A boat beneath a sunny sky: OMG and Star Horn Royal Club

by Emily Rand May 21 2015
Thumbnail image courtesy of LPL / CGA.CN

At the time, it was the largest player signing in League of Legends history. On December 11, 2014, OMG acquired star AD Carry Jian “Uzi” Zi-hao from the Season 4 World Championship runners-up, Star Horn Royal Club. While other teams were frantically signing Korean imports, OMG plucked Uzi – at that time widely regarded as one of the best players in his position due to his performances on the World stage – from Star Horn, creating an all-Chinese super team.

With strong marketing and a tinge of nationalism, OMG were predicted to be one of the top teams in not only China, but the world. Ravaged by the loss of talent, Korea was no longer indisputably the best region in the world. Meanwhile, Chinese teams receiving said talent required time to overcome communication issues while integrating their Korean counterparts. In the initial chaos, OMG's homegrown, all-Chinese lineup, were perceived to be the most likely winners of the 2015 LPL Spring Split.

Long has paled that sunny sky: Oh My God

Composed of strong players at every position, OMG was full of top talent before Uzi’s arrival. Gao “Gogoing” Di-Ping earned praise and respect from top laners across other regions from his performances internationally. Yu “Cool” Jia-Jun was one of the best mid laners in China. Yin “LoveLing” Le had played multiple positions but was most famous for his creative jungling. Hu “Cloud” Zhen-Wei made a name for himself at the Season 4 World Championship, replacing support player Fang “DaDa7” Hong-Ri following the group stages, after impressive performances in OMG’s quarterfinal against Korea’s NaJin White Shield.

This was to be OMG’s star-studded starting roster, with well-known – or in the case of Cloud, up and coming – talent across all five positions.

Entering into their highly-publicized honeymoon phase, OMG tore through the first two weeks of the 2015 LoL Pro League Spring Split, sweeping Vici Gaming, Energy Pacemaker, Star Horn Royal Club, and Masters 3, while dropping only one game to Snake Esports.

China’s super team stalled in Week 4, with 1-1 splits against both Gamtee and Invictus Gaming. As China’s hybrid rosters– EDG, Snake, Vici, iG, and M3 – found their rhythm and communication systems, OMG sputtered. Their once-touted creativity turned into questionable champion choices and dubious in-game decision making. The team shrugged off criticism by stating that they were purposely playing their worst champions while preparing for their playoff run.

OMG’s playoff run lasted all three games. They lost 0-3 to LGD in their Bo5 quarterfinal, leaving both OMG players and fans scratching their heads as to what went wrong. OMG, the chosen team of China, exited the 2015 LPL Spring Split with their lowest finish in team history.

Throughout their storied history, OMG has been known as a creative team, especially with Loveling in the jungle role. Loveling’s synergy with Cool is extraordinary, albeit borderline codependent, as Cool came to rely on Loveling for specific ward placement. However, working in tandem with Gogoing, the three effectively dismantle OMG’s opposition by creating early pressure. Loveling would either gank top or mid, and whichever solo laner to snowball their advantage, either Gogoing or Cool, would then aid Loveling in invading the enemy jungle, which then transitioned into oppressive control of the map.

A key player in this strategy was the oft-forgotten AD Carry Guo “San” Jun-Liang.

With the majority of resources funneled into their top, mid, and jungle positions, OMG relied on San’s self-sufficiency. San had an uncanny ability to execute his required damage without the majority of the team’s resources. Cloud’s playmaking ability from the support position only added to this, as he would roam and gank mid, allowing Cool to push his advantage easily. With their solo lanes ahead, and their AD carry safely farming, OMG thrived, losing to EDward Gaming in the 2014 LPL Summer Playoffs, and Star Horn Royal Club in the 2014 Regional Finals.

Unlike San, Uzi is neither self-sufficient nor safe. Mechanically gifted and audacious, Uzi is a playmaker. He relies far more on his teammates than San does, not necessarily from them funneling gold to him, but in his assumption that they will always be present to follow up on his aggression.

Uzi’s prior experience on Star Horn Royal Club had trained him to assume the support of his teammates, regardless of circumstance. When Uzi struck, Star Horn moved alongside him. This upbringing made him an odd fit for the existing system of OMG. OMG tried to adapt to Uzi’s playstyle, sending Loveling to the bottom lane frequently, but this upset the synergy he had with Cool and especially Gogoing. Without Loveling’s jungle attention, Gogoing floundered throughout the 2015 Spring Season, a skeleton of the carry top presence that he was in prior LPL seasons.

