Remember Dale Brown, aka Hanjo, aka the guy who got the lowest possible rank in season one of Overwatch? Well, he's still around, and this time, he and a friend pulled off a world first.
On the first day of Overwatch season three, Brown and his friend Jon "WrstReaperNA" Kingham hit rank one, with Kingham being the first in the whole world to do it. This, Brown told me, is the first time North American players have ever done it before Korean players.
Season three's race to the bottom proved to be almost alarmingly expedient compared to previous seasons. That's not to say Kingham and Brown's accomplishment didn't take effort, though. This was the culmination of a journey, one that began in season two.
Brown and Kingham told me that season two was much more tedious than season one. Despite having a big group behind them after the notoriety they gained during season one, Team Hanjo's swan dive down the ladder quickly turned into an ugly tumble.
— i hanjo (@Bacontotem) December 1, 2016
"Season two was a grind," said Brown. "In season one, going down those last 15 ranks took about 15 matches per rank. The equivalent ballooned up to about 27 [in season two], because losing only 2 SR per match, starting at around rank 600, made it a lot of having to lose two at a time. Especially with the queues getting progressively worse as the season got on. One day, we had hour-long queues."
"I placed around rank 800 for season two," added Kingham, "so there'd be days where I'd grind down as much as I could for the whole day. Thankfully I have a lot of free time to do it, but I'd just spend like 10 hours doing this."
When you're either grinding for ungodly amounts of time or waiting to grind for ungodly amounts of time, you're naturally gonna want matches to be worth your while. To offset the sheer boredom of all that waiting, Team Hanjo decided to keep matches going for as long as possible. Team Hanjo operates in extremes, no matter what they're up to.
"We had one night where iBeepl, our Bastion player, set the record where, I think, at the time he had the most amount of kills in a single match," said Brown. "We found out that some maps basically go on forever if no team ever captures the point. We had one that went on for, like, 50 minutes, and he got well over a hundred kills. I got over 100 kills in a match as well."
They'd still fight to lose, but for portions of that time, they'd actually fight. Turns out, when you're scraping the bottom of the skill rating barrel, it's not difficult to outclass your opponents. Team Hanjo managed to back other teams so far into the corner that they could spawn camp them.
Problem is, that's shitty. At that point, nobody's having a good time. "You can do anything else, but spawn camping is, even at Hanjo Tier, frowned upon," said Brown. "Many members of the Hanjo community went from tolerating us to outright telling us no."
On top of that, spawn camping gave credence to a common fear surrounding Team Hanjo: that they're a bunch of dirty, rotten smurfs, out to prey on helpless low-skill players for shits and giggles. Apparently, they almost got banned for it.
"We were told [by a friend with connections to Blizzard] that we were nearly banned because Team Hanjo is way beyond what the average bronze tier player is," said Brown. "We were on Blizzard's list for being potential smurfs."
However, Blizzard didn't go through with it, which suggests to Brown that the folks behind Overwatch know what Team Hanjo's actually about. Still, players sometimes get extremely salty about Team Hanjo's antics, and they derive delicious, MSG-filled sustenance from it. Case in point:
On the upside, Brown, Kingham, and co made up for it by helping low-ranked players improve, as well. Kingham offered the example of a person who he's certain is the worst Reinhardt player ever. He'd just lose and lose and lose. To help him ascend out of bronze tier, a Team Hanjo player who'd decided to see how far he could rank up from rock bottom started inviting Planet Earth's Worst Reinhardt to join him.
Here's Team Hanjo helping a Junkrat get a heptakill.
In other cases, Brown added, players would get better simply by playing against Team Hanjo over and over. "One guy went from rank 1200, when he first encountered us, to finishing the season at something like 1900. We forced him to get 700 SR better at the game just by existing," said Brown.
"There's a whole bunch of people who we've gotten to know because we keep getting matched up against them all the time," added Kingham. "I hope we see them in season three."
Eventually, most of Team Hanjo — now a bustling enterprise that's more than 100 people strong, with streams, affiliated spin-off teams, and imitators — hit rank one. Not long after, season two ended, and season three began. This time, Kingham, Brown, and co had a plan. During season two, one member of Team Hanjo determined that accuracy has a big impact on your placement. So, during season three placement matches, Brown and Kingham shot not to kill, but rather to miss. Shortly after completing their ten placement matches, both hit rank one.
It makes sense. Placement this season hinges heavily on your rank from the previous season as well as the outcome of placement matches. They didn't have to journey far to return to their strange little kingdom.
The question, then, is one nearly as old as time itself: "Shit, what now?" First, they have got to get everyone else on Team Hanjo to rank one, but after that, things are kinda up in the air. One thing is for certain, though: they're not gonna stop anytime soon.
"I have no plan of ever stopping this," said Kingham. "It's a lot of fun. We've got notoriety, or infamy I guess, because of it. I'm not a very competitive person at all, mostly because I'm not good at eSporty games. I'm bronze in League of Legends, I'm silver in Counter-Strike. It's never been a big desire for me to just go and see how good I could do."
"I kind of feel like I'm the worst. It's kinda what attracts me to this sort of play style anyways because it's about, I would say, the most carefree sort of way of enjoying Overwatch competitive. I just stress myself by trying to stay in gold tier and go on losing streaks and stuff. This is a lot more fun for me."
Brown added that he recently got to meet popular anime voice actor Chris Sabat (Vegeta and Piccolo in Dragon Ball Z, among many others), who'd heard the legend of Hanjo. Infamy comes with perks!
The biggest upside of it all, though, is being recognised by normal players and continuing to spread the gospel that started it all: fuck Hanzo.
"It's just fun having random people go, 'Wait a minute, you're that Hanjo guy?'" said Brown. "I'm like, 'Yep.' Then they say, 'Oh, god, I hate you. You are what spawned a million clone followers.' People pick Hanzo and then go, 'I Hanjo,' which is basically a signal.
It's like, this Hanzo is going to throw the match the whole time. Which is kind of a dark play on what I do, but it's also very funny at the same time. At least you know that Hanzo's going to be crap."