There's no sugarcoating things. This was not the best year for Hearthstone esports. After an incrediblie finals for the 2018 season in Taiwan (to close out the month of April 2019, no less), things got a little wacky. Grandmasters was slow to get off the ground, viewership was fluctuating, but above all else, Blizzard was mired in controversy over seemingly choosing sides in the conflict between China and Hong Kong. During the Year of Games discussion among the Shacknews staff, I had commented about the atmosphere at BlizzCon and while there was an air of solidarity and support for the people of Hong Kong, my concern was that those feelings would slowly morph into an anti-China sentiment, one that would be unfairly directed towards the Chinese esports players competing in their respective games.
Then something incredible happened. Chinese competitor Xiaomeng "Liooon" Li walked into BlizzCon and made history, becoming the first woman to win the Hearthstone World Championship, prevailing over a crowded field of some of the game's greatest players. And she didn't just beat them, she dominated the field, sweeping Brian "bloodyface" Eason 3-0 in the Grand Finals. She recognized the holes in the Quest Druid and was able to put together solid aggro strategies to counter it, all while playing her own potent Quest Druid deck, one that looked to Malygos as her primary win condition.
For Liooon, emerging on top of a field of 16 of the top players in the world was the result of years of hard work. It also came after overcoming gender-based discrimination in her own home country, where she was often told she didn't belong with the male competitors.
"Two years ago, I remember when I was competing in a huge tournament, I was waiting in line for back-up sign-ups and there was this guy telling me, 'If you're a girl, you should not wait in line here. It's not for you,'" a teary-eyed Liooon said in her post-game interview, via translator." "And now, today, I'm here with all the support from the fans! So I want to say to all the girls out there who have a dream for esports for competition, for glory. If you want to do it and you believe in yourself, you should just forget your gender and just go for it."
Any fears of a backlash against the Chinese players were put to rest. I looked around the Anaheim Convention Center and everybody was on their feet, applauding Liooon's accomplishments. Her achievements had not only united the venue, but also reminded everyone that Hearthstone is indeed for everybody, no matter where they're from and no matter their gender. For breaking barriers and for an incredible performance under pressure, Xiaomeng "Liooon" Li is the 2019 Shacknews Esports Hero of the Year.
Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, Shacknews Esports Hero of 2019 - Liooon
Had he gotten out of groups at the TWT on the day we debated, he might have won this.
He had my vote.