Four years in the making, Shy has arrived. What do you want your story to be?
Zheng "Shy" Yangjie has spent his youth pursuing Overwatch League’s path to pro, and now he’s received the call-up of a lifetime, an invite to the Overwatch League alongside the Hangzhou Spark. The now eighteen-year-old has spent the last four years as one of the most promising ineligible free agents not only in China—but in the world.
Past being a rookie in the Overwatch League, past being one of the stars on the 2018 Chinese Overwatch World Cup team—just who is the newest recruit for the Hangzhou Spark? Who is Shy?
Chinese commentator and expert for the Overwatch League, Gai "Alan" Yandahan, shed some light on Shy’s personality. “Shy is not the kind of person who would reveal a lot of himself, which I think is also quite different from others. Since most young players tend to have difficulties in controlling what they do and say, Shy is quite an opposite example. He doesn't use much [social media] and seldom streams these past few years.
“Somewhat the ID ‘Shy’ reflects something I think—but when talking about playstyles, he is definitely not shy.”
In the west, we know Shy to be an incredible hitscan player, one that was paramount in China’s performance during the 2018 Overwatch World Cup. English commentator and expert for Overwatch Contenders China, Eren "Kenobi" Erkey, furthered this by explaining more who Shy, the player was, in his eyes. “Shy to me embodies a lot of what I think makes Chinese DPS players special. An incredibly gifted player mechanically that can carry his team on almost any hero he has in his hero ocean.
“When I read the name 'Shy', I think of a player who is so good at this game and, potentially, we haven't even seen their peak yet.”
Shy has spent most of his career as a star. Be it support or DPS; you cannot ignore the talent he posses. Debuting as a support player alongside famed Chinese esports organisation, LGD Gaming, Shy spent nearly the first two years of his career alongside them and quickly made a name for himself. However, falling short became the driving force of LGD Gaming’s narrative. Qualifying for events was never a problem for Shy and his team, however in official matches, performing up to their potential seemed to plague them.
The Overwatch Premier Series 2017 Spring preseason was a cakewalk for LGD Gaming as they advanced past their peers undefeated in all nine of their matches. Consequently, this made them early front runners for the event, which they lived up to, right up to the final map against seventh seed, 1246. In a nail-biting seven-game set, LGD Gaming lost in the final moments, 3-4. This would start their recurring and familiar meetings with the feeling of imperfection. Racing up until the finish line, seeing it in sight, but narrowly missing first place.
This continued into the Overwatch League era in its amateur division, Overwatch Contenders. Now a DPS player, Shy and LGD Gaming quickly rose back to the top of the leaderboard and became domestic front runners again, this time a South Korean team stood in their way, a team by the name of Lucky Future Zenith. Packed full of names that now grace the Overwatch League stage, Lucky Future Zenith was the best team in China throughout 2018. During three separate outings, at Overwatch Contenders 2018 Season 1, LanStory Cup - Chengdu, and during Overwatch Contenders Season 2, LGD Gaming would meet Lucky Future Zenith in the final and lose. They were a good team, you couldn’t take that away from them, but there was always something standing in their way, a hurdle too tall to for Shy and his team to leap over.
This also continued into 2019, while Shy parted ways with LGD Gaming, the narrative and results still followed him. Joining the Hangzhou Spark’s academy team, Bilibili Gaming, the pair performed well throughout the year but struggled for the lion’s share of it. Sure, Shy toppled his former team at the LanStory Cup - Summer event, but it pales in comparison to the repeated third to fourth place finishes the team had amassed that year. Unfortunately for him, this rain cloud continued to loom over him during the start of 2020 as well, this time the Shanghai Dragons’ academy team, Team CC, stood as the domestic front-runners, Shy would have to settle for silver again.
I wouldn't be shocked if Shy is in the running for Rookie of the Year next season, towards the top.
— Eren "Kenobi" Erkey
Alan recalled that Shy had been playing for nearly four years at this point, and while it was a pity he couldn’t join the league earlier, it was also a blessing in disguise. “First thing is his position, even though many of us would recall the time when he played flex support, but it's obvious now that the position change was quite smart,” he explained. For context, during the Overwatch Premier Series 2017 award ceremony, Shy won the best support player, which contrasts to who we know him as today as a dominant DPS player. With that change in position also came a change in mindset “Second is his playstyle, I think his most recent performance, [...] showed that he [has] kept his aggressive playstyle and he knows better about when and how to play smarter.
“That is not easy for a player who is not in the Overwatch League. I think [his] four-year trip left him with that little gift.”
Kenobi agreed and continued his glowing review of how Shy had grown from a rigid and raw talent to someone who was able to mould themselves to the team. “Shy's always been an incredibly talented player mechanically; no one can take that away from him. I think however he's really grown as much more of a team player. There were times when Shy was on certain rosters where it was very much a ‘raise the puppy’ scenario.
