Edward Gaming’s decimation of Demacia Cup Season 3 marks their most flawless finish in a domestic event to-date. It’s fitting that their tenth title be the first title they take without dropping a single game in four best-of-fives.
Though Edward Gaming did not fail to make the finals of any domestic event to which they were invited in 2014, they’ve never looked this dominant. Eight of their ten titles (and most of their ninth, as pawN and Deft only joined EDG for the G League Final) were attained with their all-Chinese roster, but EDG’s level of team play has never been as high in the early game as it is now. It’s easy to look at the Korean players, Deft and pawN, and pin success on the roster change, and though both are performing fantastically, NaMei and U were likely the most consistent carries in their league last year.
The last time Edward Gaming faced Invictus Gaming in the finals of a tournament prior to Demacia Cup, Edward Gaming took three games for the victory. The game was almost completely controlled by EDG's ADC NaMei, who had 100% kill participation in the early game with his roaming Twitch. He also dominated the second and third games with aggressive Lucian play.
In 2014, outside of the Playoffs, almost every single player on Edward Gaming failed to make plays in the early game. Koro1 consistently lost lane. U had small leads in lane, but failed to roam or pressure them. NaMei’s reckless style didn't mesh well with Fzzf, who had traditionally been a more passive laning support, compensating with engages and picks in late game. I’ve written novels in an attempt to understand Clearlove’s wildly inconsistent early game pressure.
This weekend against WE, a glimpse of this EDG resurfaced. EDG’s dominating early game went into hibernation with U playing for the team once again. It’s easy to look at U and say the substitution of pawN is the main factor, but breaking down the difference between EDG this year and EDG last year yields different results.
The first place to start is at the core of Edward Gaming: their AD carry. NaMei and Deft have swapped places in playstyle. NaMei’s laning has become more questionable on Star Horn Royal Club when he looked fully in control at this time in 2014. Last year, he was the whole package. If he didn't outright win lane, he and Fzzf would play a reserved, self-sufficient style that was enough to allow them to roll over the late game.
Deft’s strides this year have been significant. Last year on Samsung Blue, he would lose his laning phase to half-hearted commits. This year, he’s shored up most of his weaknesses and frequently takes early advantages.
The evolution didn’t happen over night. I’ve gone into more detail covering the evolution and Clearlove’s increased pressure on bottom lane. This week, in the loss to WE, Deft looked much less comfortable. Some speculated he didn’t play Kalista often, or that communication may have transferred from English to Mandarin Chinese with U on the team instead of pawN.
EDG’s strengths this year have been in their tight early pressure. Clearlove’s record on Lee Sin is undefeated this split, with 16 games played in Demacia Cup Round of 8 and LPL combined. He has overall the highest KDA on his team at 9.46, but on Lee Sin his KDA is 14.67 in Demacia Cup Round of 8 and LPL and 31 in LPL only, averaging 15.53 kills or assists per game.
The three Chinese players on EDG, Koro1, Meiko, and Clearlove roam in packs, ganking and counter-ganking. The risk in ganking an EDG lane as an enemy jungler is in that one must expect to get countered by at least two players from the enemy team. Meiko’s heavy ward control, Koro1’s Teleports, and Clearlove’s proactive dives allow them to stay ahead and snowball both carry lanes as a group.
Clearlove always leads the charge. With the highest kill participation on his team, he seems to have earned the title of “Director” he has been given by the Chinese community. As the shot-caller and leader of the roaming trio, EDG rises and falls on his performance.
This has always been the case for EDG. When the team ended games in less than thirty minutes in 2014, either Clearlove played a more proactive role in ganking lanes, or NaMei took matters into his own hands with his roaming Twitch play.
In 2015, Clearlove is Deft’s first line of defense. In ganking his lane more than Clearlove has probably ever ganked lanes over the course of his career, Deft often gets the winning hand to destroy his lane and crush through team fights with his positioning. Meiko’s vision control represents his second line, as any erstwhile junglers near his lane will be spotted and collapsed upon by pawN and EDG’s roamers.
Koro1’s growth as an individual player has represented EDG’s second advancement. While Clearlove’s jungle pressure last year was wildly inconsistent, one thing fans could rely on was Koro1 losing his lane. This year, that’s no longer the case. Not only does Koro1 control his lane better, but his Teleports are more frequent. By having a stronger laning phase, EDG will have more of a Teleport advantage. If one top laner is ahead, and both Teleport into the bottom lane, the stronger top laner can win the fight for his 2v2. Koro1’s improved play increases Deft’s third line of defense.
