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

Thumbnail image courtesy of 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


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.

A Place on the Map: Comparing Cloud9's Jensen and Royal's Xiaohu at Worlds

Thumbnail image courtesy of Riot Games / 2016 World Championship

"If you want to prove yourself," Cloud9 mid laner Nicolaj "Jensen" Jensen told Riot Games to kick off his second World Championship, "you have to beat Faker, and that’s what I’m going to do."

The hopeful mid laner’s aspirations were crushed almost instantly in his first game of the Group Stage, just shy of the six-minute mark when SK Telecom T1 jungler Bae "bengi" Seongwoong collapsed on an over-extended Jensen, granting Lee "Faker" Sanghyeok First Blood. What followed was a near-complete dismantling of Cloud9 from the mid lane, as Faker overtook the game; Jensen ended around 90 CS behind the World’s greatest mid laner, with a score line of 0/5/4.

Though Jensen spent most of the year improving and is regarded by many as having the best laning phase of LCS mid laners, he lacked the same impact in the Group Stage, and was unable to reliably gain laning leads against Faker and LMS star Huang "Maple" Yitang. In games where he did manage to secure a modest lead, he wasn't able to convert it into pressure.

Unlike Jensen, the tournament’s only Chinese mid laner, Li "Xiaohu" Yuanhao, has already had a strong showing against Faker, at the Mid-Season Invitational in May. Xiaohu’s first MSI match started with a mid lane gank orchestrated by himself and jungler Liu "Mlxg" Shiyu. When Faker cockily remained in lane, Xiaohu went in to finish what he started on his own. As the match progressed, RNG's mid continued to wear the Korean superstar down, picking him off in side lanes with Leblanc flanks.

Yet, although Xiaohu said before Worlds that he wanted the world to see what Chinese mids are made of, his story in the Group Stage was eerily similar to Jensen's. "Underperforming" was a frequent refrain among critics. Despite their fundamentally different styles and storylines, both mids failed to supply much-needed pressure for their teams across the rest of the map. Jensen didn’t convert his leads well, and Xiaohu fell behind or lagged in roams when he tried to make a move, partly due to poor team coordination.

To an extent, however, both mids redeemed themselves in their quarterfinals appearances. Though their teams both bowed out in the Round of 8, the two had some of their best showings of the event. In dissecting their performances — even their best games — it’s easy to see how both of them fell short of meta expectations at Worlds.

Xiaohu's struggles have been different from Jensen's, because he now plays a much more secondary role on his team. Heading into the summer season, Xiaohu was a contender for the title of the LPL's top mid laner, but he flared out abruptly. By the time Royal qualified for the World Championship, he was regarded as a glaring weakness on the lineup. After the LPL final against EDward Gaming, Xiaohu himself said, "In my current state, I feel like, no matter which mid laner I face, I won't be a match for him."

When Xiaohu was at his peak at the MSI Group Stage, he roamed frequently in conjunction with Cho “Mata” Sehyeong and Mlxg. Royal’s frequent skirmishing presented opportunities for Xiaohu to thrive, as he looked for flanks and openings in fights. On Friday, in Royal’s Worlds quarterfinal against SKT, that side of Xiaohu peeked through again. He played Vladimir in fights like he did Lissandra earlier in the season, searching for engagement opportunities that maximized the number of enemies he could impact.

His play was notable in part because of how much of a departure it was from the Royal style that has evolved over the course of this summer. After MSI, they altered their winning formula, in part because of the addition of lane-dominant AD carry Jian “Uzi” Zihao. Royal became much more focused on the laning phase, with each lane attempting to brute-force independently across the map. This hasn't gone as well as it could have, and they have had trouble with early coordination across their lanes.

Xiaohu in particular isn't as comfortable in a laning-focused role, because he lacks proficiency in the 1v1 that other mids like Jensen have honed. Moreover, in locking Xiaohu down in his lane, Royal have neglected one of their most underrated core components from 2016 Spring — that is, Xiaohu and Mata’s chain-crowd control on engage picks. With Mata staying bottom more often, the team’s overall coordination has dropped significantly, making Xiaohu much more awkward.

