In the final, deciding match of the VALORANT Champions 2021 group stage, North American powerhouse Team Envy faced off against Thai team X10 CRIT. Envy had entered the tournament as heavy favorites for a deep run in the playoffs, while X10 CRIT had by and large been struggling despite ace player Patiphan “Patiphan” Chaiwong consistently impressing. For Envy, the result seemed like a foregone conclusion, especially since they’d defeated X10 handily just four days earlier.
But a whole new X10 showed up to that crucial series. The impossible became seemingly possible as X10 fell on the first map, clawed their way back into the series on the second and brought the tiebreaker third to overtime. X10 quickly went up 13-12 and showed no signs of stopping.
In the final hour, Envy made a calculated approach to the site — but before they could blink, almost out of nowhere, Patiphan secured three quick kills as his teammate secured the cleanup.
Just like that, the match was over. X10 had made it to the playoffs.
The team launched out of their seats and coalesced into an ecstatic group huddle, jumping on chairs and gesturing at the camera. X10 had defied expectations, and Patiphan had cemented himself as a star at just 18 years old. However, after only a year competing in Riot Games’ tactical shooter, he decided to leave it behind to return to the game that gave him his start.
Patiphan began playing Overwatch professionally when he was 14 years old and swiftly became known as one of the best players in Southeast Asia. He dazzled the community during the 2018 Overwatch World Cup, but even after several years grinding his way through the Tier 2 scene, he was still too young to compete in the Overwatch League. So, in August 2020, he moved over to VALORANT, where his reputation as one of Southeast Asia’s best persisted.
Now, in a move a long time coming, Patiphan will make his Overwatch League debut for the Los Angeles Gladiators in 2022. But picking Overwatch back up after being away from it for more than a year isn’t exactly like getting back on a bike. Gladiators head coach Sam “face” Merewether, who had previously worked with Patiphan in Overwatch Contenders, waited three months for Patiphan to accept his offer to return to Overwatch after bringing up the subject in September 2021.
“I wasn’t sure that I was going to be good at all,” said Patiphan. “I played VALORANT for a year and hadn’t touched Overwatch for so long. I wasn’t confident. But face — he’s like a dad to me, and he said he believes in me and thinks that I can be good again. That’s why he picked me up.”
Patiphan has displayed his raw potential for years now, and when they worked together as part of Talon Esports, face played a big part in helping him hone it.
“The best thing about Pati is that he plays the game really intuitively,” face said. “He can find space and is a really instinctive, dynamic player. That can also lead to big moments. Even though he’s 18, he can be a really vocal player in-game. He can show a lot of leadership, he can make lots of creative plays and he’s not afraid of big moments.”
Few players have the same kind of obvious star power as Patiphan. It’s not just because he elevates whichever team he plays on; he’s also a boisterous, outspoken personality. That makes him a valuable teammate — one who’s able to keep everyone in good spirits, even in dire circumstances — but it’s also a signifier of his relative youth.
“On Talon, he was 15, and he’s still only 18,” face said. “He’s really young, so he still has a lot of growing to do on the professional side of esports. He needs to keep learning how to be a professional player. I’ve never worked with an 18-year-old who’s a perfect player straight off the bat. They’ll always be really good but they have lots of maturing to do.”
It’s not an overstatement to say Patiphan’s entry into the Overwatch League will be one of the most hotly anticipated debuts of 2022. Still, he doesn’t care too much about what other people think of him. For him, it’s all about meeting his own standards.
“I don’t really care about pressure from other people at all,” Patiphan said. “It’s just my own pressure, you know? I don’t care about people’s expectations. Only my expectations.”
2022 will be a wildly different year in Overwatch for many reasons — the biggest being the Overwatch League’s shift to an early build of Overwatch 2, which Blizzard Entertainment announced last September. They will rework many heroes, add new maps and a new game mode will come to competitive play. However, the most notable change is one that will affect the fundamental structure of Overwatch: One tank has been eliminated from the traditional 6v6 format, making the game 5v5 from now on.
Though there’s still time before fans will see how 5v5 actually plays out, the early consensus is that damage dealers will play a larger role in the new game. Patiphan said that was part of the reason for his return.
That wrapped this year and also my last official match ggs 1-2 @GambitEsports 💆🏻♀️ good luck further and 👋
— Patiphan (@itsPatiphan) December 9, 2021
The move to Overwatch 2 will affect everyone, from the players to the coaches. Face, however, is confident that the Gladiators coaches will be able to handle the change.
“The good thing about our coaches is that they all have their strengths in different areas, but I want them to go into the game and find what they’re good at so I can enable them,” face said. “So if they’re good at working with tanks, that’s fine. If they’re really good at macro, that’s fine. I just want to enable them to do their best work, wherever that is. And I don’t think that’ll change much [in Overwatch 2]. We just have to work out how the game will be different and how to coach around that.”
There are still plenty of doubts surrounding Overwatch in the coming year, but one thing is certain: it will be a year of change. The move to Overwatch 2 is one thing; Patiphan finally joining the Overwatch League is another. It feels like a culmination of one of Overwatch’s longest-running stories, in many ways.
“A lot of people know me from VALORANT, so I’m grateful for all the OGs who’ve known me or watched me from, like, four years ago,” Patiphan said. “Please continue to support me.”