Apex Season 1, APAC Premier 2016 and the Overwatch World Cup.

Moving forward though, it soon became clear that his mechanical skill was not on par with the new talent rising up. He was the target of many a malicious meme during Lunatic Hai's run during Apex season 2 with his provably sub-par Tracer play.

However, what was lost in this derision was EscA's reliability, coachable nature, unflappable mental fortitude and strong leadership.

EscA's leadership kept the team together during rough series and was a key element in Lunatic Hai's incredible ability to clutch in long series when fatigue would cause focus to waver. His adoption of Sombra to disable key enemy targets and allow his teammates to flourish demonstrated that not all DPS players needed to carry: Overwatch is a team game and knowing how to allocate resources and set up for teammates is crucial in ensuring victory.

There is a limit, and it is uncertain if EscA's leadership could have helped his team as they moved forward as the Seoul Dynasty into the Overwatch League. The 2018 season required dominant Tracers and carry Winstons, and Jin-hyuk "Miro" Gong was no longer the latter and EscA had never been the former.

But no doubt something crucial was lost without him: the sheer number of C9s caused by Seoul Dynasty show that their mentality was nowhere near as rock-solid as it had been under EscA's captaincy.

It is unknown if aKm has that same captain gene that EscA possessed, but it seems to be developing. aKm is evolving into an in-game leader whose veteran presence and mental resilience keeps the team focused.

The Frenchman is becoming a low-economy player, one who can pair with a carry star that demands resources to allow them to shine and facilitates the team. It's not as attractive as the superstar who shows off in constant highlight reels, but it's an equally crucial piece in forming a well-balanced team.

For someone to accomplish this while bouncing back from what might be the worst year in his career is truly special.

The Professional

aKm is one of the strongest brands in the Overwatch League for his storied experience, his improving leadership and still-reliable mechanical ability and his impeccably clean past.

His humility and self-awareness has kept him out of the worst of the community's wandering, drama-hungry eye. The worst controversies he's ever been a part of are only tangentially: the man himself is clean. Small wonder then that he is a brand ambassador for Red Bull.

He may not have the showmanship that Winz demonstrated, whose dramatic flair could be in equal parts hilarious and controversial depending on the audience, but aKm doesn't lack for personality. Friendly, chill and down-to-earth will earn loyal fans even if it gains fewer tabloid headlines.

"I can't speak for how he operates as a teammate as I've never played with him personally, but I have also never heard anything bad from others about his attitude, work ethic, etc." said Sideshow. "He has a fierce desire to win and be the best but seems very professional (rather unlike the classic stereotype of the raging, passionate French)."

In a world overrun by explosive personalities who act first think maybe, there's a quiet appreciation to be found in the normal man who does his duty and follows orders in the server and is approachable and easy-going off the battlefield.

Fitting that aKm's most iconic hero is his 76, because if ever there was a soldier it's this man.

Cover photo courtesy of Robert Paul