In the League of Legends scene, the general consensus is that Jian ‘Uzi’ Zi-Hao is the greatest player to ever win the World Cup.
Uzi was the player around whom the teams were formed. His career began when he was taken straight from the solo queue by the Royal Club at just 15 years old. He’s been the star of multiple rosters and the standard that nearly all AD Carries across the world are compared to. And yet, he doesn’t own any world championship rings.
He’s approached it – three times, actually. In 2013 and 2014, he was one final away from being crowned best AD Carry in the world. He got closer again in 2018, when he won every tournament he has competed in alongside his teammates on Royal Never Give Up.
The elusive Grand Slam
He won his very first international title that year, winning the 2018 Mid-Season Invitational. Now all he had to do was win the Worlds trophy, and all those years not quite. that would be forgotten.
He was then unceremoniously eliminated by G2 Esports in the quarterfinals.
What followed was one of the darkest periods in Uzi’s career. His League-obsessed lifestyle had finally started to catch up with him – he spent long periods on the bench for RNG as his severe shoulder pain and type 2 diabetes made him unable to compete.
Finally, after almost two years of intermittent play, Uzi retired in early 2020. His departure was ruthless.
He had helped shape this esport on the world stage, was one of the founding elements of its success, and now he was gone. With only one MSI trophy to his credit.
Suffering from success
Uzi’s retirement marked a larger problem in the League world. In its early days, competitive League of Legends was as simple as five teammates, sitting in front of their computers, training 24/7. Particularly in China and Korea, regions renowned for their incredibly strict practice regimes, the idea of a holistic approach to the game was unthinkable.
Why would you want to train or take the time to stretch and recover when that would mean wasting precious time in practice?
Many teams train for 12 straight hours, every day. That leaves very little time for personal health considerations – things as simple as walking around or stretching between blocks of canvas. Coupled with streaming obligations, gamers will often spend all their waking hours in front of computers.
Esports athletes are at high risk for health problems due to the sedentary nature of the game, according to a study published in the Journal of Osteopathic Medicine. These health issues can range from skeletal disorders, poor posture and repeated tendon strains to obesity and mental health issues associated with a sedentary lifestyle and constant internet presence.
Yet, at the start of esports’ rise in popularity, very few organizations were willing to go the extra mile to help prevent serious health issues for gamers. This was the case with Uzi.
His incredible drive for improvement, to be constantly at the top of his game, led him to develop diabetes, which he himself attributed to “chronic stress, irregular eating and poor sleep”. He broke up in search of a success that never quite came.
– Ran (@ran_lpl) June 3, 2020
Steps have been taken to improve the lifestyle of professional gamers in recent years. North American and European organizations have started to actively hire performance coaches, physiotherapists, nutritionists, and chefs to keep their players performing at their best.
However, much less is known about the team environment in non-English speaking regions.
Is BLG ready for a great team?
Throughout his absence from the professional scene, Uzi has cared for the damage caused by his professional career. He streamed while away from professional projectors, but nowhere near the kind of intense schedule he had to stick to to participate in LPL canvas blocks.
And now he’s back, as the starting AD Carry for LPL’s Bilibili Gaming. After a two-year absence, he will return to a supposed “LPL Super Team” that has clearly been designed with worlds in mind, alongside some of the region’s brightest stars.
In a promotional interview filmed by BLG, he spoke about choosing football as a way to relax and stay in shape, saying he felt “strong and energized”.
– Bilibili Gaming (@BilibiliGaming) December 15, 2021
BLG also signed a replacement AD Carry to allow him to step away from competitive play. Not just any ordinary AD Carry, but PCS rookie superstar Chiu ‘Doggo’ Tzu-Chan, a star who made a name for himself at MSI 2021.
This return will not be a test for Uzi. BLG has catapulted themselves and their roster into the spotlight overnight, and now they’ll have to make sure they’re ready to deal with the pressure that comes with building a super-squad.
They’ve made sure they can replace Uzi to take the time to rest if necessary, but can they keep him on the bench if the team’s hopes of making the World Cup start to be compromised?