Deft’s final line of defense is pawN. Comparing pawN’s play to U’s is tricky. Both pawN and U played more utility-based champions last year, but were best known as assassin mains outside of competitive. U played a fundamental role in carrying his team late game, while pawN held lane as a backbone.
EDG struggled in the early season with Clearlove’s lower map pressure since pawN didn’t have the team fight power of U’s oppressive area of effect ultimates. If EDG fell behind, it was harder for them to come back in 2015.
Yet pawN’s increased recklessness in the lane created a new strength for Edward Gaming. pawN is the red herring carry. He helps the team win as long as he’s doing something that pulls attention. If he picks Lux and gets camped and dove repeatedly due to his low mobility, he’s doing his job. If he picks Leblanc and demolishes his laner, he’s doing his job. If he picks Fizz and rushes deep into enemy territory chasing Dade only to have four members of the opposition collapse on him, he’s doing his job. If he’s destroying the enemy jungler off Meiko’s vision, he’s doing his job.
Every member of EDG has his role in boosting Deft’s laning phase. Deft is the core of EDG perhaps more than NaMei ever was. It gives EDG a stronger identity and improved team play in every part of the game, despite the language barrier. Everyone knows the key to defeating EDG is in shutting down Deft, but they can never get through EDG’s tight defensive layers to accomplish it.
In the loss to WE, Deft ended with a score line of 0/6/10. WE got to him. Every line of defense broke down.
Deft’s first line of defense crumbled when Clearlove’s pressure faltered. Playing Sejuani and Rek’Sai, Clearlove reverted to his preferred grazing style in the jungle. He may have been near Deft’s lane, but his ganking was less frequent, making it difficult for Deft to snowball. Clearlove recognized the familiar presence of U in the mid lane and chose to play for the late game. This split has been the longest time for which Clearlove has sustained a high pressure jungle style; some have been waiting for the other shoe to drop. On Friday, it did.
The second line of defense broke down with the Kalista pick. LGD Gaming before EDG has struggled to make Kalista effective. Both teams rely on heavy roaming from their support players. EDG’s vision suffered with Meiko confined to the lane, and spotting out Spirit became trickier. Meiko also didn’t roam to give advantages to other lanes and bolster map pressure. Everyone was an island.
In an island scenario, Spirit could take advantage of not just the bottom lane, but also gank the top lane early. Aluka stayed even with Koro1 in Game Two, though Koro1 stamped him out and shut down his tank farming in Game One with the full damage Jarvan IV constantly counter-pushing. Koro1 couldn’t provide an advantage in a Teleport war if he didn’t have the lead.
That left U. U isn't a red herring carry; he’s a late game carry. He played to preserve EDG’s chances, building for survivability over damage. Despite going 6/1 early in lane, he didn't get the notice on EDG’s change in identity. He didn't perform the vastly altered job of EDG’s mid laner. That’s on U.
But three of EDG’s protective layers around Deft crumbled before it became U’s responsibility. Clearlove wasn’t the heavy pressure Lee Sin player he has been. The Kalista pick reduced Meiko’s vision and roaming pressure. Koro1 couldn’t provide the same level of support he has been. The true difference between EDG in 2014 and EDG in 2015 has nothing to do with new carries; it has to do with gains made by Koro1 and Clearlove and a more aggressive style coming from Meiko over Fzzf.
Last year, NaMei and U adapted to Clearlove and Koro1 as they became more well-rounded. NaMei and U came in to correct mistakes in the early game that resulted from Koro1’s lane loss or Clearlove’s low map pressure. EDG’s carries last year raised EDG’s core this year. This year, Clearlove and Koro1 have adapted to pawN and Deft. They’ve boosted Deft’s laning phase and confidence to compensate for pawN’s lower team fighting power.
The real strength of the new EDG is that they’re still evolving. Deft’s laning phase does improve in isolation, as spectators could see in Game One. He’ll trade more confidently than he ever has, even with Clearlove on the opposite side of the map. While pawN’s team fight positioning still isn’t always ideal, his effectiveness late game is miles ahead of where it was at the start of the split.
This regression against WE is troubling for the team, but WE didn’t beat EDG by taking advantage of weakness they typically have in their main lineup or countering them; EDG beat EDG by playing like they did in 2014. During the regular season, EDG dropped far more games last year than they have this year. If Clearlove crumbles, so does the rest of the team. Either this is a sign of Clearlove’s reversion on a new patch, or it’s a hiccup that resulted from a roster change.
Even with all their developments, EDG still hinges on Clearlove’s performance. If he’s back to form in the playoffs, EDG will keep evolving into an unstoppable team in time for the 2015 World Championship. If Clearlove isn't, EDG may shrivel before they can make it to MSI.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for the Score eSports. You can follow her on Twitter.