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A Symbol of Aplomb—An Ode to RUI

Volamel 2019-10-23 03:40:21


  "They’re gonna do it!” Overwatch League commentator Christopher "MonteCristo" Mykles shouted. “They’re gonna do it!” Play-by-play commentator Erik “DoA” Lonnquist stepped in. “And the Hunters, they get the kill, and they will be the second team to defeat the San Francisco Shock in Stage 3!” “Wow!” MonteCristo returned. “The Chengdu Hunters coming in with their A-game tonight, playing some of the best Overwatch we’ve seen from them as a team.” And in the dugout sat Head Coach Xingrui "RUI" Wang. Undoubtedly smiling through a mixed wash of emotions that were comprised of equal parts relief and pride, Coach RUI and the team had done what looked impossible. Relief flooded in like the tide just due to how painstakingly close the match was. But pride took hold during reflection.  Against the odds, his unique style was finally bearing fruit. Through adversity and the amount of time invested, RUI was finally able to show that against the best teams in the world, his style could not only compete, but it could fell even the tallest giants. A story six years in the making, Coach RUI has ferried some of China’s best Overwatch talent to the apex of competitive Overwatch under an unsuspecting guise. It’s high time we venture into his extensive tenure in esports and detail the best Overwatch League coach you’ve never heard of.  

A Symbol of Aplomb—An Ode to RUI


“Most Chinese fans would agree that Coach RUI is one of the best and the most successful coach in Chinese Overwatch history.”

Gai "Alan" Yandahan


A Royal Genesis

  Before RUI was mandating morning runs, confiscating cell phones, and creating unorthodox strategies in Overwatch he was a student of a very different game. League of Legends was his first major esport and he began his journey while the pillars of Chinese League of Legends were cementing their lore. RUI first joined one of China’s more promising teams, Royal Club, in May of 2013. His first competition with the team would be the 2013 LPL Spring season. The position he manned was support and he would play alongside the now legendary AD carry, Jian "Uzi" Zi-Hao and against storied players like Gao "Gogoing" Di-Ping, Yu "Misaya" Jing-Xi, and Gao "WeiXiao" Xue-Cheng. RUI would play for the majority of the event before having to be substituted out during week eight of regular season play. He would miss the final three games with the team and substitute support Liang "Atu" Chang-Wei would fill in for RUI.  The team may contain names and faces you recognize now, but Royal Club was cemented in the middle of the pack for the spring split. After the first few chaotic weeks, they struggled to break out of their fifth-place chains and only peaked at third place during week one. Sadly RUI and Royal Club could not muster their strength in time for the season finale and the team landed just outside of a playoff berth at fifth place. Unfortunately for RUI, he was not healthy enough in time for the 2013 summer split and sat out the rest of the season. His replacement for the event was famed Chinese support player Wong "Tabe" Pak Kan. Royal Club placed second overall but due to Tabe and mid-laner, Pun Wai "Wh1t3zZ" Lo’s, retirement, the team was forced to forfeit the remainder of their playoff run RUI made his triumphant return to League of Legends in December to participate in the GALAXY eSports Carnival 2013 alongside Royal Club. The pairing had a respectable showing looking at the strength of the three other teams invited. World Elite sent their aptly named academy team, and both OMG and Invictus Gaming were present alongside Royal Club. RUI and his team advanced over World Elite Academy during round one but did not fare as well against Invictus Gaming in round two, falling to the losers' bracket. There they faced OMG and would drop out of the event with a disappointing 0-2 loss.  RUI’s mixed entry into esports would continue as Royal Club entered Demacia Cup Season 1. Their first-round opponent, Invictus Gaming, would end up being their last as the team would meet an early exit from the event with an 0-2 loss. LPL Spring 2014 didn’t provide much in the way of new beginnings for RUI. After playing alongside Royal Club for their first match against World Elite, in which they lost, he would be absent from the starting roster for the remainder of the season being replaced by support players Huang "XJJ" Hui and Zhang "Bao" Jia-Zhi. This would be RUI’s last event with Royal Club. In October of 2014, RUI joined ShowTime as the team’s starting support player to compete in China’s LoL Secondary Pro League for their summer season. Almost six months later, RUI moved from the starting support position to substitute. The LSPL Summer season would be RUI’s final stint in League of Legends before venturing into bigger and better things. His final game would be during round four with ShowTime losing to Newbee, 0-2.  While RUI’s beginnings in esports were not extravagant and successful, it’s important to know where someone starts to help contextualize their journey into becoming successful.  