“However, last we saw him with Bilibili Gaming he was able to work extremely well with the rest of his teammates.”
That said, esports didn’t start with Overwatch, and it won’t end with Overwatch either. It is just the vehicle that we’ve chosen, one that shares thousands of similarities with games past, present and future. A fantastic example of that comes by way of Valve’s documentary, Free to Play, a touching look at three individuals as they battle through Dota 2’s The International 2011. Not only is it a piece of content that still holds up nearly six years later, but it also crystalises this new area of the human condition in how it relates to pro-gaming.
The film perfectly balances the motivations of these three individual players past the million-dollar cash prize that caught the headlines on fire. The money is the sugar to help the medicine go down, however, that sugar holds almost equal importance to the protagonists and their goals. Each player is looking for their own sense of validation, one that can be tied to the money, but it isn’t the sole reason for why they fight. Each of the three players creates their own trophy, their own prize in their minds that drive them forward.
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Benedict "hyhy" Lim looks to reconnect with a love lost. Perhaps, if he became a champion, then he could reach for the phone, for one last apology, and maybe, just maybe, the pair could bond over the game they both love so much. Danil "Dendi" Ishutin looks to forge a new path for himself after leading a hard life and losing his father too soon. Clinton "Fear" Loomis aims to create an independent memory, one that his mother can put into her photo album, remember proudly, and know that her son can, and will, create his own personal story. However, all three of them use The International’s million-dollar prize as a justification and as tangible proof that they aren’t wasting their lives to their families. Winning would make them millionaires, something that working a dead-end, nine to five could never allow them. It would all be worth it.
Each of them has their own, unique and specific story that the documentary captures beautifully—and it makes you think, it makes you feel, for these people who hardly know. These are just three players from 2011, think of all the other players that have graced the stages across the litany of esports titles that exist and have existed. They all don’t share exactly the same stories, but what they do undoubtedly share is what it means to be a person, they all share their own human experience.
Jump-cut to 2020 and now you’ve got Shy, a player that has spent his—quite literal—youth, grinding away at becoming the best Overwatch player he can be. Free to Play shows the stories of adults chasing a one-million-dollar prize purse. Shy, in his first steps into adulthood, is not only battling for a similar prize, but he quite literally has the pride of a nation on his shoulders on top of his own personal goals, dreams, and the validation we all seek as people. Using Free to Play as a lens, we can begin to better appreciate the next generation as it steps onto the stage of any esports or in any walk of life. This isn’t to make some wild, speculative claim on if Shy has faced adversity and what that might have looked like, nor is it some weird ranking between the stories told in the documentary, because that frankly is neither here nor there—we as people face varying degrees of adversity, but we can’t escape its inevitability. That’s the fine print of life, the EULA we jokingly gloss over when installing new games. It’s all the same.
“I think Shy is somewhat like another Leave in Chinese fans' perspective,” Alan said. “They are like two golden boys of Chinese Overwatch scene. They both played in Overwatch World Cup 2018 and ended as the runner-up, which means a lot to Chinese fans.” One major difference being the teams they played for, but Alan explained that even with his short stint playing for Hangzhou’s academy team, Bilibili Gaming, he still proved to be one of the best hitscan DPS players in China. “So yes, he is very well-liked and very looked-up to.” Before he was even of age to compete in the Overwatch League, Shy was building his name among the Overwatch esports community in China as someone to watch for, someone to aspire to be, and so much more.
It is quite possibleâoverwhelmingly probable, one might guessâthat we will always learn more about human life and personality from novels than from scientific psychology.
â Noam Chomsky
“I think Shy has found a lot of success already in Overwatch, but much like his friend Guxue on LGD Gaming, it's always been as a bridesmaid and never the bride,” Kenobi explained. “That is something that has followed him all across his career. Both of these players have come so close to winning a championship, but it has always eluded them. I think now that he is in the Overwatch League, on a very good team like the Spark, being able to learn from people like GodsB and Architect will only make Shy that much better. I wouldn't be shocked if Shy is in the running for Rookie of the Year next season towards the top.”
He’s also fighting to reach the top, to finally crest the hill he has been climbing for what feels like forever, and it’s not just his sole story anymore. He now is the pride of Hangzhou, a team that after having a stellar franchise debut in 2019, plummeted in 2020. Being able to rise from the amateur division in most competitive fields requires broad shoulders, but for such a young player, Shy enters the 2020 Overwatch League season with a Herculean set of tasks in front of him and the skill to see them finished.
So, Shy—who are you? What do you want your story to be? What do you want to be remembered for in the Rolodex of Overwatch history? Can you still shift into the sixth gear? Are you one of the golden children from China? Can you become a champion or are you cursed with silver blood? The free to play trial is over, your prologue has reached its end, the genesis of the biggest chapter of your career lies in front of you.
Images via Blizzard Entertainment