Except for All-Stars, the 2016 League of Legends season has ended. Teams have withdrawn from Intel Extreme Masters en-masse because forward-thinking organizations are already considering roster changes for 2017, and vacations have been declared. All-Stars remains the final outpost, the party that brings closure, levity and celebrates the season.
When voting for All-Stars representatives for each region, fans don’t just consider the body of work the players of their choice provided over the year. They put emphasis on recent form at Worlds, history, charisma, and general gut feeling. The players who go to All-Stars won’t always be the ones who performed the best that year, but they deserve acknowledgement as well. Garnering votes from fans is a skill unto itself as the fanbase will favor players who have done well internationally and devoted time to cultivating a media presence.
To close the season of the Chinese League of Legends Pro League season, I thought it only fair to reward both the best performers of 2016 and describe the difference in best performers and the All-Stars votes I cast. Some overlap, but there's some divergence due to All-Stars restrictions and the way I think about them.
For the best performing players, I value perceived individual game impact, role-based decision-making, versatility and consistency throughout the year very highly. For All-Stars votes, I value very similar criteria, but since international performances or immediacy (play toward the end of the summer split) are weighted heavily by fans, that will also be considered. All-Stars choices are also restricted by a two player per team limit, while player of the year awards are not. Some factors like storyline for the player throughout the season are also considered in the case of tie-breaker decisions.
2016 Award: Bao "V" Bo
The QG Reapers led the 2016 LPL Spring season, relying extensively on V’s Teleport flanks to close the gap and create zones. V, a player with a limited champion pool in 2015, rose to the occasion. He was one of the most consistent players in the LPL throughout the year, even when Newbee Gaming struggled in 2016 LPL Summer.
Over the course of the season, V’s laning improved significantly, and by the end of 2016 Summer, he averaged the highest CS difference at 10 minutes among top laners at 7.9. He was among the Top 4 for kill participation and the most reliable player on Newbee, forcing the team to re-appropriate to a more top-focused role to which he adapted, allowing NB to win the few games they won based on his split-pushing or stalling in summer.
Ultimately, Newbee were not strong enough overall to close the split in the Top 8, but V’s consistent sense for flanks and laning make him a highlight. Very few teams with a strong top laner managed to succeed in the summer split, making V a valid choice for his flexibility despite their low placement.
All-Stars Vote: V
A strong case can be made for Li "Flandre" Xuanjun based on both charisma and his strong form in the final regional gauntlet, as well as the emotional story that accompanied it. And another one could be made for Jang "Looper" Hyeongseok for his World Championship performance, particularly against SK Telecom T1 (though he did not play nearly as well for the rest of the tournament), I still value consistency of form over the course of the year enough to edge both of them out.
Flandre struggled with rising and falling form all season, even while Snake had similar problems with stagnation to Newbee, and Looper demonstrated difficulty with split-pushing concepts and Teleports throughout the summer split. These two factors made it difficult for them to overcome V purely based on a gauntlet run or a World Championship best-of-five.
2016 Award: Ming "Clearlove" Kai
No matter how atrociously Clearlove played against the ROX Tigers at the World Championship, that doesn’t understate that he was the best jungler in the League of Legends Pro League throughout the year. Clearlove’s greatest asset was his decision-making in jungling, which has been highly praised internationally. His variety in pathing has been a joy to study, and his teamfighting remained strong all year, giving EDward Gaming a surge upon his return to the team.
Many of Clearlove’s flaws shone through at Worlds, including his dependency on trust from his mid laner and roams from Tian "meiko" Ye. This, coupled with the fact that he misplayed his champions (particularly Lee Sin), reflected poorly upon him and has knocked him from his vantage point as the most popular player in China in a recent Demacia Cup poll.
Though Clearlove came under fire for his World Championship performance, the second best jungler this year, Choi "DanDy" Inkyu, didn’t attend the World Championship. DanDy receives my praise for similar reasons, effectively developing and catering his style over time as well as transitioning from a carry and supportive role in addition to smart pathing. The gap between the two isn’t large, but EDG’s overall results and Clearlove’s importance to the team give him the edge.