Returning with a Miracle

  After a year of silence, we next see RUI make his return to esports within Blizzard Entertainment’s Overwatch. He was now a coach to a young Chinese Overwatch stable, one that would eventually change the course of Chinese Overwatch history; the legendary team, Miraculous Youngster. And rising alongside them was a young Overwatch caster, one that is intimately familiar with the team and lent her voice to the game and its viewers. “I've known RUI for over two years, back when he was coaching Miraculous Youngster,” said special correspondent for the Guangzhou Charge and Overwatch commentator, Li "Chixiaotu" Qiong. “RUI took the players to LAN tournaments. These players I recall, were young - a little bit too young in fact. Some of them were under 18 - I mean, around 15 or 16. They took two, second places out of two LAN tournaments, and I happened to be the caster of those games.” Chixiaotu mentioned that she wished the team and RUI the best of luck because they were such a small team going up against Chinese powerhouse organizations like World Elite, Royal Never Give Up, and LGD Gaming. And if they didn’t succeed early, they certainly would not last long. “If you check their score, you could find that RUI had led this team successfully, and they had reached the top of China's Overwatch matches,” Qiong said. She continued explaining that RUI and the team won a number of championships including the Nexus Cup 2017 - Summer, the Overwatch Premier Series - Summer, and the 2017 Overwatch Premier Series Championship. He even won the Coach of the Year award at the Overwatch Premier Series 2017 Awards.  “Later, two players from Miraculous Youngster had participated in the Chinese World Cup Team,” Qiong said. “He "Sky" Junjian and Huang "leave" Xin were recruited to the World Cup [at] the last second, therefore Team China finished Overwatch World Cup 2017 without full preparation. After that, dramatically, Miraculous Youngster's owner was deceived, scammed and frauded.” “In two words; no money.”  

  “Therefore the club was no longer able to operate and the players split up,” Chixiaotu explained. “However they were still passionate about the game, all the boys from Miraculous Youngster continued to play Overwatch.” This would cost the team dearly. Miraculous Youngster was once viewed as a dominant force, now they were were not even together and the players would be overlooked by and large in the upcoming inaugural season of the Overwatch League. Even with his team dissolved and his chances at participating in the first-ever Overwatch League season looking grim, coach RUI continued forward. However, from his time coaching Miraculous Youngsters, RUI earned a rather interesting nickname. One that evolved along with his own views on the game. RUI is called the miracle doctor,” said Jin “YoungJin” Zihang, former manager of the Chinese Overwatch Contenders team, Bubble Burster Gaming. With intimate details on what narratives surrounded RUI, he explained how the moniker came to be.  “It wasn't a positive title at first. Before Miraculous Youngster’s brilliant record was born, he decided to change two DPS players due to locker room conflicts. This has sparked controversy, with the community questioning his decision when RUI said that the old player is sick can't play the game, only to be forced to replace him during the match. The audience mocked him as a magic doctor who could cure sick players in an instant.” “Later, the new player's performance captivated the audience,” Zihang said. “His name was Zhang "YangXiaoLong" Zhihao. This began Miraculous Youngster’s brilliant run, starting with the Overwatch Premier Series Summer tournament. With their winning streak, the term ‘divine healer’ became a word of praise.” RUI’s talent, leadership, and brilliant mind for strategy was apparent with his time on Miraculous Youngster and while his chances were bleak at making the first season of the Overwatch League, hope was not lost.  

"As long as you follow RUI's tactics there would be no way to lose."

