“They were so loud, I couldn’t even hear myself during the [postgame] interview,” Yeung said. “That was really insane, one of the best feelings … I loved interacting with the fans. That was my joy, my passion in esports. I didn’t want that to go away.”
But the noise subsided, and over the following seasons was replaced by criticism as Yeung’s career careened off course. Ultimately self-imposed pressure built and found no release. Frustration and burnout eventually drove him from the top tier of the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) altogether.
Two years and three teams later, Yeung made his return to the LCS stage last weekend for Echo Fox. The stakes were familiar — another struggling organization in orange jerseys with a need — but the player had changed. Yeung’s reemergence in the top flight after an extended absence was both a long time coming and emblematic of a career that has defied all expectations.
After being named Rookie of the 2017 Summer Split and a North American All-Star, Yeung signed with three-time defending champions Team SoloMid. The black-and-white juggernaut had never missed an LCS final, and by adding Yeung’s impressive talent to a quartet of decorated veterans, the organization seemed primed for another title run in 2018.
It wasn’t to be. Clutch Gaming upset TSM 3-1 in the Spring Split quarterfinals, a disheartening cap to a season in which the roster never jelled. Part of the problem was Yeung’s inexperience with the demands and standards of a championship franchise. Less than a year removed from forgoing his high school graduation to try out with Phoenix1, Yeung lacked the mental tools necessary to maintain a healthy work-life balance. He heard the fans who criticized him for TSM’s uneven performances — the lone newcomer among proven champions — and responded by pushing himself to the brink.
“As soon as I joined TSM, I started believing I should be more focused on the game and stop wasting time doing things I enjoy,” Yeung said. “I don’t have time to reach out to my friends, I don’t have time to have a girlfriend, I don’t have time to just hang out. I did nothing but League and rest, and if I lost one week, I wouldn’t have friends to vent my problems to. I would get really stressed out, and it negatively impacted me.”
As the weeks went by, Yeung began suffering severe burnout, a consequence of the 14 hours a day he spent grinding the game. Wrist soreness and headaches limited his practice time, creating a cycle of frustration that seemed inescapable. Then came the playoff disappointment against Clutch, and when fans blamed Yeung for the worst split in franchise history, he did too.
“I was completely demoralized,” Yeung said. “I wanted to stop competing. It’s not something I’m proud of, but it’s just how devastating that loss was for me, where I just wanted to quit.”
Yeung briefly considered leaving competitive gaming to pursue a degree at UConn or the University of California, Irvine, but ultimately remained with TSM’s lower-tier Academy team for the rest of 2018. It only extended his burnout period, and he left TSM the following offseason.
“I should have done something differently, but I was so in the wrong state of mind, really sad every day,” Yeung said. “I was just playing the minimum, playing just to play, and you never want to be in that mindset when you’re a professional athlete.”
To repair his fractured mental state, Yeung traveled back to Wallingford and convalesced with family, avoiding anything computer-related for three months. Sightseeing around China’s Fujian Province, where is mother grew up, helped as well. Given space, Yeung was able to revitalize neglected friendships and rebuild his confidence. The reset did its job; when Team Liquid Academy came calling that winter, Yeung was ready to compete again.
Unlike TSM, whose players live and work in the same team house, Team Liquid owns the state-of-the-art Alienware Training Facility to separate practice from personal space. That distance gave Yeung a pressure release valve for work stress, and his play improved. Because of his LCS experience, Yeung assumed a leadership role on the team with support Matt “Matt” Elento, driving team to a third-place finish in Spring Split 2019.
When the senior team qualified for the prestigious Mid-Season Invitational in Southeast Asia, it selected Yeung as their sole substitute. He wasn’t needed on stage, but simply watching skilled international junglers up close was enough to reignite his competitive fire.
“I’m really grateful for TL and the TLA guys,” Yeung said. “Everybody was just a really good friend. They had so much faith in me that they took me to MSI, helped me learn more about the game, regain my passion. I think I’ve done that, regained a lot of my passion where I can keep competing for the next five years.”
Given a second chance at the LCS on last-place Echo Fox, Yeung wants to fulfill the promise of his rookie split. He returns a wiser player and fills the roster slot that was just vacated by the former MVP Lee Yoon-jae.
As Yeung learns to mesh with new teammates, Echo Fox lost its first two matches with him in the lineup, but assistant coach Tyler Perron wasn’t bothered by the slow start. He believes a slew of positive scrim results could signal a turn of fortune. And Perron remains bullish on Yeung, a player whose talent he observed firsthand as Phoenix1’s assistant coach. Though it was difficult for Perron to watch his friend struggle in the intervening years, he says the maturity and growth he’s already witnessed from Yeung because of those experiences is undeniable.
“I’m seeing more of a calculated Yeung instead of an instinctive Yeung,” Perron said. “He pictures a play that will happen, the reason why it can happen, how it can happen, and coordinates that with his laners. He’s definitely an LCS jungler again, and it’s nice to see that growth. It’s made me really hopeful for his future.”
Sitting at 2-8 in the standings with only eight games left in the Summer Split, Echo Fox’s playoff chances appear slim. The team needs Yeung’s lightning to strike twice, and fast. If it ever does, the LCS crowd may just thunder out his name once more.
“The enjoyment of fans cheering me on when I made an insane play, or winning a game coming back from behind … there’s a feeling that isn’t there in any other game besides League,” Yeung said. “I want to feel that again.”
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