All-Stars Vote: DanDy
Based on my description above, it’s probably not surprising that I chose DanDy. The limited nature of votes per team and the value of immediacy and international performances allow DanDy to slip over the line. DanDy, despite Vici Gaming’s poor results, is still easily a top jungler in the LPL.
2016 Award: Song "RooKie" Euijin
As the pool of mid lane talent suffered, RooKie made himself the best mid laner in the LPL in Spring by a significant margin. While Su "Xiye" Hanwei’s performances improved marginally in the summer, and Wei “We1less” Zhen struggled in Spring and took time off, RooKie towered over the competition. He performed his role as the center of attention on Invictus Gaming and practically brute-forced his team to wins and the playoffs.
RooKie’s weaknesses began to crop up in the summer. He frequently went for too-risky plays, as if pressure to carry affected his decision-making. This caused him to also over-position in teamfights and occasionally die before a fight even began. As Invictus Gaming flagged, RooKie’s motivation appeared to drop, allowing Xiye to appear to perform better in the latter half of the summer split and for We1less to make a convincing argument in the few weeks in which he appeared. For the rest of the year, however, RooKie was the uncontested king.
All-Stars Vote: Xiye
As already outlined, Xiye began to steadily improve his performances over time. His sense for the map finally elevated him above the level of the solo queue star moniker that plagued him throughout his career. His reputation as a Twisted Fate player came through and made him strong in the final meta this year.
A poor showing in the Regional final was largely impacted by roams made mid by support Yun "Road" Hangil. Bottom lane got control early for I May in most games in which WE lost, freeing up Road’s impact on the map. Despite his poor showing in the final of regional gauntlet, Xiye still earned my All-Stars vote for the overall immediacy of his impact in the summer, in particular exposing weaknesses in EDG’s playstyle in the LPL semifinal.
2016 Award: Kim "Deft" Hyukkyu
Though Jian "Uzi" Zihao’s popularity makes him an easy candidate to win China’s actual All-Stars vote, Deft’s consistently high level of play throughout the year, including at the World Championship when his team struggled, makes him hard to argue against. Deft’s laning improved, and he managed to adapt more and more in team fights, even when his team didn’t focus his lane in the early game.
Deft’s flaw, to an extent, came through when more international opponents challenged EDG’s bottom lane approach. In the LPL, few duo lanes pushed minion waves well against EDG and instead focused on attacking their opponents directly, and their control of the lane wasn't challenged. Despite international bottom lanes responding better to the lane push, the fact that other LPL bottom lanes didn’t challenge EDG’s wave control makes it even harder to argue that Deft had a rival domestically.
All-Stars Vote: Deft
Deft didn’t collapse toward the tail end of the season or internationally. He performed well against Uzi, and the technique of his laning with meiko still made him incontestable domestically. Though Uzi’s popularity and laning skill will win him the fan vote, Deft is unchallenged as an overall AD carry in the LPL.
2016 Award: Cho "Mata" Sehyeong
I heavily criticized Mata during summer split, partly because of his over-aggressive laning phase frequently leading him to getting caught out and his apparent lack of synergy with Uzi. During the Spring, however, Mata’s individual play-making and ability to control the map made him a contender for best support in the world, especially after his Mid-Season Invitational performance.
Aside from these factors, Mata’s intangibles are also highly praised. Royal Never Give Up succeeded in part because of his strong leadership. Though he did decline in the summer in terms of map play and consistency, he still had strong mechanical showings that don’t remove him from consideration. He also was the best performing support at the World Championship, despite persistent laning phase-related struggles, making him the best support in LPL of the year.
All-Stars Vote: meiko
Though Mata performed better at the World Championship, given his laning mishaps his level wasn’t drastically above meiko’s. meiko was a major part of EDward Gaming’s success in the summer split, and I’ve previously argued that he was the MVP of the team, facilitating Clearlove’s jungling style and bringing out more of Deft’s laning.
meiko’s World Championship performance notwithstanding, the overall body of his work in the summer split makes him my choice for the All-Stars vote based upon immediacy. It will also be fulfilling to see this complete LPL bot lane perform for one last time before the two of them separate. They've built their strength as a duo for two years, and sending them to All-Stars together would end this chapter in EDG's history on a light-hearted note.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore esports. You can follow her on Twitter.