Rebuilding China: Language barrier, Uzi's buyout, and preseason exhibition

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LPL / LPL Screengrab

As far as I’m aware, the problems with Chinese teams persist. The National Electron Sports Open results may be more or less disregarded, as it happened quite soon after the World Championship, but that doesn’t make headaches less severe.

Weekly hurdle: The Korean influence

There’s a Chinese proverb I’ve seen fans use when discussing what they perceive as the problem of the Korean imports meaning “to quench one’s thirst with poisoned wine,” or to seek temporary relief at a high cost. Typically, the belief is that Chinese teams imported Koreans to improve their level of talent, but in-game communication suffered. As the meta game changed, they weren’t able to play lane swaps correctly because they lacked the necessary communication.

As with all popular theories, there is some validity to these claims and some pitfalls. Initially, when Koreans arrived in China and began to adjust to the environment, EDward Gaming’s coach Ji “Aaron” Xing said he noticed the biggest difference was in the way the Korean players approached the game. They practiced more and in a different way that focused on developing their flaws.

In top teams, this approach allegedly began to rub off on the Chinese players. Players like Wei “GODV” Zhen had always practiced a lot, but some within LGD have said he changed his approach as a result of the Korean influence. Ming “Clearlove” Kai, who had always been known as a rare Chinese player for his work ethic and dedication to the game, even saw initial improvements and more development in his approach, though it may be unrelated.

Over time, as we’ve seen players like Lee “Spirit” Dayoon express frustration with the practice ethic that has been reported to exist in many Chinese teams for years, it became clear that the environment was also beginning to impact the Koreans. As some team owners and managers are quite friendly with their players, Chinese players can often get away with toeing the line of instructions from coach and staff. As soon as top Korean player discovered they could also shirk orders, their own focus declined. LGD’s Korean players took scrims leading up to the World Championship about as seriously as their Chinese brethren.

I’ll discuss solutions to what I perceive as the infrastructural problem later, but in many ways the Koreans have adapted to their environment. They’re still strong players, but in a less structured realm. Song “RooKie” Euijin’s popularity is strong given his commitment to learning Mandarin Chinese, the fact that many enjoy his stream, and his friendships with Chinese players on other teams.

Ultimately, the Korean influence initially improved the Chinese practice ethic, but over time other problems became difficult to overcome. This is something that has been acknowledged, at least in part, in discussions of the topic. As a result, proponents of this argument have included that improvements do not counter-balance the ultimate cost of the language barrier.

While I do think language barrier plays an important factor in disrupting team cohesion, it seems to have a larger impact outside the game than inside the game. One can devise a communication system to deal with even something as complex as lane swaps as long as the team understands how to execute them. Overall, the Chinese teams at Worlds were strategically behind, and the language barrier exacerbating the issue has been exaggerated.

The language barrier may have still played a part in the strategic lag. As Dignitas coach Ram “Brokenshard” Djemal said in an interview I conducted with him about the North American team Dignitas with both Korean and English-speaking players, he said he felt the biggest problem was communicating when players had a problem or just cooperating outside the game.

It’s possible that this problem lead to the inability of Chinese teams to quickly adapt to the meta, as discussions would have been stunted. If having discussions about the meta is a strain, and the team sports a roster of supreme quality, teams may be more likely to rely on individual skill than to develop a tactical approach.

Problems between Korean and Chinese players may be difficult to express. I’ve heard a few surprisingly damaging stories that resulted from mistranslations of comments made between players or players and staff. Some Korean players have felt less confident competing in China since they aren’t sure whether Chinese fans are cheering them on or insulting them when they meet them.

The larger problem with language barrier sits outside the game rather than ingame, and I think it’s often used as a straw man argument for why the teams failed to perform. Ultimately, other arguments like teams not playing their more comfortable strategy, as KaKAO suggested, or not practicing adequately hold larger sway and aren’t necessarily the fault of importing Koreans.

Since, however, it is certainly a problem that can be fixed, more effort can be done to teach Korean players who choose to stay in China to speak Mandarin Chinese. KaKAO said that learning the language is one of his primary goals for next year. Implementing mandatory classes like this could also go along with overall infrastructural improvements, but the act of importing Koreans is not at fault for the poor performance by Chinese teams at the World Championship.

One aspect I think is worth more investigation is the contribution of the Korean element to the stunting of Chinese talent scouting. Many young Chinese players like Yu “300” Zuxing, Zhou “Soda” Pengxian, and Chen “Cherish” Zhe have been unable to advance to LPL, and we’re seeing older Chinese talent retire with a generational gap.

Again, however, I think there is a larger systemic failure of organizations to scout or transfer proper talent either because of buyouts or a lack of effort even before the arrival of Koreans. Feng “TnT” Qingyu, for example, spent a year in LSPL after proving himself in LPL even before Koreans arrived.

Roster Rumblings

Confirmations

NESO showed us some of the first confirmations of transfer season. Wang “wushuang” Li, already announced on WE’s weibo prior to the World Championship, played for WE. Bo “Mo” Cai from Acfun appeared on Invictus Gaming’s roster as support. Bong “Republic” Guntae, a Korean player previously of Taiwan’s Machi eSports played for Energy Pacemaker All. The organization had participated in one other tournament with him before, but with EPA’s third place, it was a good chance to assess his form. King’s Dong “SinkDream” Shichun joined Oh My Dream.