Huang "leave" Xin


A Stint In Shanghai

  In January of 2018, RUI joined the Overwatch League’s only Chinese franchise, the Shanghai Dragons, shortly before the start of the inaugural season. He joined fellow coaches Chen "U4" Congshan and Son "Kong" Jun-young to help lead the team to a successful freshman year. However, as history points out, the Dragons didn’t find an ounce of success.  In fact, the Shanghai Dragons pulled off an incredible 0-40 losing streak, only winning 21 maps of the 164 maps played all season long. The team attempted to remedy their off putting start by injecting a smattering of South Korean talent into their lineup. Players like Kim "Geguri" Se-Yeon, Lee "Fearless" Eui-Seok, Chon "Ado" Gihyeon, and others added their talents to the lineup for the beginning of Stage 2. Former flex support for Miraculous Youngster, He "Sky" Junjian, also joined during this period and reunited with his former coach.   

  The talented additions to the roster made fans hopeful that things would change, but things only continued to spiral. In March of 2018 acting head coach U4 stepped down from the roster and was replaced with assistant coach Kong until RUI joined the team on location later that month along with their new injection of players. And as quickly as he joined the Shanghai Dragons, RUI would depart from the team in May due to nagging health problems.  According to translations of an interview posted by the Twitter account @OWBeacon, RUI shed some light on why his time with Shanghai didn’t go so well.  “I didn’t have time to get to know the players at Shanghai.” From RUI’s point of view, it was comfort and understanding that was missing on the Shanghai Dragons. With his time coaching Miraculous Youngster, he grew accustomed to where his players were proficient. His stint on Shanghai seemed rushed and chaotic. Instead of being able to properly study and learn about his players, RUI was running around putting out fires in a role he was forced into all of which RUI tried to solve heading into the 2019 season.  

On the Hunt

  As the Overwatch League approached its second season, eight new franchises entered the fray. Within those eight new teams, three additional Chinese teams were added. In November of 2018, RUI joined the Chengdu Hunters for the 2019 Overwatch League season. However, this time RUI was the architect of the roster from the beginning to the end.  In the same interview translated by @OWBecaon, RUI also elaborated on why his new team for the 2019 season, the Chengdu Hunters, has been more promising. “Now I have around two months of preparation time so [that] I can know the players better and I can design strategies that work to their strengths,” he said.People have those concerns because our players haven’t proven themselves in big tournaments yet, and are relatively inexperienced. I gave them some mentoring and told them not to be afraid of other players.” Mentoring would be needed as the Hunters started the season with their roster in a strange place. Both Wei "jiqiren" Yansong and Zhang "YangXiaoLong" Zhihao were missing due to their own respective visa troubles. Nevertheless, the Hunters came out competitive in Stage 1 with a 3-4 match record and had tight matches against the Vancouver Titans, the Guangzhou Charge and the Los Angeles Gladiators. This fighting spirit would be consistently on display all throughout their entire season.  Stage 2 was more of the same for the Hunters. With another 3-4 match record in the books, the team solidified themselves as contenders in the league. Ending the stage with a better map record and a dominant performance over the Paris Eternal and going the distance with the Los Angeles Valiant towards the end of the stage. No matter the team put in front of them, RUI and the Hunters were going to be a threat. Stage 2 would not only reunite YangXiaoLong and RUI but with his visa accepted, he’d be introduced to the league. Don’t let Stage 3’s match record fool you; this is where teams started to understand that Chengdu was not to be taken lightly. Their unorthodox compositions and aggressive style were enough to defeat the defending Stage 2 champions, the San Francisco Shock, 3-2. Along with another competitive stage, all of the Hunters were finally in Los Angeles following jiqiren’s debut against Guangzhou Charge in week one.   

