If you were watching a Samsung Blue or Edward Gaming match in 2014, there's a good chance they fell behind early. There was also a better chance that they ended up winning.
Both teams had a primary offender at their core. For Edward Gaming, Clearlove’s low-pressure heavy-farm style often caused the team to play safe and relinquish advantages to more actives junglers. In the case of Samsung Blue, Deft’s awkward half-commitment to trades in lane made it such that it was not uncommon for him to give up kills before 10 minutes to his opponents.
In December of 2014, Samsung as we knew it disbanded, and Deft joined Edward Gaming. This union should have reinforced EDG’s natural stalling style, but the team finishes games faster than ever, and Deft crushes his opponents on a regular basis. Deft’s usually-unstable laning phase has given Clearlove a new sense of direction, making them a dominant early game combination.
Compensating for gaps in playstyle is often the unspoken goal of team design, but the roots of these player flaws aren't immediately apparent. In February of 2013, the MVP organization had only just scouted and acquired Deft, but Clearlove was at the height of his career on one of the most dominant teams in League of Legends history, Team WE.
With names like WeiXiao and Misaya on WE’s roster, Clearlove is a footnote, but it was his and support player Fzzf’s inclusion in early fall of 2012 that turned the squad from promising to monstrous. No one contests the sheer power of AD carry WeiXiao in absorbing most of the team’s gold and dealing most of its damage, but in many ways, Clearlove was the secondary carry of Team WE.
Clearlove and Misaya turned the jungle-mid dynamic on its head when Misaya made map pressure a personal mission statement with his Twisted Fate play and Clearlove took to farming with a vengeance to bring the pain in late game team fights. Some of his most successful champions during this period were Nunu and Hecarim, known for mobility, farming, and team fight usage. WE even employed a strategy that put Clearlove on a devastating Zed that could farm and destroy with an overall 3-1 success record.
The fact that Clearlove is a jungler and not a particularly strong one has always been one of his flaws. Jungling is something he just has to do sometimes to get to the part of the game he really wants to play. In Edward Gaming, without the map pressure of Misaya, the simple fix was for the team to stay in lane and minimize the early losses that would occur as a result of a lack of pressure. Sometimes Clearlove would show up to start a snowball, and in those cases, EDG could end games in under 30 minutes. For the most part, the Chinese team with the best record and most tournament accolades in 2014 had to constantly compensate for deficits.
Deft is three years younger than Clearlove, but his dominance in his region is only less significant by virtue of its length. Even when his team, MVP Blue, could not make the Round of 8 in 2013 Champions Spring and Summer, Deft was earning accolades. Under the Samsung banner in late 2013 and early 2014, they started making waves, even against SK Telecom T1 K at WCG qualifiers.
During the buzz, Deft stood at the center as the first player internationally to show Lucian’s power in competitive matches. When Dade joined Samsung Blue, Deft took second fiddle, but everything else would fall into place.
Dade set up team fights well by wedging his way into the game, and Spirit’s counter-jungling kept eyes on the enemy. Even so, Deft wasn’t safe. He would give up kills in half-hearted scuffles, sometimes 1v2 when his support Heart would leave lane to roam and secure vision. Over-extensions and hesitant lane trades from Deft were part of what set Samsung Blue behind in the early phases of their games, but Deft’s reactionary play, aim, and damage output in team fights almost always made it irrelevant. Samsung Blue could well have become the second team to ever secure two Champions titles in a row, if it weren’t for those meddling Arrows.
Putting both Clearlove and Deft on the same team seems like a terrible idea. In a way, the conjunction of the flaws of these two players cost the team one of their only two losses in 20 LPL games so far. In Snake’s first victory, they targeted Deft’s Sivir in the early and mid game. An over-extension on Deft’s part gave up first blood, then after a couple skirmishes, Deft was repeatedly targeted in the bottom lane while shoving out minion waves. Despite a Baron sneak and some clever team fighting, Deft ended the game with a scoreline of 1/6/4. During this game, Clearlove’s presence on the map was nonexistent. As a team still finding their synergy and without a team fight-based mid laner, Edward Gaming struggled to circumvent their early game deficit.
In the past, when EDG has fallen behind, they’ve worked to minimize their losses. Koro1 was notorious in Spring 2014 for losing by 20-30 creeps, but not giving up deaths. His zone control late game seemed independent of gold deficit. NaMei and Fzzf weren’t impervious to ganks, but they would avoid poor engages that costed them 2v2 or 1v1 kills. U’s team fighting late game wiped out health bars. Clearlove didn’t really have to adapt because they didn’t need him to.
While that might sound like a weakness or a criticism of Deft relative to his predecessor on EDG, it isn’t. The end result makes both Deft and Clearlove look like much better players.
In the series immediately following their 0-2 BO2 loss to Snake, LGD Gaming were made to look worse than any opponents Edward Gaming faced up to that point. A big part of that was the beginning of EDG’s transition to a team based around Deft. Clearlove practically took up residence in Deft’s lanes for both games, and Deft demolished his opponents both 2v2 and 2v1. Despite LGD being heavier favorites in the league than Snake, he ended the first game with a 6/0/9 scoreline and the second at 10/1/3.
If you buy the narrative, Clearlove and Deft have become fast friends in the Edward Gaming house. Several interviews address the topic. When Deft first duo-queued with Clearlove on stream, the viewer count broke 1.5 million, and he used an account called “Chastelove.” When Deft appeared in the chat of ex-teammate Acorn’s stream, he asked Acorn if he “missed Deft.” Acorn replied “no, Deft like Clearlove.” I’ve never been one to lend much credence to the power of friendship for its own sake, but the synergy and respect translates in game.
Watching EDG’s games now, Clearlove and the rest of team set Deft up to succeed. Koro1’s laning phase, though still strong, has been less dramatic and devastating than it was at the start of the split because opponents know his jungler isn’t on his side of the map. Meiko’s roams create vision in the jungle around Deft’s lane such that if the enemy jungler does dare to make moves on that side of the map, a roam from PawN will make him regret it.
While not always ganking, Clearlove is never far away; as with last year, he has the highest kill participation on Edward Gaming at 68.84%, but Deft isn’t far behind at 67.84%. Last summer, Clearlove had the highest kill participation rate for his team of any other player in LPL. Though hovering around one side of the map might make Clearlove’s jungle pathing predictable and exploitable by competitors, getting him involved earlier is statistically a recipe for EDG’s success.
With less of a team fight focused mid laner in PawN, EDG can't afford as many mistakes in the early game — Deft has stepped up. His trades in lane are less half-hearted, and along with Meiko, he can actually command a 2v2, even if Clearlove doesn't gank.
Deft overall is the focal point of the early game, and it has translated into confident play on his part. The idea that a late game carry like Deft can suddenly make things happen in lane should terrify his opponents.
In an interview in December after winning G League Finals with EDG, Deft said he believes DanDy, Spirit, and Clearlove are all strong, but Clearlove is the strongest. Most would argue Clearlove can’t hold a candle to either under most common jungler criteria, but perhaps Clearlove is the strongest of the three for Deft.
Their flaws and strengths align in such a way that they can lean on each other to find early game power. Deft needs Clearlove to be a jungler, so he is one. That makes all the difference.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore eSports and watches way too much Chinese LoL. You can follow her on Twitter.