When one invokes the buzzword “signature champion,” they expect a monstrous statistics line like Koro1’s now 31-4 all time Maokai, or Faker’s previously undefeated Leblanc. Clearlove’s Evelynn is 16-8 since the Season 2 World Championship, which is only a 66.67 percent win rate.
Even Clearlove, in his long career, has champions with far more impressive scorelines like Rengar (13-2), Rek’Sai (12-2), Hecarim (9-2), and Nunu (24-6). After watching his monstrous Lee Sin play this split in the LPL’s regular season, many might say that the blind monk is Clearlove’s strongest pocket pick or that his tank play is his most comfortable.
Make no mistake, Clearlove’s signature champion is Evelynn.
Faker’s Leblanc, undefeated until the MSI Finals, is a legendary pick, but the significance of Clearlove’s Evelynn was not lost by spectator’s of the Chinese language stream. Evelynn is the champion Clearlove defaults to when his teams play important series, and it doesn’t always succeed, but he uses it for some of his most confident plays.
|Evelynn picked in tournament||Win||Loss|
|2013 LPL Spring||2||0|
|StarsWar League Season 2||1||0|
|4th Asian Indoor Martial Arts Games||1||1|
|2013 LPL Summer||0||2|
|2014 LPL Spring||4||2|
|2014 LPL Summer||4||1|
|2014 IEM Shenzhen||1||2|
|2014 World Championship||1||0|
|2015 LPL Spring||1||0|
|2015 Mid-Season Invitational||1||0|
In the famous StarsWar Season 2 loss to Invictus Gaming that WE suffered after six months of dominance, the single win in the series WE achieved was with Evelynn. Clearlove played it in the finals of the 4th Asian Indoor Martial Arts Games when WE lost to KT Rolster Bullets.
He played it in both Group stage Bo2 games against OMG, the only team Edward Gaming couldn’t beat, in the 2014 LPL Spring split. He played it in all three games against WE in the finals of IEM Season IX Shenzhen and he played it heavily in the 2014 LPL Summer playoffs.
At the 2014 World Championship, when Edward Gaming fell down two games to Star Horn Royal Club, Clearlove locked in Evelynn. In the 2014 World Championship documentary, Clearlove said that his teammates asked him to pick Elise, but he chose Evelynn instead. “She is my better champion," he said. The only other player to pick it during the 2014 World Championship was Loveling against Fnatic in the Group Stages.
With a single lock-in, EDG seemingly managed to reverse their fates in the SHRC series. Clearlove ganked top quickly, snowballing Koro1’s Ryze ahead. The pick gave EDG a second wind when Clearlove’s passive style in the first two games had made him look weak next to inSec. EDG ultimately lost that series, but they pushed it to five games.
The obvious joke is that Clearlove picks Evelynn because it gives him map pressure for free. Clearlove, the quintessential Evelynn player, is invisible to the world until 20 minutes into a game, but the opposing lanes still play extremely safe for fear of an unseen threat. That hasn't been the case for Clearlove’s Evelynn since about halfway through 2014, even when his play-style was inconsistent. If he grabs Evelynn, he wants to dive you.
Enter Bengi. Bengi’s career has been fraught with as much, if not more, criticism than Clearlove’s. "He gets caught out warding. His ganks are ineffectual. He’s a non-factor late game." Almost any conceivable negative claim against a jungler has been levied against him.
Yet Bengi’s performances lately have done wonders for SK Telecom T1. The meta shift favored him, and his substitution into the SKT’s team during the CJ Entus semifinal in League Champions Korea allowed SKT to reverse sweep and advance to face the GE Tigers in the finals.
Then in the semifinals at the Mid-Season Invitational against Fnatic, Bengi chose Nunu in Game 5. His creative pathing shut down Reignover, who had been previously controlling the jungle, and he dominated the buffs during invasion attempts with ease.
Outside of Rek’Sai, the champion he relied on during the LCK playoffs, and Nunu, Bengi didn’t seem comfortable on other meta picks until the Mid-Season Invitational finals. His Gragas in the group stage against AHQ left much to be desired in the early game. Edward Gaming opted to ban Rek’Sai and Nunu in Game 1, and Bengi proved effective on Gragas. He countered many of Clearlove’s ganks and disengaged on EDG’s aggression attempts.