  At the end of the day, the Hunters needed to succeed, not only for themselves but for the millions watching at home. “[The] Chengdu Hunters are a special team in China,” Chinese commentator, Gai "Alan" Yandahan said. “Out of four Overwatch League teams, Chengdu Hunters is the only team [where] all of their players are from China. Thus it is the focus of the entire community even before this season started. The anticipation is high but reasonable since people know their players are not as famous.” Yandahan further revealed that there were a lot of questions surrounding the choices made for the roster, but due to the work of both the coaches and players, the Chengdu Hunters have been able to keep expectations optimistically tempered. “Nowadays most fans are rather satisfied with what they have done and are happy to see what will be improved in the future,” Yandahan said. “As for Coach RUI, this is just another milestone that he has built. He proved he is one of the best coaches in China, and he proved that he [was] never wrong about the players’ potential.” All of that potential paid off for  RUI and Hunters leading into Stage 4. The team had been on a slow, but steady upward climb for some time which lead them to a 4-3 finish for the final stage of the season. This put them right on the edge of making the play-in tournament. To be able to compete for a full seed into the playoffs, Chengdu would need the Los Angeles Valiant to lose both of their final matches at their week five homestand.  With lady luck on their side, the team was able to secure the 12th and final playoff seed and ended the regular season as one of the most consistent teams in terms of match record. Unfortunately for the Hunters ran headlong into the Guangzhou Charge who quickly put an end to their playoff dreams and ending the Hunters’ season at a respectable 12th place.   

Footprint on Overwatch

  Hockey great Scotty Bowman once said, “I found out that if you are going to win games, you had better be ready to adapt,” and that’s precisely what coach RUI did throughout his career. If there was a grain, he’d fight against it. If there was a mold, he’d try and break it. This yearning for experimentation would lay the foundation of some of the most unique and unorthodox compositions in modern Overwatch history. It first began domestically with Miraculous Youngster’s deconstruction of the aggressive and mobility-based “dive” metagame.  Predicated on creating multiple attack angles and coordinated strikes, the dive metagame was popular throughout the pre-Overwatch League era between late 2016 and early 2018. The composition started as Winston, D.Va, Genji, Tracer, Lucio, and Zenyatta, but throughout its lifecycle, many different iterations were developed. Some included Ana instead of the Zenyatta and others dropped the D.Va to add more consistent damage with Soldier: 76. RUI and Miraculous Youngster didn’t want to play by their rules. Their first concoction was incredibly map dependant. On linear maps with tight choke points, Miraculous Youngster would pepper in a Zarya over the D.Va to help alleviate the single target pressure that dive was known for as well as building up a great team fight ultimate in Graviton Surge. This could also be flanked by a Reinhardt and a Mei instead of a Winston and Genji respectively for similar reasons. This style of anti-dive was showcased during their match against OMG in the Overwatch Premier Series 2017 quarterfinals on Eichenwalde Point C and Route 66 Point C.  

