Chengdu Hunters - An obituary
The Chengdu Hunters were one of the most beloved franchises in the Overwatch League. Joining in Season 2 as one of the six expansion teams, this Chinese team’s unorthodox strategies, gleeful character, and wide smiles stole the hearts of many Overwatch esports fans, especially in their first season.
The team's departure from the Overwatch League has kicked off an avalanche of reactions, most of them reconnecting with the memories of the team they held dear, though others fear what this might foreshadow.
Many of you are hurt, reminiscing about the magical moments had first and foremost in the team's second season.
It was the time of the notorious GOATs composition and everyone was running after the two big brothers in the Shock and Titans, trying to imitate their play. Not so the Hunters, who for large parts of the season opted to soar instead.
Aware of convention but unbothered by it, they pulled forward. Cognizant of their own shortcomings, they tried to make the best of it.
For a while, it felt like their purpose was not to climb the ranks but to find themselves, to be unapologetically weird, existing outside the game of one-upmanship.
And if they won? Cool, they'd take those too. Who even remembers their final league standing? It makes no difference to the way we remember them.
For that brief moment, they were the last connection of Overwatch esports to the ideal of what the game was widely desired to be, showing off hero diversity and flexibility. In the floor-bound 2D-MOBA universe that was GOATs, they were at least still playing an FPS game.
Persisting in their folly, their wisdom would be shared amongst the league, as eventually, their courage would be infectious, perhaps even giving confidence to the Shanghai Dragons to also look inside and pull out a stage 3 championship with their very own unique triple DPS composition far outside the norm.
And you loved them for it.
Why it hurts so good
In 2023, the essence of the Season 2 Chengdu Hunters is a reminder of a time during which the way Overwatch was seen and understood itself was transformatively different.
Teams were 12 members large, still in one physical location for every match, balling out in super mansions in the Hollywood hills, with faces and emotions shown on stage every match day.
While not necessarily the main characters — those spots are held by the best teams — the Hunters occupied a space in the fan’s heart that was desperately needed if this project wanted to have a chance in hell to work out.
Outside the server, they became a pulsing beacon of Overwatch esports culture. Their goofy character and play transcended language barriers and instead became codified into memes like the “Chengdu Zone” and Ameng the “Yottachad”.
In some ways, the Hunters were a proof of concept for the vision of a global league reaching a critical mass of international fans. While many flocked to their local team, Chengdu became the average fan’s second-favourite team.
To this day, the way the Western audience took the Hunters as a team from another region has arguably never been replicated (and boy would this league need it).
Despite how bad the meta felt, Overwatch League Season 2 is likely the best version of this entertainment product put forth, and the Hunters had a sizeable contribution to that.
As flowers change, so too have the bees
Truth be told, the colourful vibrance the Hunters brought to the League started to wash out as soon as season 3. The environment had simply changed around them to little fault of their own.
Among a plethora of other factors, as the world closed down and the league enforced rulesets like hero pools that challenged everyone to flexibility, the Hunters who stood out, by contrast, became dropped into the background. It seemed that only when rules are rigid, defying them scratches the itch.
Eventually in season 4, while the team changed significantly, their archetypical style returned and fell into being meta, putting everyone in the strategic though not spiritual Chengdu zone.
The admiration for season 4 Chengdu felt more ordinary with a star player and MVP in Leave, a great supporting cast, high win rates and tournament placements. Like a dorky kid experiencing a glow-up whose obsessions with yo-yos randomly became cool, a more conventional love for the team arose.
Who can blame them? Pandas are opportunistic carnivores after all.
Season 5 saw a downsizing in organisational efforts that set the rails to this unfortunate destination we find ourselves in.
Fears of the Hunters once again being trendsetters swirl, this time in their abandonment of the project.
And yet the lesson they taught during 2019 appears to be the solution: It would be easy to poorly copy the front runners and remain forgettable. It would be even easier to give up and become a water cooler joke. But you can also touch the hearts of fans by doubling down on your strengths.