The Chengdu Hunters are the best team in the Overwatch League and I will fight anyone who says otherwise. Almost instantly I can hear people screaming at me. “You must be joking” “Are you on drugs?” “Where do you live so I can fight you right now.” I am NOT joking, I am NOT on drugs, and I am NOT telling you where I live.
The Chengdu Hunters are the most underrated team in the league and I have plenty of reasons to think so. Sure, they’re not the most talented, or the best coached, or even the most consistent. But they have heart and soul and in a rough and tumble scene like the Overwatch League, sometimes that’s all you need.
Before we start diving into why the Chengdu Hunters deserve more praise, I’m sure some people are still hung up on the “sure, they’re not the most…” sentence from two seconds ago. You might be thinking how can any team possibly be the best without these basic tenets of a solid professional team; talent, coaching, and consistency are necessary to win championships. The Hunters have yet to win anything major, but they have won my heart, and that trophy means more than any tournament or stage championship. This is because of that special something that out of all twenty teams in the league, only Chengdu have managed to master.
If there was any team that deserves to be called a wild card, it would be the Hunters. They are so much more fun to watch than a monster of a squad like the current San Francisco Shock, or the 2019 Vancouver Titans (Not the 2020 squad, unfortunately). Their unpredictability cements their role as an eternal underdog, and it is always more exciting to root for the underdog. With all that said, let’s talk about some of their best moments.
Back where it all began
The first time I really looked at who the Chengdu Hunters were was way back in March of 2019. The GOATS meta was running rampant throughout the league, and the very best of the best were none other than the Vancouver Titans. The triple tank line of Min-soo “SeoMinSoo” Seo, Sang-beom “Bumper” Park, and Hyeon-Woo “JJANU” Choi supported by Hyojong “Haksal” Kim (stuck in Brig jail), Jooseok “Twilight” Lee, and Sung-jun “SLIME” Kim were a serious threat to whatever team had the unfortunate pleasure of facing them. At this point in the season they were 6-0 with a +14 map differential, the only team higher than them being the New York Excelsior at 7-0. It could be argued the only reason the NYXL had that better record at the time was simply due to the fact that they hadn’t played the Titans yet. But we’re not here to talk about NYXL.
The Man, The Myth, The Legend
When the Titans went up against the Hunters on that fateful day in March, no one expected anything out of the ordinary; Vancouver would demolish Chengdu, and maybe throw the final round just to try out some new strategies. What we got was a stellar performance from a variety of team compositions that remains (in my mind) the most entertaining match in Overwatch League history. A rotating roster of Li “Yveltal” Xianyao, Kong “Kyo” Chunting, Lo “Baconjack” Tzu-Heng, Ma “LateYoung” Tianbin, Luo “Elsa” Wenjie, Ding “Ameng” Menghan, and Yi “JinMu” Hu thoroughly brought the Titans all the way to a close map five on Nepal, and while they didn’t win in the end, it cemented the legend of Ameng, “The Mountain,” “The Yottachad,” the man with the “50 inch pythons”. Matthew “super” DeLisi of the San Francisco Shock was quoted saying, “This guy puts my Rein performance to shame… Why have they been hiding this guy’s Reinhardt for the whole season?”
Not only did Ameng’s Reinhardt astonish Overwatch League personalities like Josh “Sideshow” Wilkinson, Andrew “ZP” Rush, Connor “Avast” Prince and more, but other team members also left their mark; Yveltal as a bloodthirsty Mercy and Lucio, Jinmu on his signature anti-goats Pharah, Baconjack popping off on Widowmaker of all heroes, and Lateyoung dominating on Zarya. I cannot recommend a re-watch of this legendary match-up enough, and if you’d like to follow along on Sideshow’s journey to becoming a Chengdu Hunters fan, I’d suggest his live reaction video here.
Later that month the Chengdu Hunters do it all again, albeit against a less impressive team, the Atlanta Reign. The same starting roster from the previous game went up against Daniel “dafran” Francesca, Dusttin “Dogman” Bowerman, Joon “Erster” Jeong, Petja “Masaa” Kantanen, Hyun-jun “Pokpo” Park, and Dong-hyeong “DACO” Seo, and from the very beginning we know where Sideshow’s allegiances lie. “Have you heard of our lord and saviour Ameng?” Almost immediately Atlanta struggles to deal with Jinmu’s Pharah despite them playing the objectively better comp, also known as GOATS. They try all sorts of hero swaps, going from the brawly GOATS to something resembling a hitscan-based dive composition, but the damage is already done to their mentality.
Believing you can win is more important than any strategy or team comp, and having your mental “boomed” is the worst thing that could happen to any professional team, especially a team playing the Chengdu Hunters. This same mental booming happened to the Titans earlier; the only reason they didn’t fall was because they were able to pull themselves back together, which is a hard skill to learn. Since the Titans roster originated from the South Korean team RunAway, a team infamous for their reverse sweeps and rock solid performances in Korean Contenders, it makes sense that they’d be able to survive Chengdu’s psychological warfare. Atlanta however, was not so lucky with their 3-2 loss to the Hunters. If you’re a fan of Sideshow, Super, or ZP, then here’s another live reaction video to watch.
They CAN’T keep getting away with it
Now we’ll return to the present, and examine the reason I’m writing this article in the first place. A recent game between the NYXL and the Chengdu Hunters caught some peoples’ eyes. Since both NYXL and Chengdu are playing in the Asian Pacific region, all their games begin around four in the morning for me, so I’m always greeted with some scores when I check Twitter right out of bed. Imagine my surprise when I see the news that who else but the Chengdu Hunters have reverse swept the once mighty NYXL.
Being from New Jersey myself, I have a soft spot for the NYXL and was even hoping to attend one of their homestands before the pandemic hit. But even when my hometown team is playing, I always find myself rooting for the eternal underdogs, the Chengdu Hunters. For the first two maps, Nepal and Temple of Anubis, New York were running a very competent dive squad, and even showed flashes of their old 2019 selves. Very clean gameplay, and it seemed like NYXL were prepared to easily 3-0 a bottom three team.
…And then everything went wrong. Or right, if you’re a Chengdu fan.
Where New York stumbled
The Chengdu Hunters proceeded to win the next three maps in an incredibly bizarre fashion, but this is exactly what we expect from them by now. They play the mental game and drag NYXL down to their level, launching a psychological assault that New York can’t recover from. When New York’s poor performances like Yeon-kwan “Nenne” Jeong’s Sombra on Numbani started to catch up to them, the hero swaps roll in and we know for sure their mental game is ruined. Of course, I need to mention the godlike showings of Wrecking Ball by Ameng, and Genji by Jinmu.
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum we have Seung-jun “WhoRU” Lee, who Dragon Blades and… dashes into Ameng’s proximity mines. At this point the momentum of the game has completely turned around and by the time Lijiang Tower comes up in the map pool, New York’s hopes are long gone. A 3-2 reverse sweep by my favorite team is the best way I could’ve woken up that morning.
Recently the Hunters have made it known that they’re looking for a new coach. I don’t blame them, as consistency is definitely something they need to improve on if they want to actually succeed. However, the players themselves have the potential to topple any team in the league. No matter how successful Chengdu may become in the future, be it through talent acquisitions or coaching changes, they will always be the hungry underdog in my eyes, and that’s why I love them.