A first time for everything
Doggo is an excellent AD Carry, but this will be his first competitive split in a large region. He too will be under tremendous pressure to perform, knowing that he is somehow responsible for the success or failure of this super-team despite not having been a starter.
In addition, the organization has never qualified for a world championship before, nor for any international event for that matter. They have assembled a solid roster of coaches, with Head Coach Li ‘Dian’ Guo-peng and Supervisor Shih ‘Chashao’ Yi-Hao both having guided the teams to the World Championship during their careers.
But coaches alone won’t take the team to a world championship if they don’t have the right tools at their disposal.
A warm welcome to Supervisor Chashao and Coach Dian who join the BLG team. We will work together and seek the highest honor in 2022! pic.twitter.com/8Sd35GdYFX
– Bilibili Gaming (@BilibiliGaming) December 3, 2021
There is also the issue of players on this team who are not called Uzi. Uzi was known to be a resource hungry gamer, especially during the RNG era. Mid laner Li ‘Xiaohu’ Lian-Yao was typically recruited from favorable mid-lane picks like Galio and Lulu, while the lead carrier role was left to Uzi.
But will BLG’s solo laners be ready to do the same? League is a finite resource game, and a great team made up of the best players in each role will have a much harder time deciding where to use those resources.
It takes a certain altruism to maximize Uzi’s potential, but that’s not the kind of behavior you’d expect from players who make up a great team.
Uzi’s mental and physical health
Uzi’s situation is also far from perfect. Type 2 diabetes is a debilitating disease that must be managed with medication for the rest of a person’s life. His shoulder injuries will likely require constant physical therapy. And apart from any physical condition, there is the incredible pressure he faces to continue fighting for that elusive Worlds title.
Uzi responds to his haters while streaming today.
“Not winning the title doesn’t mean the player is lacking in training or not good enough.”
– HUPU Esports (@HupuEsports) December 16, 2021
In a recent livestream, he expressed his frustrations at the negative comments in his chat calling him the “god of the void”, poking fun at his lack of a world title. “Not winning the title doesn’t mean the player is lacking training or isn’t good enough. Worlds isn’t something you get just because you want it.
He went on to comment on his condition, saying that “diabetes is painful, I have to take pills every day. […] it is not easy. He is still not 100% back to fighting fitness and said his mental health is still “not so stable”.
Even a player as beloved as Uzi is not immune to scathing criticism from the online community, and dealing with that kind of mental pressure on top of the constant need to monitor his health has already taken its toll.
And it will continue to wreak havoc. For someone like Uzi, who won everything except this final title, it’s the World Cup or nothing. His illnesses put him on a timer to achieve that goal, no matter how well they are managed.
Only time will tell
Uzi’s return will be a litmus test for the evolution of League esports since its inception. The LPL is renowned for having some of the strictest player schedules in any region of the world.
If such a strict region is able to support a player without pushing them back to breaking point, that in itself is a clear signal that League is heading towards an unprecedented level of durability for players.
We are already seeing slow progress towards this level of sustainability. In September 2019, the LPL signed a five-year sponsorship agreement with Nike. The fitness giant has become the official clothing sponsor of the LPL, providing shoes and jerseys to each team.
The partnership also included “Personalized physical training programs” for LPL players to help “build stronger physique and more endurance” to cope with the intense demands of professional gaming.
However, there has been very little publicity around the specifics of these “personalized training programs”. The LPL posted a Q&A video with players describing their daily routines on their official Youtube channel. Neither player mentions one kind of exercise, or even stretching, as part of their routines.
Of the 17 teams competing in the LPL in 2022, none of them have an official performance coach on their roster.
The LPL recently organized a training seminar for all team members, which ended with a written test. The seminar included, among other things, training on sports injuries, but a two-day seminar is not enough to train coaches to manage the types of injuries and long-term health issues that a playing career can take. professional can cause.
China, and the wider League world, is starting to embrace the idea of player health and longevity. But they are not there yet. Taking time off from the competition allowed Uzi to heal and return, but the systems that allowed him to break his body in the first place have yet to be eradicated.
The 2022 season will be a test – for Uzi, for BLG, for the LPL, and for League of Legends as a whole.