Some truths are not unveiled by results-focused thought
Lost identity, caged spirits, dead last. For much of the season, the Chengdu Hunter’s disappointed across the board, failing to connect to their unique former self that had put the chaos and fear into the minds of their opponents and love in the hearts of their fans. “You can’t prepare for Chengdu” had been a popular phrase among teams throughout the second season of the Overwatch League, often accompanied with a smirk and at least a hint of appreciation for what they brought to the game. They weren’t the best and they didn’t need to be.
The Hunters had the self-awareness to realize that - as so often in the game of life - the rules that everyone else were playing by might not be right for them and that they were under no obligation to walk the same paths to happiness and define success by the same old parameters - their game, their rules. Metaphorically speaking, where others saw a hammer, their particular style of Overwatch seemed to see the qualities of the tool as a backscratcher and a shoehorn. Second-guessing status quo and aggressively disregarding it was Chengdu’s vibe and so they made up their own rules in season 2 - GOATs became hamsters, DPS could fly.
The noticeable changes in identity morphed the qualia of watching Hunters matches. The special quality only flashed rarely and the lack of it was often connected to the departure of head coach Wang “Rui” Xingrui, who had been the architect behind that peculiar style of Chinese Overwatch that reached back to the Miraculous Youngsters days. Perhaps this is a reductionist explanation as a plethora of both known and unknown aspects of course also contributed to the domestication of the Hunter’s eccentric spirit. Nevertheless, something had to change and if the last two weeks are anything to go by - change it did.
Against New York, Seoul and Hangzhou, Chengdu has been ramping up their performances and finally finding a style that suits their idiosyncratic needs and qualities, having firmly arrived on comfort picks for all starting players. More than just Ws on the scoreboard, a flavour of play has returned to them that was missed, a style so enticing that the audience the Hunters attracted in season two may never be disappointed with, win or loss alike. Chengdu is back and there’s still a chance.
Despite their regular season being over and the sobering realities that they are likely to go into the season playoffs as the bottom seed in the Asian region, the mere fact that they are still in this race due to the format is all they need to turn this season, their message and their self-image around. The power of a strong season finish, as every season 1 Fuel or season 2 Justice fan will tell you, can make the perception of a season whole and the opportunity has never been greater for a complete underdog to redeem themselves on the home stretch.
As such, the Hunters will likely enter the Countdown Cup as the first seed, with an additional break week for self-exploration to boot. It remains to be seen if this style that they injected into the Asian region will stay as strong outside of hero pools or other teams will go back to the tried and tested. Yet, to create their moment, the Hunters themselves shouldn’t fall into the copy-meta trap.
To leave the most long-lasting and valuable impact on the game, the contribution some competitors bring to the experience suffers from the overt focus on victories. For a select few with the heart of mystics, the goal is to get onto the stage and jam out like musicians would playing a concert, far away from games of one-upmanship. The rules of your game have once again changed, Chengdu Hunters. To serve your fans and this league the most, you must go forth and reclaim your identity.
Images via Blizzard Entertainment