All Or Nothing - Can The Chengdu Hunters Reach OWL’s Summit?
On three separate occasions, the Chengdu Hunters have found themselves embroiled in international competition in the 2021 Overwatch League’s monthly tournament series. Twice the Chengdu Hunters have reached the grand final, and twice they’ve fallen into a puddle stained in silver. Evolving past a legacy filled with bold creativity and strategic flair, the Hunters can easily call their 2021 performance their best showing yet, but the relief of champions has evaded them. After being sent home with bittersweet regret in their eyes and opulence daydreams of what could have been taunting them, the Hunters march forward towards the 2021 Overwatch League playoffs.
Led by an MVP candidate and potentially multiple players who could grace the ballot for Rookie of the Year, can the team climb over the line and capture the ultimate prize against the odds? Can the franchise wash out the bitter taste from the playoffs past? And can a coach who has long forged his own path to greatness reach the summit of Mt. Overwatch?
“Mostly it is loss which teaches us about the worth of things.”
German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer had an astute point, and while we can only assume his intentions were more morbid, the quote from his collection of essays speaks clearly to those who chase any form of competition.
To know the wrong side of fate’s competitive coin is to know hurt but to come just within reach, just mere fingertips away from all your hopes and dreams, and still narrowly miss the call—that is crushing.
The Chengdu Hunters’ second-place finish at the Countdown Cup was the greatest test they’ve ever faced, and not for the reasons one would expect. This was less to do with strategy or skill—but has everything to do with a wound on the heart, a gouge of the spirit. To battle back from the losers’ bracket without dropping a map and rematch the Los Angeles Gladiators in the grand final, to rally back after losing three straight maps, to take them to game seven, and to watch as the finish line gets snatched away from you—that is crushing.
To see the summit, see that it’s within your grasp—but as you reach out to grab it the only thing that greets you is the icy mountain air and the pit in your stomach that you’re sure is going to swallow you whole—that is crushing.
And as Atlas plants his foot on your back, as the weight of the world bears down upon you, you learn just exactly who you are.
“We were so close this time, so close that I thought I could reach out my hand and take it. But in the end, I found that my hands were so heavy, I just couldn’t lift them up,“ Li "Yveltal" Xianyao wrote on Chinese social media. “This is my fourth time finishing in second place. Yet another loss that’s on my own hands.”
“I’m sorry. It’s because I’m not strong enough.“
2021 MVP candidate and Chengdu Hunter ace, Huang "leave" Xin, also took to social media after their Countdown Cup showing. “Another [silver medal]. I’m sorry to the fans who got up early to watch this game,” he wrote. “I already don’t know what to say.”
“See you in playoffs.”
Through their post-match eulogy, you start to understand just how much this means to the players, but in that same vein, there is no quit. Sadness, undoubtedly, but defeat or demotivation? Not when they’ve come this far. Every good story sees its protagonists wavier in their beliefs at some point and questions if the journey really is even worth it. And right as the climax reaches peak tension, the protagonists are emboldened and summon more strength than conceived possible. While tested and perhaps bruised, you cannot count a team like the Hunters out—and history shows us that.
Cast your memory back to the Overwatch League’s second season. 2019 saw the league enter one of its most rigid metagames ever. Call it triple tank, triple support, call it 3/3, call it GOATS, call it whatever you like, the Chengdu Hunters had to prepare for it—as did their peers. Even after fighting through visa troubles that shook their initial plans, the Hunters overcame. Instead of Wei "jiqiren" Yansong’s Reinhardt, the team relied heavily on Ding "Ameng" Menghan’s Wrecking Ball to impressive effect.
Even on the outset, most preseason power rankings had the Chengdu Hunters firmly placed near or within the bottom five teams in the league. And yet they managed, albeit narrowly, to squeak into the 2019 play-ins with the lowest possible seeding. Did they make it far? Not particularly, but the moral victory was enough. This was a team that was not expected to do anything, faced adversity, and still made a dent finishing the regular season 12th overall with a 13-15 match record.
That same history, that same spirit remains within the team today. However, most importantly, the same coach that laid that groundwork all those years ago now is reaping the rewards he sowed.
After leading legendary Chinese team Miraculous Youngster to multiple strong domestic finishes.
After bringing China two silver medals in the Overwatch League World Cup.
After forming the 2021 Chengdu Hunters and leading them to their best season yet and their first proper playoff berth.
Head Coach Xingrui "RUI" Wang has seen and done more than the vast majority of coaches in the Overwatch League today. He has little to prove to the community at large—excluding one thing; can he win a modern major title? No one can argue at this point that the Chengdu Hunters, under his tutelage, are up for the task, but can they conquer the demon before it forms and put to bed this talk of silver blood?
We’ve seen RUI do it before, we’ve seen Leave do it before, Ma "LateYoung" Tianbin, Li "Yveltal" Xianyao, we’ve seen them all do it before. 2017 not only saw their former team, Miraculous Youngster, win the Overwatch Premier Series Grand Finals but also take home that summer’s Nexus Cup over difficult international competition. Teams like Nc Foxes, KongDoo Uncia, and RunAway were some of the names that RUI and company had to put away to achieve such a feat. This all in an era where Chinese Overwatch was only just budding and South Korea was without a doubt the best region in the world—RUI and many of the names we now associate with the Chengdu Hunters—beat them.
And now they stand at the base of Mt. Overwatch.
Alongside them stand some of the best teams the game has ever produced.
That journey, all of their collective journeys, have led them to the 2021 Overwatch League playoffs.
Even with their playoff seed locked and the metagame looking favourable, the question remains; with their backs against the walls, with the future of Overwatch standing on the precipice of potential purgatory, can the Chengdu Hunters lift their heads from their hands and not only fight—but topple a task that seems insurmountable?
The Chengdu Hunters’ history echoes, adapting to situations as they arise and overcoming them with creativity unmatched. Pack that with legends in the making and experience few teams can compete with, and you have a championship calibre team. Loss has shown them who they are, it has revealed how much this all means to them, and while they’ve faced their fair share of setbacks throughout their collective and individual careers, Chengdu stands ready for the future.
For the Chengdu Hunters, this is all or nothing—and on September 16th we will have our questions answered.