New Orleans Pelicans No. 1 draft pick Zion Williamson made his much-anticipated professional debut on Wednesday night, finishing with 22 points, seven rebounds and three assists. The highlight of Williamson's debut came in the fourth quarter, when the 19-year-old made four consecutive 3-pointers to ignite the hometown crowd and give his team one of its first leads of the evening.
Wednesday for Williamson is expected to be the beginning of a storied career, the teenage phenom having been in the limelight since clips of his scintillating slam dunks began circulating on social media as a high school player.
Esports has had its fair share of Zion-level debuts over the years. Some thrilled in their opening act but never reached their full potential. Others floundered in their first time under the spotlight but have done the opposite since, transforming from prospect to superstar. For some, the jury is still out on if they'll ever live up to the heavy expectations that come with the hype of being seen as the future of their craft.
Here is a list of some of the most anticipated esports debuts and how they all went down.
Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok (League of Legends)
On April 6, 2013, a 17-year-old had what seemed like an entire nation watching his every move. While playing for South Korea's most famous esports team, SK Telecom T1, the much-talked-about rookie took on one of the best teams in the country, CJ Entus Blaze. Faker, playing in the mid lane position, faced off with South Korea's best mid laner, Kang "Ambition" Chan-yong, in a battle of what was supposed to be the future taking on the present. The result? Faker took down Ambition by himself early in the match and his team never looked back, taking home the series in a sweep.
The perfect debut turned into the perfect career. Almost seven years since his victory over Ambition and CJ Entus Blaze, Faker has accrued every individual accolade possible, eight domestic titles and three world championships. Outside of the game, he's become one of the world's most recognizable gamers, the 23-year-old known from China to New York City, where he once sold out Madison Square Garden during a world championship semifinal in 2016.
Lee "Flash" Young-ho (StarCraft II)
From one South Korean legend to another, the story of Flash is a bit different from Faker. Flash, a prodigy in StarCraft: Brood War, took the game by storm and became its most decorated champion, winning countless championships as part of the KT Rolster organization. With the announcement and debut of the game's sequel, StarCraft II, and its immediate impact in the west with tournaments popping up and left, it seemed like only a matter of time until the original's best took the challenge of learning the sequel.
Finally, Flash made his StarCraft II debut May 20, 2012, coming up short in a loss against Brood War rival Kim "EffOrt" Jung-woo, who was also transitioning to the new game. This was the equivalent of Michael Jordan retiring at his peak on the Chicago Bulls and signing with a team in Slamball, the basketball variant played on trampolines. Flash never found the same success as he did in the original game, ultimately deciding to return to his roots with the original StarCraft following his retirement from the sequel in 2015.
Now 27, Flash is completing his two years of mandatory South Korea military service, having won his last major Brood War tournament before leaving for the army in September of last year.
Tyler "Ninja" Blevins (Fortnite)
Similarly to Flash, Fortnite wasn't Ninja's first rodeo in the world of professional video games. Before the battle royale sensation hit the ground running in 2017, Ninja was a former Halo pro, bouncing across a variety of teams while becoming one of the game's biggest streamers. When Fortnite started to take over on streaming platforms, Ninja's quick reflexes and dance moves became synonymous with the game.
At the 2018 Party Royale Celebrity Pro-Am during E3 week in Los Angeles, Ninja had his first real offline debut with the game to showcase his prowess against other streamers and celebrities. Although not at the same level as subsequent tournaments, it was the beta test to see how well Fortnite would do in front of a large live audience at Bank of California Stadium. It was also a test to see if Ninja could live up to being the face of Fortnite.
Ninja and his celebrity partner Marshmello didn't let the crowd down, coming up big when it mattered to win the event and send the fans home happy. Since then, Ninja has only grown as a personality, leaning more into the world of an entertainer than a competitive player, recently teaming up with Adidas to produce his own signature shoe line and exclusively streaming on Mixer following a landmark deal with Microsoft.
Kim "Geguri" Se-yeon (Overwatch)
Before even turning pro, Geguri had to prove herself more so than the average amateur. Though she showed promise online, Geguri's skills were taken into question, with various professionals accusing her of cheating. After finally proving her innocence and displaying her skill in an offline setting, Geguri was signed to South Korea's ROX Orcas and competed domestically.
