Path To Greatness—Shy Aims For Rookie Of The Year
Confucius was correct in saying that “The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential […] these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.” And a young Overwatch League star embodies these wise words all too well. Throughout its competitive history, Overwatch has been rife with young, virtuosos who shock the world with their impressive skill.
However, one of the first to tempt the idea of what the future generations of Overwatch stars could look like was Chinese star and the rookie ace from the Hangzhou Spark, Zheng "Shy" Yangjie. Funnily enough for such a generational talent, his professional story nearly never started at all.
“[In] the beginning, I wanted to become a full-time streamer because I thought I could make a lot of money just by staying home and playing games,” Shy said. “I wasn't really interested in becoming a pro-gamer.” To think we nearly missed out on such an impactful player. Nevertheless, Shy’s more curious side pushed him to pursue the opportunity granted to him. The first major one was alongside LGD Gaming in the budding stages of China’s Overwatch esports landscape.
The player we know of now, the Shy thousands of Overwatch League fans have fallen in love with this year, started in a position that would force most modern fans to do a double-take. Shy, in the earliest parts of his career, was a support player. Yet, the familiarity of the tale laid in the fact that Shy still was a standout player—even if LGD Gaming were a touch worse for wear. However, the summer of 2017 would see that change, even if slightly.
Throughout 2016 and carrying over into 2017, LGD Gaming’s fruitful escapades were few and far between. They found minor success here and there, but a strong major finish eluded them. That changed during the spring season of the Overwatch Premier Series.
Reigning as the only undefeated team, Shy and LGD Gaming were untouched leading into the playoffs and eventually, they would meet against the seventh seed team riding the momentum of a hot steak, 1246. Going all seven maps, Shy and LGD Gaming would fall in one of the least talked in the pre-Contenders era. A second-place finish in one of China’s biggest events was nothing to be distraught over. Disappointed, maybe, but this was the progression they had been searching for. With a silver medal in his rear-view mirror, Shy continued forward that year with success in his eyes.
July saw Shy invited to join the Chinese national team to compete in the Overwatch World Cup. There he and his compatriots trounced the competition without dropping a single map which qualified them for the final stage later that year at BlizzCon. However, due to visa troubles, four of the six players—including Shy—were forced to stay behind as a set of emergency substitutes were sent in their stead.
Shy’s acknowledgement would not stop there. After a disappointing at the Overwatch Premier Series Grand Finals, Shy would take home “Best Support” at the Overwatch Premier Series Annual Awards following their all-star event. However, change was on the horizon.
Shortly after 2017’s Overwatch Premier Series Grand Finals, Shy made the transition from playing flex support full time to moving to DPS. After being voted best support through the Overwatch Premier Series, Shy was swapping his role.
Personally, though, I hope I can get the Rookie of the Year Award.
—Zheng "Shy" Yangjie
“At the time, many of my ex-teammates have entered the Overwatch League, and we were lacking DPS players,” he explained. “Moreover, I found it hard to carry my team to victory when I was playing support.
“So I decided to quickly move to play DPS full time.”
A quiet shroud of uncertainty was cast not only over one of its best teams but around one of its most exciting prospects. The best support in China now was a starting DPS on a top team. As you might expect, concerns and questions marks were the talk around the water cooler as role swaps gave pundits even less to work when attempting to find positives for LGD Gaming. This was a new era for LGD Gaming, they had new players coming in, and on top of that, they were moving a known quantity into unfamiliar territory.
We knew how strong Shy was on support; could he bring the same level of excellence to DPS?
His first test came by way of the Nexus Cup 2017 - Annual Finals, where LGD Gaming would flounder in the group stage against one of the more difficult collections of teams in the whole event. Not only did they draw KongDoo Panthera, but they also had to battle against RunAway.
Floating between heroes like McCree, Tracer, and Widowmaker, it was clear he had a preference for more hitscan DPS heroes but was able to manage the tempo shifts of each extremely well for someone who had just picked up the role in a professional setting. Between the patience positional mind games of Widowmaker to the hectic and high-pressure flanks of a hero like Tracer, Shy looked comfortable and confident in them all. However, it wouldn’t be until the Contenders era that Shy would realise the potential he had showcased.
Overwatch Contenders 2018 washed over the globe like a tide to sandcastles. Overwatch Premier Series was no more, now Overwatch Contenders: China stood in its place--and with that new challenger approached the region. This new regime ushered in an influx of South Korean players to the Chinese region, more importantly, Lucky Future’s acquisition of a fully South Korean roster, Lucky Future Zenith. This would be one of the first introductions Shy, and LGD Gaming would get to their future rivals.
“I cherish the moment when I was playing against [Lucky Future Zenith] in the finals of the first season of Overwatch Contenders,” Shy said.
“I felt that was the moment I was closest to the championship, yet it was so far away. It is a shame that we didn't win.”