Royal's weak early-game coordination looks a lot like what troubled Cloud9 in the Worlds Group Stage, and for much of the summer before that. The American team has long been focused on brute-force laning of just this sort. Jensen has never been a roamer — he remains an almost permanent fixture of his mid lane domain. His strength is his near impeccable 1v1 style: his ability to dodge skillshots and trade efficiently while he farms. He thrived in a "win lane, win game" environment, averaging a 2.5 CS lead in the regular season, 31.1 percent of his team’s damage, and 25.9 percent of team gold with relatively low coordination with his jungler — the highest percentage of his team's gold of any Worlds mid laner during his regular summer split. Cloud9's resource allocation also shows how central he has been to their strategy.

Yet Cloud9 have had a problem with fragmented laning for much of the year. Their lane swaps often featured an isolated Jung "Impact" Eonyeong falling behind in CS and experience because the team didn’t know how to reallocate pressure to support him. The removal of lane swaps made this problem less obvious, but it was still there.

In their quarterfinal against Samsung Galaxy, Jensen did what he normally does. Though he individually outperformed Samsung’s Lee "Crown" Minho, he almost never left the mid lane. He did not pop his trinket ward, though he would occasionally venture to place a pink ward near the mid lane, either by wraiths or in a river bush. He would take his blue buff, or join a dragon take with the dragon almost completed by his team, but in general, Jensen didn’t roam for ganks or change his lane assignment in the first 15 minutes of any of Cloud9's three games. He simply pushed out.

If his opponent left lane for some reason, instead of following him, Jensen would push for another wave of minions under the turret. This tradeoff could be risky, especially if his flanks weren’t warded. With such plays, teams with better mid-jungle synergy, like Samsung, suddenly had an opening to gank Jensen and set Cloud9 substantially back on their lead.

Moreover, Cloud9's side lanes suffered from a lack of pressure, both from jungle and mid. Something as simple as Jensen ducking into a river bush could have caused the enemy top and bottom lanes to play more reserved, for fear of him roaming to gank after he disappeared from the map. But Jensen almost never considered the option of giving up mid lane pressure to create opportunities for his side laners to make plays.

C9's lack of cross-lane synergy seems to have also reinforced Meteos’ power-farming style, rather than pushing him to better coordinate. Against Samsung, Meteos would venture towards a lane, gank without much setup from the laner, and either force the opponent laner back or waste time. This awkwardness allowed Samsung to quickly adapt their pressure and set up for objectives better. It wasn't Meteos that made himself a non-threat, but the fact that Cloud9 almost never coordinated with him, which also nullified any impact Jensen could have.

Royal had very similar problems with fragmented coordination across lanes, especially in the Group Stage, but Xiaohu’s more successful games highlighted the pressure he can bring (and hasn't for much of the summer). In RNG's first quarterfinals game against SKT, Xiaohu changed his lane assignment to allow his side lanes to continue to pressure strong matchups after SKT attempted a swap. He also roamed top lane for a game-winning flank on Vladimir.

It was when Xiaohu didn’t leave his lane, or was slower than Faker to react to possible plays, that disaster struck. In Games 2 and 3, Faker secured better pushing lane picks like Varus, so he could roam to the bottom lane more proactively than Xiaohu. In Game 4, Xiaohu had an impressive initial impact with a roaming Aurelion Sol, but a key top lane play was countered by Faker’s roam bottom when Xiaohu backed and returned mid to catch the wave. That was the moment when the game turned back in SKT’s favor, and RNG ultimately lost the series.

Xiaohu’s growing discomfort through the summer split seems to have been a result of Royal's transition to a lane matchup team like Cloud9. As the season progressed, their new, more isolated laning-focused style of play became a drain on Xiaohu, who, without the opportunity to coordinate with Mata and Mlxg to make plays, averaged the lowest percentage of team gold among mid laners in the LPL and started falling behind in CS more often.

Mlxg has started attempting to power-farm much more like Meteos, but his inefficient pathing reflects the same fundamental lack of communication between laners and jungler that Cloud9 suffers from. Both junglers have commented on the importance their teams place on winning lanes outright — Mlxg, in an interview after the Group Stage, explained that the team relies less on his roaming with Mata so that they can have stronger lanes to stand up to opponents. “The reason we decided to change our strategy is that we noticed a lot of teams are playing really strong bottom lanes, so they can have a lot of advantage in the lane,” he said. That sounded a lot like Meteos, who in his own post-Groups interview said, “Going into Worlds, stuff like Karma and Nami bot lane looked really really strong because, in scrims — bot lanes would just play full aggro all the time not caring about the rest of the map.”

