The king has returned, let’s see if he can form a new kingdom.

20:00, 23 Oct 2020

He is back. After stepping away from Overwatch after the Vancouver Titans debacle, Ryu "ryujehong" Je-hong has returned when the Overwatch League arguably needs him the most.

With the foundational idea of the league now drawn into question, and many names, most of which that we’ve come to know and love, departing for greener pastures, one of the most prominent faces, one of the most prolific Overwatch players returns to his post for another attempt at glory. The return of ryujehong isn’t just the return of one of the greatest players to touch the game; it’s the return of hope for the future.

“Hello. I am searching for a new team. I was mentally tired but was able to recover from it. Thank you and have a nice day.” — Translation by u/Beghorangi

For a time, you could not mention competitive Overwatch with paying rightful respects towards ryujehong. He was one of the first people to really push the boundaries of what we thought was possible in Overwatch with his remarkable Ana play and surprising flexibility. He was arguably the best player in the world during his heyday in 2017, and when you look at his resume, it’s not that shocking as to why that is.

Ryujehong’s career goes back nearly ten years, although it’s not consecutive years competing, that should not diminish how impressive that is. For context, most esports careers don’t last more than a few years—ryujehong’s started in 2011 with Counter-Strike (CS) 1.6. From there he competed and won championships in games like Special Force 2 and CS Online before landing in Overwatch with the legendary team—Lunatic-Hai.

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The only team to ever win two OGN Overwatch APEX titles and the defacto best team in the world for the lion’s share of 2017, that Lunatic-Hai. The core of which were supposed to trounce the Overwatch League during its inaugural season in 2018 but failed to make a lasting dent. Nearly ten years of experience brought ryujehong to the brink and after an arguably more disappointing end to 2019 and his false start in 2020, ryujehong found himself without a team to call his own and in need of a break. 2021 will be not only a celebration of a decade in esports for ryujehong, but a triumphant return for one of the game’s greatest cornerstones.

Ryujehong returns to a game that is for better or worse much different than he last left it. Hero Pools demand a new set of skills from its players, a new generation of talent is quickly rising the ranks, and his peers are far and few between these days. However, 2021 is a clean slate for the grizzled veteran, a fresh take on a game he, quite literally, helped build. Low expectations, no legendary cores to paint a narrative with, at least not yet, no status to live up to. His return, even if remotely successful, would be akin to traditional sports hall-of-fame calibre player dusting off the old football boots and still showing they can hang with the rookies.  And if you’ll allow me to break out my yoga mat and reach for a moment, perhaps his return was etched right in front of our noses.

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Looking through some dated social media posts, we find that, funnily enough, one of ryujehong’s role models is Starcraft legend, Lee "NaDa" Yoon Yeol. Known for his consistency throughout 2002-2009, NaDa’s name was synonymous with success in Starcraft: Brood War. Winning three titles in both the OnGameNet Starleague (OSL) and the MBCGame StarCraft League (MSL) NaDa is considered one of the best ever to pick up a mouse and keyboard in Starcraft. These achievements would also earn him entry into an elite club, as one of four ever recipients of the “Golden Mouse”, an award given to players after their third OSL title victory. It’s safe to say that NaDa moves past Starcraft lore and has entered esports royalty, someone who is an unshakeable and unmoving fixture of success. All attributes and phrases you could pin to ryujehong’s chest when minimised due to the sheer history that NaDa had with Starcraft and Overwatch’s relatively short existence. 

Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering 'it will be happier.’

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― Alfred, Lord Tennyson

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Are the two directly comparable, of course not, NaDa wins the hypothetical debate with his sheer volume and the pockets of years where he was statistically unmatched. What is elegant is the chain of history reaching down from the summit to the next generation, the inspiration, the hope given to those green eyes watching, or perhaps hearing about these legendary feats and accomplishments. Perhaps ryujehong watched NaDa as a child, maybe he wants to replicate his success and his consistency, regardless of why he chose NaDa as a role model, you cannot ignore the binding theme of hope.

Imagine if he was to come back after a sizeable break and still put up on a show? Just like his role model, ryujehong could return to his own OSL and battle to defend his legacy as one of Overwatch’s greatest players. If NaDa could get back on his feet after battling the likes of Park "July" Sung Joon and Seo "XellOs" Ji Hoon, then ryujehong can regain his seat atop Mt. Overwatch.

And by extension, we can all get back on our own proverbial horse. When we’re faced with barriers and boundaries and those who look down on us, remember that the “Genius Terran” and the “King of Overwatch” both have had their setbacks and adversities. Let these two and the litany of other touching stories of revival and rebirth in esports be the millennial comic book heroes, allow them to challenge your perception of what you think is humanly capable, and you’ll be surprised at what you find. 

This year has been a confusing whirlwind of disorder. Our sense of home has been windswept, and the future of not only everyday life, but our small little game is uncertain. Seeing ryujehong return is a nice nod to the horizon and adds a needed throughline that spins the offseason rumbles in a more positive and heartwarming direction.

Maybe champions always do rise for a sophomore showing, maybe goodbye isn’t forever, and maybe we’ll all make it through this.

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The king has returned, let’s see if he can form a new kingdom. 

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Let’s see if he can further his legend.

 

Images via Blizzard Entertainment

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