Hurt by not only a less creative pathing style but also the late-season meta shift following patch 5.5, Loveling’s presence was effectively neutered. OMG forced him off of his favorites – Lee Sin, Jarvan IV – and onto the popular picks of Sejuani, Gragas, and Nunu. Loveling continued to play aggressively, only on more supportive jungle picks and with less creative pathing, making routine trips to the bottom lane for Uzi. In redistributing their resources, OMG reduced the impact of Loveling, the most crucial player to their success.

Echoes fade and memories die: Star Horn Royal Club

While OMG was known for being an inventive and resourceful team, Star Horn Royal Club were known for one specific style. For years, the balance of Star Horn Royal Club revolved around one player, the aforementioned Uzi. In two World Championship finals appearances, it was Uzi who was the rightful star, carry, and crown jewel of the team. His exit left a power vacuum that was made larger by Star Horn’s inability to fill it.

The scrambling Star Horn Royal Club signed the best domestic AD carry – arguably the best AD carry in the world – Zhu “NaMei” Jia-Wen, in the wake of Uzi’s departure. Waffling a bit before signing him, Star Horn’s acquisition of NaMei occurred after the roster lock, making him ineligible to play for the first eight weeks of the season. This left Star Horn with few immediate options, and they settled on Zhai “HYY” Wen-Han for the majority of their matches.

In Star Horn’s successful latter half of 2014, Lei “corn” Wen and Jiang “Cola” Na aided Uzi from the mid and top lanes respectively. They would often dedicate their peel and crowd control to Uzi in order for him to execute his aggressive plays. This was complemented by Choi “inSec” In-Seok’s similarly reckless abandon from the jungle. However, where inSec would often act as a solitary distraction or decoy, Uzi was shadowed by his aforementioned teammates and his bot lane partner Yoon “Zero” Kyung-sup.

With Uzi as an AD carry, Zero became his support shadow, dedicating all of his resources to Uzi’s success. All of his peel, plays and presence ensured that Uzi could carry Star Horn to victory. Without Uzi, or a similarly strong carry, Zero’s performance was inconsistent. He spent the first few matches of 2015 LPL Spring partnering with inSec, and the two successfully roamed around the map. Unfortunately, in Zero’s absence, HYY became a liability in bot. Zero settled down in lane with his new bot lane partner, and Star Horn settled into mediocrity.

In his triumphant Week 8 return, NaMei initially appeared to drag Star Horn back into a world where they would avoid relegation. NaMei dazzled in his LPL homecoming – putting on a Jinx clinic in Star Horn’s 2-0 sweep of Gamtee – but the team had already fallen too far in the standings, and other teams like Team WE surged late in the season. Star Horn failed to make the 2015 LPL Summer, dropping into the 2015 LoL Secondary Pro League.

Accompanied by an unlucky injury to their starting jungler, inSec, on March 26, Star Horn’s 2015 Spring demise cannot solely be blamed on losing Uzi. Had the team been able to play with NaMei from Week 1, it’s possible that their end wouldn’t have been nearly as bitter. However, as OMG struggled with integrating Uzi into their preexisting identity, Star Horn equally struggled with finding an identity in his absence.

Autumn frosts have slain July

While it would be easy place the recent implosion of OMG and Star Horn Royal Club on the Uzi signing, it’s not simply the absence or addition of Uzi that hurt these teams, but what they did with the their available talent following his transfer.

OMG failed to recognize how their team worked and what Uzi would do to their team’s in-game hierarchy. Without considering playstyle, or first evaluating how their current team operates, OMG jumped to the perceived best option and it upset the balance of their team. Star Horn failed to adapt their strategy in Uzi’s absence. League of Legends is a game of pluses and minuses, where a finite amount of resources must be dispersed in the most effective way possible among five team members. When acquiring a player, especially a well-known one like Uzi, playstyles should contribute towards deciding where in-game resources will go, and whether a player fits the existing team identity.

The core of Star Horn remains in the LPL, now rebranded under the Team King logo, aiming to make it to Worlds for the third straight season. With NaMei as their AD carry from the start of the season, they should look less lost and more cohesive.

Similarly, OMG has regrouped, acquiring a new coach. The organization’s first move was benching Loveling, Ggoing, and Cloud. OMG’s performance this season will rely on how they reassess their talent and determine where the respective pieces fit, and this move suggests that they unfortunately remain unaware.