Jensen is an obviously more comfortable laner than Xiaohu, and Cloud9 domestically gained a lot of advantages from his laning skill, but he still has much room for improvement. In an interview after their loss to SKT, he acknowledged that he has faults, but pointed out how far he has come since Worlds 2015. “In the beginning, I was just like — I wouldn't say brainless, but I would say I was just way too over-aggressive," he said. "It bit me sometimes, but I think I came out smarter and understood the game better on a macro level ... I'm still one of the best mechanical players, so I just need to become better in that aspect.”

Especially in the current Worlds meta, better macro understanding means being able to play around and with the jungler. Even though it looked like Samsung Galaxy won every lane at once, it wasn’t because Cloud9’s players were unskilled, but because they couldn't convert a lead in one lane to pressure on the other side of the map — either by Teleport use, deep vision, or a mid laner who roamed with lane control rather than relentlessly pushing turret.

Jensen had an exceptional individual summer, and Xiaohu a poor one, but their similar struggles with game impact and World Championship trajectories provide hope for both. They fell short in map positioning more than anything else, which is something they can fix with their teammates.

Maybe next year they’ll both return the better for it. And if Jensen wants another shot, it’s clear Faker isn’t going anywhere.

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

The best places to watch the LoL Worlds finals

by 6h ago
Thumbnail image courtesy of Riot Games/lolesports / MSI 2016 / Riot Games

Can't make it out to the Staples Center to see SK Telecom T1 and Samsung Galaxy battle it out in the finals of the 2016 League of Legends World Championships? If you'd rather not squint at the action on your laptop, check out one of Coca-Cola's viewing parties which are taking place at 150 theaters across Canada, the US, and Europe —Twitch chat not included.

Regal Union Square Stadium, New York, NY

Coke invites you to an off-Broadway production of the Worlds final at the Regal Union Square Stadium at Broadway and East 14th street. Near the famous Union Square Park and the East Village, this viewing party offers a chance for LoL fans to explore the concrete jungle without the risk of getting ganked by Bengi. Who knows? You might find a blue buff or two.

Cineplex Cinemas Yonge-Dundas, Toronto, Canada

Toronto proved it was an esports city when 15,000 fans filled the Air Canada Centre, home of the Maple Leafs and the Raptors, to capacity for the NA LCS Summer Finals. Considering that, we can only imagine how packed the viewing party at Yonge Dundas Square's Cineplex Cinema will be. Located in the heart of the city, LoL fans can get the best of Toronto's food, shopping, and culture without straying too far from the LoL action.

Choctaw Casinos The District Cinema, Durant, OK

Like a side of slots action with your League of Legends? If you're in the Midwest, check out the viewing party at Choctaw Casinos' District Cinema in Durant, Oklahoma. The original Choctaw location, the resort has two casinos and two hotels for a total of 4,200 slot machines and 776 hotel rooms.

Regal Cinemas South Beach, Miami Beach, FL

Miami: home of sun, sand and now League of Legends. Head on down to the Regal Cinemas South Beach viewing party and watch SKT vs. SSG, Tony Montana style. Punctuate the LoL action with a trip to the beach or immerse yourself in the rich culture (and food) of the city's Cuban community. And remember not to forget your sunscreen.

Edwards Houston Marq'E Stadium, Houston, TX

Everything is bigger in Texas, and that extends to the viewing party at Edward's Cinema at the Marq*E Entertainment Centre in Houston. Located just outside downtown, Edward's was declared best movie theatre in the city by the Houston Press in 2013 for its proximity to shops, restaurants and its 23 screens.

Sasha Erfanian is a news editor with theScore esports. Follow him on Twitter

2016 Worlds Performer of the Day

theScore esports staff

The 2016 League of Legends World Championship has always been the event that displays the prowess of some of the best players in the world. The quarterfinal series between SK Telecom and Royal Never Give Up lived up to the hype, showing some of the best players in the world making some big plays. The series was tense, but theScore esports has singled out one player as our performer of the day.