  Next was his experimentation with Sombra instead of the Zenyatta. This predicated on the map but also on where each points’ health packs were placed. During this time period, when Sombra’s allies were healed by a hacked health pack she would gain a sizeable amount of ultimate charge. Knowing this, RUI would order his troops to play passively around where the hacked health packs were at and try to endure the first few dive attempts from the enemy team. This way Sombra not only could hack the engaging Genji, Winston or D.Va, but could also generate EMP and flip the aggression when Miraculous Youngster was dove. A great example of this was shown during their week seven match against Lucky Future on Route 66 Point A and against OMG in the 2017 Overwatch Premier Series quarterfinals on Route 66 Point A and Volskaya Industries Point A. Neither had shocking degrees of success as RUI and the team lost to OMG in the quarterfinals and departed the event in 5-6th place. However, the next iteration was similar in its fundamentals but different enough to stir the pot. RUI needed to consistently threaten the dive as it was coming in but couldn’t sacrifice too much healing to lose prolonged skirmishes. His eureka moment was during Nexus Cup 2017 - Summer where the team would, on select maps, pull out a unique composition of Reinhardt, Zarya, Ana, and Lucio. Their DPS would end up being map dependent but could range anywhere from Widowmaker, Tracer, Junkrat and McCree. This would end up being a resounding success and Miraculous Youngster would go on to win the event. But, if you look closely, they did so with arguably the hardest bracket. They trampled over three South Korean teams, beat legendary Korean team RunAway twice, and did not drop a map the entire event.  Nexus Cup 2017 - Summer was a statement victory. RUI and the Youngsters had finally arrived.  In a 2017 Reddit thread, Korean commentator and Overwatch World Cup 2017 committee member Hwang "YongBongTang" Kyu-hyung was quoted in saying that, “[Team] South Korea saw today's Nexus Cup match and are testing the [Miraculous Youngster] team comp. (Rein/Zarya/Reaper/Tracer), and a bit of an altered version of their own comp. (Rein/Zarya/Junkrat/McCree) which could be the current counter to the aggressive dive meta.” A sparring match aired on the playoverwatch_kr Twitch channel which showed that not only was the composition making waves, but it was taken somewhat seriously outside of China. This trend continued months later into the OGN’s Seoul Cup - Super Match where Miraculous Youngster also played the composition during their nail-biting loss to Lunatic-Hai.  When it comes to more modern Overwatch history, RUI continues to outdo himself. Stage 1 of the 2019 Overwatch League season was where the Chengdu Hunter solidified themselves as unique.  Main tank Ding "Ameng" Menghan had previous experience on heroes like Orisa and Reinhardt in the past, but nothing that would instill faith in a tank focused metagame that gave players very little room for error. This coupled with the fact that jiqiren was out due to visa troubles, coach RUI, was forced to adapt. Encapsulating this beautifully, special correspondent for the Guangzhou Charge and Overwatch commentator Li "Chixiaotu" Qiong said it best.  “Only RUI, out of the entire Overwatch League, created this unique Hammond composition to suit Ameng⁠—the other main tank player [who] was not as proficient on Reinhardt and Winston. Instead of letting him spend so much time practicing Reinhardt or Winston, he chose to emphasize the advantages Chengdu has in hand: a top Hammond and several top DPS.” “That's why I think RUI is so powerful!” Along with his unorthodox take on the 3-3 metagame, coach RUI also managed to pull off a handful of curveball strategies that threw teams for a loop. Chengdu was always willing to pull out a multi-DPS composition to pressure teams and force them to adapt, but nothing was as cynical as the Hunters’ Symmetra “leapfrog” strategy used in week one of Stage 2 against the Paris Eternal.  In the midst of the stagnant 3-3 metagame, RUI and the Hunters employed a hero that, at the time, did not see almost any play. Symmetra was cast aside after numerous reworks as something for matchmaking, not for professional play. But with the help of her teleporter and consistent damage, RUI found a beautiful way to breach Hanamura’s walls against the Eternal.  With a stage worth of intimate experience against the team, former head coach of the Florida Mayhem and current head coach of the Boston Uprising, Vytis "Mineral" Lasaitis, weighed in on Chengdu and how he prepared for their unorthodox playstyle.  “It's always difficult to prepare for a team that plays off-meta picks, especially if you play them early in the season,” Lasaitis said. “You think you have the answers to counter them, but it's mostly just theory-crafting. You can't really hammer down the required fundamentals in practice, because you never get to see those looks in practice. Once other teams have success against them and sort of outline a blueprint over a larger sample size, then it gets a little easier.” “You also have to come to terms with the fact that unless your composition trumps the meta and forces a shift, you're willingly committing to something that isn't optimal, which essentially takes you out of title contention, at least on a per stage basis,” Lasaitis said. “Then again, if you can grab wins in a meta that doesn't favor you and the meta shifts, then perhaps you've done enough to put yourself in the hunt. There are certainly several ways to look at it.” “I certainly would credit coach RUI in the sense that Chengdu hasn't wavered at any point during this process, and truly committed to this identity.” This identity is revealed perfectly through the Chengdu Hunters’ main tank situation and how Ameng rose to prominence under RUI’s guidance and brilliant mind.  

