May 3, 2023
BEIJING – Asked if they would represent China at the forthcoming Asian Games in Hangzhou if still in their prime, esports legends Jian Zihao and Ming Kai delivered an unequivocal reply. “The answer is of course yes, if the Chinese team needs us,” said Jian, aka Uzi, in an exclusive interview with China Daily online show On Your Marks.
Ming, aka Clearlove, concurred, saying it would be the “highest honor” to win gold for his country at the Games.
Both Jian and Ming have been away from the professional league for a while, but the two veterans still get “goosebumps” when they recall esports’ debut as a demonstration sport at the last Asian Games in Jakarta.
“When we arrived at the venue of the final, which was being contested between China and South Korea, we noticed that among the audience were South Korean and Chinese athletes of other sports, all there to cheer for us,” said Jian, who was the core player of the gold-winning Chinese League of Legends (LOL) squad back in 2018.
This year in Hangzhou it will debut as an official medal sport, featuring seven competitions — Arena of Valor Asian Games Version, Dota 2, Dream Three Kingdoms 2, League of Legends, PUBG Mobile Asian Games Version, Street Fighter V and EA SPORTS’ FIFA-branded soccer game
“It was then that I realized esports was gaining more recognition. The spectators were all cheering for us, not for a club or a single person, but for the Chinese team.
“We were nervous at that moment. But, after winning the medal, when the Chinese national flag was raised, it seemed so surreal to me.
“It still gives me goosebumps even when I recall the scene now. It really was an emotional moment. That memory will stay with me for the rest of my life, because I was so young and so dedicated.”
Although Ming was not involved in the Chinese LOL team at the 2018 Asian Games, he followed all the squad’s matches online.
“Of course I was nervous for them, because it was a matter of national honor. I was super nervous whenever I saw Uzi get slayed in the match. And I was so relieved when they won,” said Ming. “As an esports player myself, I was very proud and happy to be part of the profession.”
Esports was included in the Asian Games for the first time as a demonstration sport at the 2018 edition in Indonesia, with China winning two gold medals and a silver.
This year in Hangzhou it will debut as an official medal sport, featuring seven competitions — Arena of Valor Asian Games Version, Dota 2, Dream Three Kingdoms 2, League of Legends, PUBG Mobile Asian Games Version, Street Fighter V and EA SPORTS’ FIFA-branded soccer game.
The Chinese lineups for the Games have yet to be released, but both Jian and Ming hope the new generation of players do the nation proud.
“I wish them a good performance in Hangzhou, our home court. I hope they can show the world the strength of the Chinese team,” said Jian.
And Ming encouraged the young players, saying: “I think being a member of the Chinese team would be the greatest recognition for a professional player. To win a gold medal for China, it would be the highest honor. I wish the Hangzhou Asian Games great success.”
Of course I was nervous for them, because it was a matter of national honor. I was super nervous whenever I saw Uzi (Jian Zihao) get slayed in the match. And I was so relieved when they won … As an esports player myself, I was very proud and happy to be part of the profession.
Ming Kai, Chinese esports player
Jian and Ming were among the highest-profile Chinese LOL players of the last decade and beyond. Last month, the two topped the voting in a poll to decide the League of Legends Pro League’s (LPL) 10 greatest players, which was organized to mark the league’s 10th anniversary.
“My first LPL match was in 2013 when I played against Uzi’s team. It was like we were fated to meet. We battled against each other from the very beginning,” recalled Ming of his early days in the league.
“Competing in the LPL was my youth. Nowadays, we hope to pass on the torch to the next generation, hoping they can play better and bring glory to China.”
Jian told China Daily that becoming a professional esports player was a life-changing decision for him and the journey has changed him a lot.
“It’s been 10 years since we started competing in the LPL, and I have gone through a lot. Playing in the LPL allowed me to do what I think is right in a profession that I love. I gained a great sense of achievement. I considered myself lucky and honored to be part of it,” said Jian.
As veterans who have witnessed the growth of Chinese esports over the past decade, Jian and Ming are impressed by how fast the industry has developed. Jian still remembers his first professional match — played on a small stage, with the teams crammed so close to each other they were able to hear their rivals talk tactics
“As a professional esports player, you will experience a lot of failure and countless heartbreaking nights. But you also gain an unparalleled sense of achievement, because as long as you work hard, all your efforts will definitely pay off. If you embark on this career, please keep going, work hard, and never give up.”
As veterans who have witnessed the growth of Chinese esports over the past decade, Jian and Ming are impressed by how fast the industry has developed. Jian still remembers his first professional match — played on a small stage, with the teams crammed so close to each other they were able to hear their rivals talk tactics.
China has gone on to host a number of major championships at the nation’s most iconic venues, including the National Stadium, aka the “Bird’s Nest”, in Beijing for the 2017 season’s LOL World Championship final.
“At the beginning, people knew little about our players and esports. But now esports has gradually become accepted and recognized by the public, and so are the players,” added Jian.
“There were fewer professional staff in the early days, unlike now, when we have more professional equipment, a healthier environment and there is more protection for players.”
Ming points to a “more regulated “esports industry in China nowadays, which he believes is helpful for young players.
“In the past, it was more like we were exploring on our own, with no one to guide us. But now, there are always people offering advice and providing guidance.”
Although they have both stepped away from competition for the time being, Jian and Ming, who still enjoy huge popularity among fans, are keen to act as role models and further the development of Chinese esports.
“I will certainly continue to contribute to LPL and esports in various ways. I was a player and I was also a coach. I hope I can help mentor more excellent players for the LPL, either as a coach or in a different role,” said Ming.
“I wish another 10 years of prosperity for the LPL and Chinese esports, and hope that it will be accepted and loved by more people, just as traditional sports are.
“I feel a stronger sense of responsibility, because I know you must have that to be a role model. I’m an extremely positive person, and I want to introduce esports to more people and allow them to feel the positive energy and passion.”