After EDG lost Game 4 to Bengi’s Gragas, it became clear that that pick was a larger threat than his Rek’Sai. The Explosive Cask provided an ability to reset fights and punish EDG’s all-ins. They banned it in Game 5 and allowed Bengi to pick Nunu for the first time in the series, just as Fnatic had paved the way for Nunu in Game 5 of their series and ultimately lost to SK Telecom T1.
There’s debate as to whether Clearlove deserves the tournament MVP award. There are arguments to be made for almost every member of the team winning, especially during the finals, when Koro1, Clearlove, pawN, and Deft all seemed to have questionable games, but Meiko’s performances on Thresh, Annie, and Alistar were continuously solid throughout.
During the tournament as a whole, Koro1 had a breakout international performance in the top lane with powerful initiations. PawN was perhaps the most hit-or-miss, but it’s impossible not to see the value of his precise Morgana bindings. Deft also forced a Jinx ban two games in a row.
But Edward Gaming let more than just Faker’s Leblanc through in the Game 5 draft. They planned for SK Telecom T1 to pick Nunu, just as bengi did against Fnatic. In multiple post-game interviews, Clearlove referenced EDG’s prepared strategy to counter Bengi’s Nunu.
Clearlove told Sjokz he had been practicing Evelynn in solo queue, and that Evelynn counters SK Telecom T1’s Nunu strategy. Against Fnatic, Nunu invaded Reignover’s jungle diligently, denying buffs. It’s much harder to invade Evelynn’s jungle, because it’s more difficult to find her on the map. If one doesn’t ward for her properly, she can catch Nunu on an invade and assassinate him.
Beyond that, Clearlove’s team fight flanks were reminiscent of his 2014 Evelynn engagement play with Lulu’s Wild Growth. He dove the bottom side of the map early for a quick snowball against MaRin’s questionable Teleport.
Evelynn may have countered Nunu, but the pick still put Edward Gaming at risk against Faker’s Leblanc. A tankier jungler like his favored Sejuani may have kept him safer from Leblanc’s all-ins. With Koro1’s and Meiko’s damage reduction abilities during dives, pawN’s self-applied Black Shield when he entered the fray for a Dark Binding, and Deft’s Spell Shield, Clearlove was the squishy target vulnerable to a pick. Add in Urgot’s Position Reverser, and the Evelynn choice could have gone horribly wrong.
Clearlove’s Evelynn was far from invisible in team fights. He was constantly pinning himself onto Wolf, and sometimes even Faker himself, for an easy pick. As the most obvious target in SK Telecom T1’s composition, Wolf did not fare as well as Clearlove. He dropped eight times in a 38 minute game. By contrast, Clearlove only died once, claiming the least deaths of any member of his team, and he was involved in 22 of 25 kills.
In Clearlove’s own words, “Strats depend on timing.” Edward Gaming waited until the fifth game to let both Faker’s Leblanc and Bengi’s Nunu through the draft into SK Telecom T1’s pick rotation. Coach Aaron’s draft timing was on point, but so were Clearlove's Evelynn flanks and positioning decisions.
Evelynn hasn’t seen much play this Spring, as champion tweaks and the rise of Cinderhulk have seen her fall out of favor. In the typically considered Top 4 international regions, only Clearlove and Diamond dared to play her, each picking her once. Clearlove won his game, and Diamond didn’t.
For the Evelynn pick in the current meta to work out as a counter to Nunu in the same game as Faker’s Leblanc pick, a truly legendary performance is required. The fact that the team built a strategy around it showed that Edward Gaming trusts Clearlove on a gamble. The grief of the 2014 World Championship quarterfinals loss, the dominant regular season play in LPL, pawN's heroic entrance in LPL Playoffs, and EDG's climb through MSI all came down to an Evelynn game.
When asked about Clearlove, his ex-teammate, Misaya, professed, “He'll learn whatever it takes for his team to succeed. I believe that Clearlove is the best jungler.”
Whether or not you agree with Misaya’s assessment, especially given the amount of jungle talent concentrated in China’s LPL that wasn’t present at MSI, facts cannot be ignored. The reign of Faker’s undefeated Leblanc ended this week in Tallahassee with an Evelynn on the enemy team.
It had to be Clearlove.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for the Score eSports. She enjoyed MSI and promises this isn't the last feature she'll write about the event. You can follow her on Twitter.