China’s most celebrated esports star is calling it quits.
In a message posted Wednesday to his Weibo microblog, 23-year-old League of Legends player Jian Zihao — better-known by his gaming handle Uzi — said that due to mounting health concerns, he would no longer be competing professionally.
The “continual high pressure, poor diet, and late nights” he faced as an esports athlete had led to him being diagnosed last year with type 2 diabetes, Jian explained. And despite undergoing a recovery program for the past six months, he said his mental state wasn’t what it used to be, he was still hampered by a hand injury, and doctors had warned him that his symptoms could worsen if he continued to compete.
Jian’s farewell post on Weibo has been liked more than 3.5 million times, with fans flooding the comments section to thank him for his eight years of competitive play. The abrupt retirement was particularly poignant because many of China’s millions of League of Legends players consider the multiplayer online battle arena game a cornerstone of their youth — to some, almost a religion — that is now fading amid the new pressures of modern life.
Chinese esports athlete Jian Zihao, better known as Uzi, smiles while playing in a League of Legends tournament in Dalian, Liaoning province, July 6, 2018. IC
On Twitter, Jian wrote simply: “Uzi out,” along with a cute emoticon.
“Oh, my youth. I wish you all the best,” read a typical comment under Jian’s Weibo post. Meanwhile, a hashtag translating to “Uzi retires from service” has racked up 1.9 billion views on the site, and Nike’s official account posted a sentimental message that concluded, “Good Game, Uzi.”
Jian became a professional League of Legends player in 2012, joining a team called Royal Club at the age of 15. In each of the next two years, he reached the finals of the League of Legends World Championship, and has since held the coveted record for most kills in competitive play. Chinese fans refer to Jian by the affectionate nickname “Puppy,” but to his teammates, he was known as “Mad Dog” because of his bold and aggressive playing style.
Jian’s career was marked by exhilarating highs and crushing disappointments. Despite being regarded as one of the best League of Legends players in the world — perhaps second only to the South Korean pro Faker — he never won a world title. In 2018, following a season in which his team looked dominant, he played poorly in the quarterfinals at Worlds, earning wide criticism from fans. Earlier that year, however, Jian and a selection of other elite gamers won gold for Team China at the Asian Games — the first time esports were included as an event.
A message from Nike to commemorate the retirement of beloved League of Legends player Jian Zihao, better known as Uzi. From @NIKE on Weibo
Physical injury — the bane of athletes in both regular and virtual sports — started to become a problem for Jian in 2015. Even then, he considered quitting professional play, as pain in his arm was making it hard for him to control the computer’s mouse. In a recent interview with state broadcaster CCTV, Jian admitted that he couldn’t see himself carrying on with the grueling 10-hours-a-day training regime needed to compete at the highest level.
Jian may be out of action for good, but his most recent team, Royal Never Give Up, insists he’ll always be family, and has vowed to ensure that he gets whatever medical care he needs going forward.
“Uzi was not only the heart and soul of RNG, but also an icon in the esports world as a whole,” the team wrote on Twitter. “From a teenager onwards he never gave up and worked as hard as he could to be the best he could in his role, he inspired many.”
Editor: David Paulk.
(Header image: A graphic of Chinese League of Legends player Jian Zihao, better known as Uzi, who announced his retirement from competitive play on Wednesday. From @RNGRoyal on Twitter)