Following a 9th place finish during stage 4 of the 2019 OWL, can the Hunters rise up?
The Chengdu Hunters are a team that many pundits and experts cast aside. They don’t adhere to a metagame and play a creative style that as converted a small cult-like following from the community at large. And with their 2020 lineup officially announced, it’s time we grade one of the most underrated rosters going into the third installment of the Overwatch League.
First, we have to start with the Hunters letting go of Wei "jiqiren" Yansong and Zhang "YangXiaoLong" Zhihao.
Jiqiren was a main tank that was set to play and become a staple for the team in the GOATS metagame. However, visa issues kept him abroad where we got to see his skills in a far less stressful environment and frankly they were lacking. Jiqiren had a history with many of the players on the 2018 roster, that’s for sure, but even piloting his signature hero, Reinhardt, in Overwatch Contenders he just was not up to snuff. He was never going to see real playtime. Even when the coaching staff tried to put him in on maps like King’s Row, the team looked flat-footed be it synergy or skill related. The same goes for YangXiaoLong.
There were moments where YangXiaoLong looked solid and potential upswings in his skill, but it was apparent by the end of the season he just did not provide enough to quell the constant demand of the Overwatch League.
While sad, seeing both players step back is a great move for the team. It frees budget and roster slots for rookie prospects, some of which will be bolstering a wanting support line.
Of the 117 players measured for the Overwatch League’s Player Impact Rating (PIR), flex support Kong "Kyo" Chunting was given a PIR of 85.33 and was ranked 107th. Not only was he the lowest-rated member on his team, but he was the lowest-rated flex support in the league. Now while main support Li "Yveltal" Xianyao is ranked higher, 96th with a 90.60 rating for those keeping track at home, it’s safe to say that adding some depth to the support line isn’t going to hurt anyone.
That’s where the duo of He "Molly" Chengzhi and Chen "Lengsa" Jingyi come into play.
Hailing from the Hunters former academy team, LGE.Huya, these two prospects hold not one but two domestic Contenders titles to their names. With that praise comes the caveat that their record internationally is less than ideal. The idea here is that with the added depth at support, in a metagame that looks to lend itself to my theory that the sub-divisions between tanks and supports will blur, will be a welcome addition. That along with how much travel is on the docket for 2020 and you’ve got yourself some problems. Having depth at both support and main tank adds massive points to the Hunters report card.
Ding "Ameng" Menghan’s hero pool has been fairly critiqued as being one dimensional. The Hunters’ newest recruit Chen "ATing" Shao-Hua is an apt answer to that critique. He showcased respectable Orisa play during his stint on Nova Monster Shield during 2019 and with his time on Hong Kong Attitude he was a formidable Winston and Reinhardt player. ATing is a nice compliment to this roster and fills in many of the criticisms pointed at the Hunters. He is a perfect substitute to sit alongside Ameng and at the very least, he creates depth to the roster in a period where I believe having the more useful players, the better. As long as ATing is actually integrated into the overall roster strategy and has an active role as a substitute, this is a great move.
Huang "leave" Xin adds a ton of firepower. Now I’ll be the first person to roll their eyes at World Cup measurements, but to deny he wasn’t instrumental in their underdog run would be foolish. His hero pool is as wide as it gets. Yi "JinMu" Hu was known to have a Mei pocket pick back in 2018 with his time on Moss Seven Club. He also plays a ton of the metagame staples like Pharah and Hanzo. With these players combined, they alone cover the entire Overwatch DPS stable. On top of that, you’ve got Lo "Baconjack" Tzu-Heng as a dedicated hitscan specialist.
And I will be the first to admit that Baconjack has not really impressed me in the past, but he also hasn’t gotten the chance to recently. Most of 2019 was dominated by tank compositions and we haven’t let him breathe in the role lock era. This is a great time to solidify his role within the team and have him practice characters like Sombra, McCree, and Widowmaker. To leave’s credit, it’s not that he isn’t proficient at those heroes as well, but again, this creates depth.
And what the Hunters have gained in roster depth, they’ve lost in leadership.
The architect and head coach for many of the Hunters’ oddball strategies, Xingrui "RUI" Wang, has recently departed the team. His understudy Chang "Ray" Chia-Hua and Wu “Dokkaebi” Xiuqing from LGE.Huya have stepped in as co-head coaches.
While both of them have their own merits, two things have me concerned. Co-head coaches don’t seem to work all that well. Philadelphia in season two had co-head coaches and we know all the problems Seoul had in season one with their more fluid titles. While different titles mean different things in organizations, the idea that individual responsibility and a clear chain of command will be followed is hopeful, to say the least. I worry that without a clear structure or a structure that takes liberties when it wants, creates problems that start from the top down and can affect the players.
What does give me hope is that coach Ray lived through the Hunters 2019 genesis. He survived through visa troubles and adapted. He was starved of actual practice time because the team played such a weird style. Some Overwatch League teams found practicing against them frankly useless and they didn’t receive the best practice. He persisted and the coaching staff doubled down. It’s that tenacity that has me hopeful for the future.
With all of that in mind, the Chengdu Hunters receive a B for their 2020 offseason efforts.
This is a team that finished at 12th in 2019, which is just on the cusp of play-ins and has improved and created depth in their roster. How you can boldface judge this roster as less than is beyond me. Yes, the departure of RUI does leave me with some questions with regards to the coaching staff, but all in all, the moves that the Chengdu Hunters have made are logical and address many of the problems that plagued them in their freshman debut.
The Hunters, for the second season, will be underrated due to a general unfamiliarity in the Chinese and Pacific region and will be cast aside by the league as a poorly built cheese team that skated by in 2019 on luck rather than creativity and resourcefulness.
The Hunters, for the second season, will exceed expectations once again and prove that they are not a team that should be taken lightly.
Images via Blizzard Entertainment