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In 2018, a 14-year-old New York Excelsior fan had a wish come true right at one of the team’s events.

Thanks to NYXL co-founder Rohit Gupta setting her up, she got to face off in a 1v1 match — Ana versus Ana — against the best player in Overwatch League at the time: Bang “JJoNak” Sung-hyeon. It started like any other match against a fan and player, but a crowd started to form around Yunhee “Aniyun” Chi as she held her own against one of the world’s best.

“One of the people who worked there asked me to 1v1 JJonak, and I said sure,” Aniyun said. “I was super nervous, especially since I was around Diamond and Masters at the time. I killed him a few times — I think twice — but I wouldn’t consider it a true win. It was a win overall, considering he was my role model, and NYXL was my favorite team.”

While she doesn’t recount that battle going well, it was good enough for people to notice. Some tweets arose, one of which was even from the official NYXL Twitter. It started to gain traction.

“It changed everything for me, that battle against JJonak,” Aniyun said. “That was when I realized I really wanted to start competing in Overwatch. So, I changed a lot in my life to go for that goal.”

Aniyun trains from a fan into a contender

Fast-forward four years, an 18-year-old Aniyun has a notable career in Overwatch esports. She has competed in Open Division, signed to the Contenders team WISP, and even won the recent Calling All Heroes Challengers Cup. This tournament, designed to show competition consisting of marginalized genders, led to some great moments for her team, Altiora Artemis. Still, it all came back to a realization of a dream she had ever since she threw on that blue NYXL jersey and faced off against JJonak.

Her journey started there, just after that 1v1, grinding her way up the ranks in Overwatch on Ana and Zenyatta. Some of her earliest official tournaments began in 2019, at age 15, with her first official win at the fifth MGA Community Overwatch Series in mid-2020. While that wasn’t a big-name tournament, she continued to grind and eventually joined the Open Division team Kryix. Alongside competing in more tournaments throughout 2020 and 2021, she developed more experience as an upcoming talent in the Overwatch scene.

“Playing in Open Division gave me a lot more confidence in myself,” Aniyun said. “Plus, it gave me that team experience with people at the same level or better than me.”

As 2022 went along, she branched out, competing in Chinese Contenders as well as the Toronto Defiant’s Community Cup for Pride. However, the true breakthrough came thanks to the Calling All Heroes Challengers Cup. On that strong Altiora Artemis team, her support play helped lead the squad to a perfect qualifier, with zero maps lost.

After another stint in Open Division for Shikigami, she got her best opportunity in Contenders so far, signing with WISP. This team has helped develop a lot of future Overwatch League players. Some include Rupal “Rupal” Zaman, Rene “k1ng” Rangel, and Tomas “Doge” Kongsøre.

“When WISP asked me to join, that’s when my confidence went up,” Aniyun said. “I felt like I was actually becoming a good player. I felt that validation.”

Then came another great run in the Calling All Heroes Challengers Cup, yet again with zero maps lost. In a tournament so widely viewed thanks to the Overwatch League’s focus on it, Aniyun on Kiriko as well as a lot of other talented marginalized players got attention from fans, players and teams alike. However, not all of it was the best attention.

The struggles around marginalized players

One of the elephants in the room surrounding the tournament involved news that came out during it. It revolved around a team that Aniyun was familiar with, the New York Excelsior. According to a report from Dot Esports, NYXL were looking to sign some of the best players from the Call All Heroes tournament to build a marginalized roster for the Overwatch League 2023 season. If it does come to fruition, the potential harm it can do is obvious in Aniyun’s eyes.

“If you just limit the pool of incoming players to marginalized genders, it’ll make them less competitive as the pool of players is smaller and it might only hurt their chances of winning when they’re in the league,” Aniyun said. “This could bring more ‘hate’ if it goes wrong, so this idea is risky. A better way might be to support marginalized genders through events like Calling All Heroes. This would allow that talent to grow into playing in Contenders or the Overwatch League.”

Whether it’s casual sexism or hate towards marginalized genders, there is still a lot that the Overwatch community has to change. Luckily enough for Aniyun, even with her experience in the many tiers of competitive Overwatch, the worst sexism she’s faced is outside of the tournaments.

“I’m pretty fortunate that I haven’t faced a lot of sexism in the esports scene,” Aniyun said. “Playing ranked is where I’ve experienced it the most, which is unfortunately common. I’ve seen and heard a lot about it happening to others, but in the team environments I’ve played for, the team cares more about winning, which leads to a more productive space.”

Aniyun Overwatch League 2022
Aniyun at the OWL 2022 Grand Finals. | Provided by Aniyun.

Now, with the Calling All Heroes Challengers Cup over and the 2023 off-season on, Aniyun knows what her goals are. Much like how her fight against JJonak gave her that push to keep competing in the Overwatch scene and grow, signing to WISP and winning a big tournament gave her yet another boost. While her expectations are tempered, and her allegiances are more favored to the Dallas Fuel now, the dream that once seemed impossible is becoming more and more possible.

“Winning the Challengers Cup has definitely changed my view on competing,” Aniyun said. “It made me more motivated to work harder. I want to continue to compete in Contenders and prove myself. But, the Overwatch League is a consideration, it’s no longer an impossibility for me now.”