For more video interviews and highlights, be sure to subscribe to theScore esports on YouTube.

Worlds 2016 Teamfight of the Day

theScore esports staff

When you put two of the best teams in the world in a five-game series, you're bound to see some fast paced teamfights and plays that balance on a blade's edge. As expected, SK Telecom T1 and Royal Never Give Up showed why they deserve to be in the 2016 League of Legends World Championship quarterfinals, and theScore esports was able to pick one play as the teamfight of the day.

For more video interviews and highlights, be sure to subscribe to theScore esports on YouTube.

Overrated: A rational discussion of Clearlove's flaws

Thumbnail image courtesy of Worlds / lolesports flickr

IGN Pro League 5, the 2015 Mid-Season Invitational, 2014 LPL Spring, 2014 LPL Summer, 2015 LPL Spring, 2016 LPL Summer, Enter the Dragon and four Demacia Cup events. The list of Ming “Clearlove” Kai’s victories is long — but because of the nature of League of Legends, the only one that matters is the one he hasn't claimed: The World Championship. It's there he has fallen at the quarterfinals, not once, but four times.

It may be time to acknowledge that, even if Clearlove didn’t choke at Worlds in the past, this time the pressure got to him. He’s at least started to buy into the idea that he’ll never win, or isn’t good enough, and it's finally hurting his performance.

Clearlove has flaws and peculiarities, but he has value as well. He has longevity, creativity, and a persisting sense for teamfights that forever makes it feel as though he hasn't peaked just yet, despite his monstrous career. He's never been the greatest jungler in the world, and he’s had some of his worst games at Worlds — but he is still one of the greatest players to touch the game, and we can at least do him the courtesy of discussing his flaws rationally.

Despite the stature he's achieved, for most of his professional career Clearlove was not very good at jungling. EDG was an organization founded around Clearlove’s intangibles: his work ethic and leadership. This work ethic didn’t make him a great at what he did until 2015.

On his first successful team, he had a unique relationship with mid laner Yu “Misaya” Jingxi, known for Twisted Fate play and vast map pressure. Misaya didn’t have as much skill in the laning phase, but he had the ability to win the rest of the map while Clearlove power-farmed. That’s when his synergy with Gao "WeiXiao" Xuecheng in teamfights made WE the greatest team in the world. Most of his movement consisted of finding the right side of the map on which to farm and less with getting his laners ahead.

In 2013, however, the dynamic between Clearlove and Misaya stretched thin. Laning became more of a necessity, especially with the rise of assassins, and the scale tilted. Internal conflict aggravated Clearlove's problems; WE's split and Clearlove's move to EDward Gaming for the 2014 LPL season marked a new era of inconsistency for him. But within that inconsistency, there were flashes of his emerging understanding of how to create pressure and make plays on the map.

Even then, though I didn’t consider Clearlove a great jungler, I thought of him as a great player. He could flank on both tank and assassin champions, and he showed strong synergy with another AD carry. When EDward Gaming fell behind, a symbiosis developed between Clearlove and Tong “Koro1” Yang to create openings for Ceng “U” Long and Zhu “NaMei” Jiawen. Yet Clearlove's jungling itself was still poor and unreliable, especially when paired with the less pressure-driven laning phase of U, and though both players performed their roles well, they didn’t have much map control in the early game.

Clearlove has often talked about how he believes Chinese junglers could be as creative as their Korean counterparts, and that creativity has become the defining quality of his play. Even if he doesn't vary his gank pathing consistently and still vastly prefers the bottom side of the map, he has always made decisions that made his movements unique to each game — something that has been recognized by his peers. Zeng "Zzr" Zhanran, a Snake Esports sub and part of China's plentiful crop of new jungle talent, earlier this year lauded Clearlove for being a jungler that “used his brain” to come up with creative pathing. Splyce’s Jonas “Trashy” Anderson has listed Clearlove as a jungler he admires, recently recalling a situation in the LPL Summer Final that stood out to him: “EDG was playing a full AD composition that really needed to snowball. [Clearlove] did a full clear top side and red side into path bot and fast-gank mid, and then he got two kills out of it. They had a Zed mid that snowballed out of it. In my mind, that is him understanding that he can’t just play it safe and farm it out with the picks he had.”