Behind the Name

  In today's day and age, we often are synthesized down to names on a screen. Not much thought goes into what we say or how we feel about certain people online and that same idea can be transposed, almost doubly so, onto coaches within esports. Most of the support staff are either forgotten about or used as scapegoats for criticism.  So, just who was RUI the person?  “I only personally met RUI once,” Yandahan said. “It was the opening week, and I arrived at Chengdu Hunters’ team house with other Chinese media in the evening. They [were] going to face Guangzhou Charge in their first match, which [was] highly regarded in China at the time.” “So, generally I would say there was real pressure, but Coach RUI is still quite relaxed and patient [both] with media and his players. During that visit, I could feel that he was an easy-going person and modest at the same time. He is objective when talking about his goals and the problems that may appear. I am pretty sure he is the kind of person who will choose to shoulder everything on his own. He always takes the fall for the team, and that’s very admirable and professional.” “We only met in Bangkok during the 2018 Overwatch World Cup,” Zihang said. “He impressed me as a gentle and easy-going person. He wasn't very talkative, but he was strict but gentle with his players. This may seem like the opposite, but it's true. He is more like a Confucian general in traditional Chinese culture.” This air of stoicism and a quiet patience is a common thread that ties all three of these anecdotes together, but Li Qiong ventured into deep waters to truly express just who RUI was, not only as a person but as a coach as well. “I think Coach RUI is excellent at his job, especially in adapting tactics regarding player features” she explained. “Also, he is good at picking talents where others may underrate, and he has proven [that] several times in the Overwatch Premier Series, the Overwatch World Cup, and [in] the Overwatch League. It was coach RUI who had such a profound influence on the players, because RUI, as their first coach and first teacher, has also been their first father figure in Overwatch.” Qiong continued illustrating that RUI was more than his title, he was a wise teacher that truly cared about his players. “For example Leave is a talented player, he would think himself as the best in the world, but he trusts coach RUI, and would always say to me, ‘As long as you follow RUI's tactics there would be no way to lose.’ This requires great respect and trust. He doesn't only coach on Overwatch terms, but also provides wisdom on other aspects of life.” “RUI coaches the players depending on their conditions [and] his lesson would vary from player to player. YangXiaoLong actually told me that RUI had interviewed a more talented DPS player, but he still chose YangXiaoLong. It's because that RUI knew that YangXiaoLong was the most hard-working player he had ever seen. As a hitscan player, he wants to practice hard and become the best hitscan player. And this is partially what attracted YangXiaoLong to RUI.” “Ever since I could remember, he had made his team go for a morning jog at 7 or 8 a.m. and then eat breakfast every day. He would then let them practice by themselves playing competitive mode, and then a nap. In the afternoon they would play scrims. This regime was enforced to both Miraculous Youngster and the current Chengdu Hunters. So the biological clock and the mental and physical state of the players are optimal, which allows them to sustain their professional career and also play better on the stage.”
Coaching is inherently selfless. 99% of what you do as a coach goes unnoticed as it happens behind closed doors and in locker rooms. However, it’s the duality of RUI’s style that is artistic. He still manages the selfless aspects of the coaching role, but in the game he imposes his unique and unwavering mind almost selfishly. That ego is shown through the lens of his players’ experience and comfort. Throughout his nearly six-year-long tenure in esports, it’s safe to say that RUI has an intimate relationship with adversity. His first foray into esports was met with health issues and inconsistency, he nearly missed the inaugural season of the Overwatch League even after assembling some of his regions best talent, and now he’s finally starting to see success leading the Chengdu Hunters to a 12th place finish and narrowly missing their first seasonal playoff berth.  I think that carries a level of courage that is overlooked. Not courage in the way you feel compelled to run into a burning building to save a child, but courage in the sense that even after everything and everyone trying to show him he’s wrong, RUI stubbornly sticks to his unique view of the game--and has found a surprising level of success. I think the former manager of Bubble Burster Gaming, Jin “YoungJin” Zihang said it best.  “I think [RUI] is a flag, a pioneer, a leader for Chinese Overwatch.” “He’s a player who wins a game without the best cards in his hand.” “He is an iconic figure to Chinese Overwatch, a community star, someone who is respected and loved. He's more than a coach to Chinese Overwatch.”  “RUI is a symbol.”
Joseph “Volamel” Franco has followed esports since the MLGs of 2006. He started out primarily following Starcraft 2, Halo 3, and Super Smash Bros. Melee. He has transitioned from viewer to journalist and writes freelance primarily about Overwatch and League of Legends. If you would like to know more or follow his thoughts on esports you can follow him at @Volamel. Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment and Chengdu Hunters.

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