Geguri she signed with the Overwatch League's Shanghai Dragons partway through the league's inaugural season, moving over to Los Angeles where league games were held to join the team. She made her debut on April 4, 2018, playing against the Dallas Fuel to become the first woman to play in the Overwatch League. A year and a half removed from her inaugural appearance, Geguri remains a steadfast member of the Dragons, with the team eyeing a championship in 2020.
Rasmus "Caps" Winther (League of Legends)
Here we have the beauty (and horror) of esports. While Zion could have a career that lasts for two decades, the average prime of an esports star seems to be around three years. Things happen fast in esports, which is why we have Caps, who as a 16-year-old making his way in Turkey in 2016 was being called "Baby Faker" for the high ceiling he exuded as an amateur. By the time he was signed by European franchise Fnatic to make his pro debut, the red carpet was already laid out for what was supposed to be the region's answer to the world's best.
His debut, on Jan. 19, 2017, ended with a loss to G2 Esports and their ace mid laner Luka "Perkz" Perković. Caps would eventually shake off some early jitters in his rookie year to make the world finals with Fnatic in his sophomore campaign in 2018, eventually losing to China's Invictus Gaming. In a stunning transfer that offseason, Caps joined Perkz and moved over to G2 Esports, the captain of G2 changing positions to let Caps play mid lane. The duo would wreak havoc in 2019, with Caps once again making the world finals, although he again lost to a Chinese team in FunPlus Phoenix.
In 2020, Caps is moving down to the AD carry role position and letting Perkz take back his role as G2's mid lane. Although he's shed the nickname of being the pre-evolution of Faker, having now eliminated the South Korean legend in back-to-back international tournaments, the Danish superstar still lacks a world title. With the world championships occurring in China this year, maybe third time's the charm for Caps.
Mathieu "ZywOo" Herbaut (Counter-Strike: Global Offensive)
A blue-chip prospect in the amateur scene for years, France's ZywOo stepped into the pro world at the end of 2018 by signing a contract with his home country's de-facto esports club, Team Vitality. His offline debut occurred at the DreamHack Open in Atlanta, and by tournament's end, everyone in the Counter-Strike world had heard of the name ZywOo. In the semifinals against Complexity, the French teenager had unfathomable numbers, putting up 31 kills in back-to-back games to secure his team's place in the final. In the final, ZywOo and Vitality put a stamp on his extraordinary debut, sweeping Brazil's Luminosity with the rookie again starring like he had been playing against pros for a decade.
How did 2019 go for ZyWOo? Ah, not too bad. He only had one of the statistically greatest years in the game's history and was awarded HLTV's No. 1 player award as the best player in Counter-Strike for 2019. He dominated throughout, picking up various MVP awards and trophies with his team along the way, positioning himself to be one of the more recognizable faces in esports for the upcoming decade. The sky is the limit for ZywOo, and after a rookie season for the ages, he'll look to one-up himself by winning a world championship in his second year as a pro.
Topias Miikka "Topson" Taavitsainen (Dota 2)
To be honest, compared to the rest of the names on this list, Topson doesn't belong. Where a majority of the others were well-known in other games before their debut or hyped to the moon as an amateur, Topson's entrance in professional gaming was an afterthought. Internal struggles within European squad OG's roster led to two of its star players leaving right before Dota 2's world championship, The International. In their place, Topson, a Finnish rookie with only online achievements and no offline experience, joined the team during their qualifying process in hopes of making a name for himself.
So why is Topson on his list?
Topson had the greatest debut in esports history. In fact, Topson possibly had the greatest debut in sports history. Topson and OG, who weren't considered to be a factor in the 2018 world championship by various pundits (with some even saying they were the worst team there) won the entire thing. Imagine a rookie quarterback getting inserted into the Super Bowl with zero pro experience and then leading his team to the championship. That's what Topson did, coming from nowhere to win over $2 million in his first major tournament.
This is where you'd expect Topson to be a fluke and regress, right? Well, only adding to his legend along with the rest of OG, the team did the unthinkable and won the world championship again in 2019, Topson going back-to-back in his first two years as a professional player. In those two tournaments alone, Topson won over $5 million.
Top that, Zion.