Something special about the Overwatch World Cup is its ability to kick-start players' careers or launch them into stardom.
Most notably, in 2016, South Korean main tank Gong "Miro" Jin-Hyuk enthralled fans from around the globe by completely reinventing the way Winston could be played. Two years later, Chinese main tank Qiulin "Guxue" Xu captured international attention with a star-making performance on the same hero Miro had impressed on in 2016.
Guxue's aggressive and efficient play style during the Overwatch World Cup this November in Anaheim, California, made him an immediate sensation in the Overwatch community. It became a running joke in the Chinese Overwatch community to say "Guxue pulled Blade" whenever he used Primal Rage, likening his prowess in securing kills with Winston's ultimate ability to the deadliness of Genji's Dragonblade.
If his title as unequivocal best main tank in China had ever been in contention, he secured it through his performance in the World Cup as Team China earned a runner-up finish.
Guxue wasn't always as dominant a player as he is now, though. Until the beginning of 2018, he was seen as somewhat above average at best. He joined LGD Gaming in early 2017 in hopes of one day making it to the big leagues.
"I started playing Overwatch during the beta testing phase," Guxue said. "At the time, I really liked watching Hearthstone streamers, and all of them were playing Overwatch and talking about how fun Overwatch was, so I gave it a try and immediately got hooked. I watched the Overwatch World Cup and thought it was really cool and hoped that one day I could play in it too. When I got to a high SR, I decided to give being a pro player a try."
Although LGD Gaming never managed to win a title, Guxue continued to work hard. His performance skyrocketed during Contenders China Season 1, and he finally came into the conversation for best main tank in China after his incredible performance in the finals. His steps for improvement are simple: "constant diligence and learning from mistakes."
Eventually his hard work paid off, and he was selected to represent China in the Overwatch World Cup. The team, consisting of just one former Overwatch League player, enjoyed a clean 5-0 run in qualifiers and headed to BlizzCon playoffs as a force to be reckoned with. There, the Chinese squad neatly dismantled Teams Finland and Canada, both of which contained a multitude of Overwatch League players. In the finals, however, China suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of three-time victors Team South Korea.
Despite the loss, Guxue had made a strong statement about himself and had left a deep impression on fans worldwide. Despite the extraordinary results, Guxue remained nonchalant about the performance.
"It's everyone's way of acknowledging me, so there isn't a lot of pressure," he said. "There just aren't that many outstanding main tanks in China."
With the announcement of three Chinese expansion teams joining the Overwatch League in 2019, it seemed inevitable that Guxue, arguably China's most notable Overwatch player, would be signed by one of them. In mid-November, the Hangzhou Spark announced that they had added Guxue to their roster. He and World Cup teammate Shilong "Krystal" Cai will be the only two Chinese players on a mostly South Korean squad heading into 2019.
The language barrier might be difficult to navigate at first, but Guxue is optimistic about his new squad and the team's chemistry.
"We're all going to learn English together and learn from each other," he said. "I've been getting along very well with my new teammates. Everyone is always proactive about chatting with me and asking me to duo with them."
The Hangzhou Spark are poised to be one of the more competitive expansion teams due to their storied roster. Of the 19 other teams in the League, though, Guxue has his sights firmly set on one in particular.
"I'm most looking forward to playing against the Shanghai Dragons next year," he said.
Although the Shanghai Dragons are infamous for going winless through all of 2018, Guxue said he thinks their retooled roster will make them much more of a threat. The cities of Shanghai and Hangzhou have a long history of rivalry due to geographic proximity, and Guxue seemed eager to represent Hangzhou and continue that competitive tradition.
With all the buzz surrounding Guxue going into the 2019 season, it's natural to wonder whether the expectations placed upon him will be too high for him to meet, especially at the start, while the Spark are still finding their footing. However, Guxue is set on maintaining his composure and striving for improvement the way he always has in the hopes of repaying his sizable fanbase both in and out of China.
"Thank you all for acknowledging and supporting me," Guxue said. "I will continue to work even harder and hopefully show everyone an even better Guxue in the Overwatch League."