“All of us worked hard for that.”
Going the distance, seven arduous maps, LGD Gaming just barely fell short of capturing their first domestic title in not one, but two seasons back-to-back. They fought their way tooth and nail to reach the final, and the dominance of Lucky Future Zenith put them away each and every time.
While the brush with success against Lucky Future Zenith was an impactful memory for Shy, it would only earn an honourable mention.
“My proudest moment is when my team defeated RunAway for the first time, I was so happy that day,” Shy said with a smile.
Earlier that year, Shy and LGD Gaming would topple one of the most recognised names in Overwatch history. Overwatch Team Story - Chapter 4 was a rather obscure Chinese tournament, yet one that attracted some stellar talent. Teams like X6-Gaming, KongDoo Panthera, and RunAway all graced the stage to do battle with some of the best talent China had to offer. And after advancing as the second seed from their group, Shy and LGD Gaming dispatched the original core lineup of RunAway, 3-2.
While LGD finished with a respectful fourth, the fact of the matter is that they didn’t go all that far, they didn’t capture that first title they had been hoping for, but it was the little victories for Shy. Besting such a legendary team left a serious lasting impression on him.
Fast forward from that, and Shy would soon find himself joining the Hangzhou Spark’s academy team, Bilibili Gaming, after earning, yet another silver medal during Overwatch Contenders Season 2. Shy eagerly pushed forward, determined to find success where it may hide, be it in Contenders or once he was eligible to play in the Overwatch League.
I was very sad to hear that I have to wait two years to enter the Overwatch League.
—Zheng "Shy" Yangjie
In esports, there is a strange distinction where young players have their age temporal skewed due to how long they’ve been competing. After competing since the early days of 2016, Shy feels like he should be in his mid-twenties, inching closer towards the twilight of his career.
In actuality, he just turned 18 and is acing his first season in the Overwatch League.
“I was very sad to hear that I have to wait two years to enter the Overwatch League.
“I didn't know how would I make it through such a long period of time, but now I am in the league,” Shy spoke candidly. “Thinking back about it, I am really thankful to the past myself for not giving up and continue to practice and improve. These two years proved to be very valuable to me, and without these two years of hard work, I wouldn’t be who I am now.”
Two years later and Shy has finally joined the Hangzhou Spark for their 2021 Overwatch League bid. After remaining with them for nearly a year, his commitment to the organisation and the game has brought him to the global stage—one that he hopes to grace in person as soon as possible.
While there is a sense of mastery, of becoming the best in your craft, the simple pleasure of hearing your name chanted or cheered for has got to be a common factor among the thousands of esports professionals across the globe—and for Shy, it is no different.
“I am extremely excited every time when I hear fans cheer for me, as they are a critical driver that pushes me forward in my professional career,” he said. “It is because of them that I can put my heart into improving myself to make everyone proud of me.”
As for the start of the season, Shy retain an air of collectedness. No added excitement, no thoughts or feelings towards the start of the season as a whole. “I don't have many special feelings about this,” stonecold, Shy wasn’t too bothered with the Hangzhou Spark’s rather slow start. “I will calmly face all future matches because victory is the only goal I have, and I hope I can carry my team to victory, and get excellent results in the season.”
And that is precisely what he has done.
The Hangzhou Spark just have recently dispatched the Shanghai Dragons in decisive fashion and look to be an early leader in Asia in the June Joust. With this kind of rookie showing, one object floats to the surface of our minds, one trophy in particular that is given to an outstanding prospect in their first season. However, we’re not only the ones thinking big-picture.
“Personally, though, I hope I can get the Rookie of the Year Award.”
Shy has thrown down the gauntlet. He is actively aiming for becoming the 2021 Overwatch League Rookie of the Year, and with the performance and impact he has had with the Spark thus far, how can you argue away his seat at the table?
As of May 23, Shy currently leads the league in finals blows and eliminations per ten minutes, as well as still ranking within the top five in hero damage done and solo kills per ten minutes on Ashe. To add context to that, this is all from their May Melee performance—which was lacklustre at best.
Now, the Spark exit Week 6 of the Overwatch League lead the Asia region in the June Joust, only dropping a single map to the Guangzhou Charge. If that’s what is possible when Hangzhou loses—think of the statistics when they win. Not only should Shy have a seat at the table when it comes to Rookie of the Year, but perhaps he should be leading the discussion.
“That is the goal I have this season, and I will work hard for it,” he said calmly. “It is, of course, great if I can have a strong start, but even if not, I won't worry about it that much, as I like the feeling of turning a difficult fight around.”
With a goal in mind and hungry to prove to the world he deserves a title, Shy is determined to walk the path to greatness. While he might be cursed with silver blood, the pursuit of gold drives him forward into 2021 alongside the Hangzhou Spark.
“The bottom line is no matter what, I will play every match to the best of my abilities.”
Images via Blizzard Entertainment