Hao's departure signals a changing of the guard for China

by theScore Staff Aug 19 2016
Thumbnail image courtesy of Sascha Kaliga / PGL

Between the TI6 group stage and main event, I asked Wong “ChuaN” Hock Chuan how long he plans on playing Dota.

His response projected a near future in which he would be retiring. "I think that it's a personal decision for myself, so it's more between me and my girlfriend,” he told me. “It really has nothing to do with the team. After I'm done planning with my girlfriend, I will probably slowly step away from this community and do what I planned to do."

Retirement is on the minds of many of China's old guard, who are getting old enough to consider lives outside of the game. Less than a week after The International, Newbee — who placed a disappointing 9th-12th — are already losing players, though not who you might expect.

"Sorry that I let my fans down this year," Chen "Hao" Zhihao said on his Weibo Thursday. "I am really sorry. Hope you guys can get used to the days without me in the professional scene."

Chen "Hao" Zhihao

Hao is a legend in Chinese Dota. He started competitive play before the first International and has three Top 4 International finishes, including winning the Aegis with Newbee in 2014. Few carries in the world have seen such prolonged success.

After Newbee's failure to win this year, Hao has opted to take a break from Dota and says he may not be coming back. Although retirement (and temporary retirement) have been far more common in Chinese Dota than Western Dota, the announcement is sure to ruffle feathers in the East. Newbee went into The International as one of three analyst favorites along with Liquid and OG, none of whom finished in the Top 6.

It's unclear who in China could step up and fill Hao's shoes. One possibility is Sun "Agressif" Zheng, who plays a similarly aggressive style (only even more active) and may fit the team well. On the less likely side, Dominik "Black^" Reitmeier has said he expects to re-enter the competitive scene once he recovers from a gameplay injury; at one time he replaced Hao on Vici Gaming with fairly similar results, despite their radically different playstyle preferences.

RELATED: Hao on preparing for the TI6 Main Event

More legends can be expected to change teams, take temporary leave or retire in China, a scene which never really settled into a comfortable position after the unprecedented failure at Shanghai. "I feel that right now, Chinese Dota is still in a growing phase," Zhang "Innocence" Yiping, captain of world champions Wings Gaming, said in an interview at TI. "But as a whole, I feel that there's a lot of new players coming out of the scene at the moment."

It's not just new players coming around. TongFu has been together for the better part of a year — with few changes since The International 5 — and failed to find any success. CDEC seems stacked to the roof, with Fu "Q" Bin, the drafter PPD once called "a genius," Xie "super" Junhao, one of China's most successful mids to date, and rising star Liu "Garder" Xinzhou of CDEC's infamous TI5 dark-horse squad.

Where has this power roster been? Stuck in China's middle ranks, struggling behind even Vici Gaming Reborn, who underwhelmed at TI and finished in last place, the worst of China’s five representatives. Yao "Yao" Zhengzheng is under contract and on loan to CDEC from sister squad LGD gaming, where he'd played since 2011, and it's likely that the loan needs to be renegotiated now that the 2016 season is over. LGD, by the way, struggled through TI themselves, despite an astonishing list of establishment players of their own.

Let's not even bring up Vici Gaming, a once number-one team reduced to regional attempts at minor tournaments. Rumor has it that Bai "rOtK" Fan will be returning to retirement to coach next season, although nothing has been substantiated at this point.

These are teams ready to mix it up. As Innocence pointed out, there's plenty of fresh talent in the Chinese scene. With a new power vacuum opening on Newbee due to Hao's hiatus, a new shuffle is set to kick off. How many Dota 2 legends will step aside, at least for the time being? Perhaps the most important question is: will Wings get involved?

Ryan "Gorgon the Wonder Cow" Jurado writes about Dota 2 and freelances for theScore esports. You can follow him on Twitter.