More obscure regional qualifiers for Tencent Games Arena, which allows teams to compete for entry into LSPL, showed ex-Vici Gaming support Ying “Yh” Hai and the resurfacing of Gan “ChouD1” Junjie who played for Wings of Aurora in 2013 transferring to Wk.Panda.

Fans of LGD Gaming in Spring of 2014 may also remember the Riven player Fu "Star" Yang who has resurfaced alongside Energy Pacemaker All's Le "2eggs" Xiaotian to compete on Energy Pacemaker.E for a spot in LSPL.

None of these transfers are particularly inspiring, but wushuang and Republic are the most interesting. wushuang has performed well in solo queue and is largely regarded as a positive acquisition. He didn’t display much prowess in NESO. Republic looked much stronger than the team’s previous mid laner, but likely won’t contest some of the LPL giants.

Chinese Rumor Mill

As for ongoing rumors, the prevailing ones at the moment circle around Jian “Uzi” Zihao, the top laners associated with the WE organization, Lee “Easyhoon” Jihoon, and the constant influx of Lee “Duke” Hoseong rumors that never seem to die.

The Uzi rumors are the top story. Some even found their way to Reddit, though the sphere of mythos has already shifted. It’s sometimes hard to take rumors coming out of China completely seriously, so I would advise caution in interpreting some of them. At the moment, the speculation revolves around Uzi’s buyout, which OMG had previously stated is quite sizable.

At the moment, rumors suggest Uzi’s buyout bidding has exceeded the minimum required and has now gone to numbers around 50,000,000RMB ($7,857,929 USD). If you recall from last week, the entirety of Qiao Gu, including LPL spot, players, and staff, is likely to go for 12 million RMB, meaning that Uzi himself would go for four times the price of the team that finished second in LPL this summer.

I can’t remotely validate the rumors of this price—it may even be a joke! The original poster was doubted by others as part of the discussion. It's worth noting OMG had previously seemed very confident that few could afford their buyout, meaning that the number is steep. While this number may not come near $7 million USD, if Uzi is sold, I imagine it breaking the transfer price record for a single player.

The poor performance of LPL teams at the World Championship has significantly raised Uzi’s stock, as he’s made the final for China twice. The rumored bidders are Royal Club, as reddit has seen, and Invictus Gaming. Royal might be the better option since they’re liable to rebuild a team around him, which suits Uzi’s play. Invictus Gaming would be—interesting. RooKie is a very good Lulu player after all, but I’d rather iG build their team around him with a more stable AD carry than break the bank on Uzi. As fans like to say, however, if iG really are involved, Wang Sicong, iG's owner, gets what he wants.

The WE top transfer rumors speculate that Jang “looper” Hyeongseok at least will remain in China and will transfer to the main team, WE, replacing Peng “Aluka” Zhenming, who will go to WEF with Ke “957” Changyu moving to Master3. I’d prefer 957, who may be the best prospect of the three, to remain on WEF rather than go to either WE or Master3. If Yang “OldB” Seungbin remains with WEF, that team could surpass both M3 and WE. If Chen “CjLear” Chen Jianliu, who has been playing jungle for WEF recently, is the starter, then perhaps 957 is better off trying to prove himself on a failing LPL team.

If this rumor is true, it suggests WE acknowledge that Aluka is a problem, which is a small positive sign for fans of the team in 2016.

If China’s forums are to be believed, Lee “Duke” Hoseong is to play top lane for every single team in LPL, just as he was supposed to last split. (Thank you, Sun “XiaoXiao” Yalong, for getting everyone excited for no reason.) Changes may, however, be coming to Najin that might make Duke’s appearance in China more likely.

The most recent rumor has more credibility than the others, as it was a hint left by Young Glory’s manager on weibo. The comment said “Welcome Easyhoon to China?” Since Snake’s manager suggested Easyhoon may be interested in leaving SK Telecom T1 before the World Championship, Easyhoon has been one of the players with the most buzz on the forums. Armanini’s follow-up post mentioned he was “bored” when he left the hint, so it’s not clear if he was merely looking to stir the pot or Easyhoon is coming to China.

A bit of old news still worth writing about

One development that has been confirmed is something I missed while traveling at the end of July. Royal Club’s new coach, Kim “vicaL” Sunmook, has worked with the organization before. In 2014 Summer, vicaL joined Star Horn Royal Club as their Korean coach, and Yoon “Zero” Kyungsup has attributed most of the team’s strategy and teamwork to him. While Siu “Chris” Keung got most of the glory, vicaL floated under the radar.

I’ve promised never to get excited about Royal Never Give Up (ex-King) again, but I’m happy to see a Korean coach acclimated to the scene return and continue to work in it.

Upcoming Events: Preseason Exhibition

The ongoing Tencent Games Carnival will hold an exhibition match between players from Snake, MG owner Liu "PDD" Mou, and LPL casters. At 6 a.m. EST on November 16th, the event will begin with a discussion by professional players and other celebrities of preseason changes. At 6:30 a.m. EST, the match will start.

Team Top Jungle Mid ADC Support
Blue PDD ZZR LoveJY kRYST4L Ella
Red Flandre JoKer U Martin  苦笑

It’s unclear if the matches will be played on the preseason patch 5.22 unless the players are using some version of the PBE, but at the very least 5.21 will show off Kindred while the commentators discuss how preseason changes will affect the game.

Originally, this was supposed to be a showmatch between Vici Gaming and Qiao Gu, but other events, such as Vici Gaming's visits to universities, conflicted.

Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore eSports. You can follow her on Twitter.