Even within EDG's group at Worlds, Brazilian jungler Gabriel "Revolta" Henud has listed Clearlove as a player he studies to learn pathing. Clearlove's creativity was on display even in his worst game of the event, Game 4 against the ROX Tigers. While Han “Peanut” Wangho moved to EDG’s open blue buff, Clearlove swept his wolves and gromp camp on red side, slowing down Peanut’s power-farming route, then stalling Peanut when he attempted to invade and target Clearlove at his own gromp.

Naturally, this mind-gaming died when Clearlove camped the bottom lane too long and didn’t anticipate Peanut’s counter-gank, leading to a 1-for-3 trade for Tigers. This kind of counter-gank bait style was something not uncharacteristic of Clearlove himself in the LPL, and the fact that he transparently forced his own gank was surprising, though not shocking, given how desperate EDG were.

Most of what I've written about EDG this year has been critical. EDward Gaming aren’t a team that have developed fundamentally since their formation in 2014. Some of Clearlove’s most effective gank paths are worn into the Rift through repetition, and it’s practiced execution that has made them both effective and predictable.

His most damning quality, however, is his pickiness. He doesn’t take initiative if he lacks synergy with his mid laner. He doesn’t take initiative if he lacks information. Perhaps he focuses too much on being clever, and not enough on being effective. This is a quality truly worthy of admonishment, and it certainly keeps him from being the best.

Clearlove's creativity means that he works well with information, and without that information, his proactivity is limited. This has been a big factor in EDG's preference for blue side. The team prefers to win the bottom lane, then push out the wave and invade the enemy jungle for vision. That style made Tian “meiko” Ye their most valuable player this year, so long as he could secure roaming support picks. But in situations where EDG can't get the push in the bottom half of the map, and meiko can't roam, a lot of EDG’s mid-game cross-map plays or Clearlove’s early invades and ganks don't materialize.

This was never more evident than in their Worlds quarterfinal. Rather than identifying Clearlove's need for information as a vulnerability, and looking to secure some minimal jungle vision before controlling the lane, EDG seemed to panic and tunnel in on winning the 2v2. That made Clearlove even more predictable. Add to that that he apparently forgot the actual mechanics of his champions, and his quarterfinal performance was nothing short of pathetic.

Likewise, Clearlove's proactivity has been held back by his wavering trust in his mid laner. His primary facilitator this year has been meiko, his support, but last year it was Heo “PawN” Wonseok, EDG's then-starting mid. Like Misaya, PawN had a way of generating pressure. He didn’t gank in place of Clearlove, but he pulled the enemy jungler to his lane. This is something EDG's current starting mid, Lee "Scout" Yechan, couldn’t replicate; at best, he held the lane. Over time, he started to develop more of a tendency to roam to the top lane, but by then it was too late. Clearlove didn’t seem to have faith in Scout, especially after the Team WE series when Xiang “Condi” Renjie and Su “xiye” Hanwei targeted Scout specifically.

But of course no one is to blame for Clearlove's flaws — for his inability to perform well at the one event he’s claimed has kept him competing even after his WE ex-teammates retired — but Clearlove.

At the start of this year, Clearlove said he believed he could compete for at least two more years, as long as he didn’t hold his team back. Given the severe backlash he’s faced for his Worlds flop, he may decide that he is indeed limiting EDward Gaming. But his retirement would mean the loss of the intangibles that have made him valuable to the organization, and domestically speaking, Clearlove is still King.

So let him have one more year, one more attempt. If he makes the World Championship again in 2017, let him play within his parameters. Tracking Clearlove’s Korean solo queue account, he has a fondness for duoing with WE’s xiye. If Clearlove has only one year remaining, this is a duo I would like to see — Clearlove with a mid laner of his choosing, who has finally developed into a jewel of the LPL in his own right. xiye is another proficient Twisted Fate player, who has finally learned the skill of creating map pressure in side lanes. There would be no excuses left.

Clearlove isn’t overrated, at least not catastrophically. He’s had impressive showings at home and internationally, just not at Worlds. He has narrow parameters for success that aren’t always met, and he has no one to fault for that but himself. When it comes to Clearlove, modify your expectations. Don't dismiss his greatness.

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

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