Can the young prodigy really make an impact with the Hunters, but more importantly, is he hungry?
It would be the understatement of the year to say that Huang "Leave" Xin is swimming against the tide. His story starts as a young prodigy boasting a championship reputation but was left behind by the encroaching shadow of the Overwatch League. Now, he returns to ask the question; are you still hungry? Are the players in the league still chasing self-improvement or have they settled for the stipend the league offers them? Because he has not quit.
After waiting two years, and fighting through all the changes that have come to the game, Leave somehow persists. The blood of champions courses through his veins, that is clear, but is it strong enough to avoid washing out of the most important period in his career? While the deck is stacked against him, this hasn’t stopped experts from praising his talents.
“Leave is coming back into the League as somewhat of an unknown quantity. We've only seen him play onstage briefly within the past two years at [the] World Cup in 2018 and the Shanghai Masters,” said Chinese Overwatch commentator and expert, Eren "Kenobi" Erkey. As a member of the English broadcast for Overwatch Contenders China, Kenobi has spent countless hours studying the region’s brightest stars and has worked as both a commentator and analyst during four Overwatch Contenders seasons.
“I think it's very fair that there are people who are sceptical about how good Leave actually is with the limited amount of time we've seen him,” Kenobi said. He further explained that once he had laid eyes on Leave, he was sure that Leave possessed a world-class flare, much in the same way Jian "Uzi" Zi-Hao holds in League of Legends. [Leave] is a player who can easily be regarded as one of the best players in the world and will transcend just being a nutty Chinese DPS player.”
“I think this is the season where we can look at Leave and we will be able to see that while form is temporary, class will always be permanent.”
And that’s not to say that the Chengdu Hunters haven’t taken calculated risks before. Leave isn’t the only star DPS the Hunters have taken a chance on.
Leave now stands in the same narrative shoes that current teammate Yi "JinMu" Hu wore as he ventured into the league in 2019. He was a domestic star who entered the Overwatch League with low expectations and everyone begging the question; can JinMu transmute regional success to meaningful victories on the biggest stage in Overwatch? JinMu proved to the world, that he could do it, leading the Chengdu Hunters to a play-in berth and a respectable, if you consider where analysts and pundits placed the team during the pre-season, 12th place finish during the regular season.
Leave sees these footholds left in the snow by JinMu, and traverses them carefully, but can he duplicate that same success story under more severe circumstances?
First, Leave’s career thus far has been slightly analogous to a professional athlete facing a season-ending injury, like, for instance tearing their ACL. According to the Mayo Clinic website, after reconstructive surgery, an athlete may be out eight to twelve months before they can return to their sport.
Barring exhibition events and the Overwatch World Cup, Leave’s last tournament performance was on December 5th, 2017 at the Nexus Cup - 2017 Annual Finals against Miracle Team One. This puts him at approximately a two-year layoff from competitive Overwatch.
Yes, Leave was theoretically able to go through the motions and practice his aim on Overwatch’s competitive ladder or in other esports titles, and arguably his skills hadn’t atrophied the same way muscle mass does, but the time away from teammates and the stress of true competition still stands.
It’s a fair criticism to claim that while Leave’s past performances were good, his time away from the game could leave him rusty and dated. But what happens if we assume he is a generational talent? Again, he started competing fairly young and was head-and-shoulders above his peers. He was the defacto best DPS player in China during his heyday and won MVP and Best Flex at the 2017 Overwatch Premier Series Awards.
Second, Leave has always had familiar faces around him and this is going to be his freshman appearance in the Overwatch League and without legendary coach Xingrui "RUI" Wang who recently stepped away from his coaching duties with the Chengdu Hunters due to a nagging neck problem. And while he reunites with former teammate Ma "LateYoung" Tianbin, it is fair to wonder if this roster can facilitate his needs and live up to his expectations.
Third, if we look at the Chengdu Hunters schedule, the team stares down the barrel of some of the league’s top performers. Within their first six matches, the Hunters have to face the Shanghai Dragons, the Hangzhou Spark, the San Francisco Shock, and the Los Angeles Gladiators. Momentum is going to be a hot commodity for the Hunter’s especially early on in their 2020 run. How is that going to affect a fairly naive Leave and the team as a whole now that their famed head coach is gone?
Now, to defend him for a moment, one thing we can say for sure is that Leave is a very versatile player. Through his adventures during the Overwatch Premier Series, his performances at the World Cup, and in his exhibition bouts, Leave has nearly played the entire DPS roster to a very high level. I often refer to talented flex players as “colorless” due to their ability to adapt to any given patch, hero, or playstyle—Leave has the potential to become one of those elite few colorless players. With the recent announcement of Hero Pools, there is an argument to be made Leave’s hero ocean should be readily utilized come March and beyond.
Leave is the Chinese region’s prodigal son. While his departure wasn’t self-imposed, he now returns to face an impossible task and sadly hyperbole doesn’t exist here. What Leave is being asked to do with the 2020 Chengdu Hunters is nearly absurd. If he manages even an above-average performance, along with how much of an uphill battle he has to face, Leave rightfully should be within the discussion for Rookie of the Year.
And if by some outside chance during, his freshman debut, he matches or even succeeds his past peaks, then we have to start throwing around the word “best.” Suffering that kind of layoff and being thrown to the wolves in the hardest season in terms of stress, means we’ve got a special, special case on our hands.
So, can you rise to the occasion Leave? Can you answer an impossible question?
Do you have what it takes to overcome the odds?
The world is watching.
Image via Blizzard Entertainment