Numerous discussion threads have ruminated over why Hai “Hai” Du Lam makes Cloud9 a stronger team in the North American League of Legends Championship Series. Regardless of the role he plays on Cloud9, Hai’s shotcalling reportedly works miracles, spins straw into gold and transforms a group of dejected would-be League of Legend pros into North American champions.
When Ming “clearlove” Kai returned to jungle for EDward Gaming after the team failed to win a single game in Week 1 of the LPL and apparently crushed Vici Gaming with nearly unique jungle picks, redditors celebrated him as the “Hai of China.” Members of the EDward Gaming team began to perform better the same way Hai’s presence apparently made members of Cloud9 play better.
While clearlove's return to Edward Gaming did appear to make the team perform better, clearlove plays a very different role for EDG than Hai plays for Cloud9. Judging the impact either player has on his team means piecing together second or third party accounts of player behavior with in-game observations. Allegedly, clearlove and Hai have different leadership styles that impact their teams in different ways to achieve apparently similar results.
Players like Hai and clearlove are rare — so rare that it's actually hard to compare them, despite the similar effects they appear to instill.
The Hai effect
In researching Hai, one account of his value as a player and leader has left the largest impact on my perception of him. In his ‘Reflections’ interview with Duncan “Thorin” Shields, William “Scarra” Lee said that while he was living with Hai that the thing that struck him most about Cloud9’s captain was his empathy.
"Hai has very, very high empathy... He cares about your situation... I feel like he's the person who tries to keep the team together. I feel like he's the glue. I don't think it was necessarily even the shotcalling that made C9 so spectacular, it was just that they had these conflicting personalities on the team that were able to work together because Hai was able to reason — was able to take care of them in their own special way."
Scarra went on to hint at internal issues on Cloud9 and the idea that members of the team had conflicting ideas on how to play the game. The ex-Dignitas captain attributed Cloud9’s ability to succeed to the idea that Hai could understand what members of his team needed and how to bring out the best in them, despite disagreements.
While Scarra never played on Cloud9 and cannot know precisely how the team operated, this is still the best explanation of “the Hai effect” that I’ve heard. It provides a sense for why Cloud9’s individual performances in addition to their team calls seemed to appear stronger with Hai playing as opposed to when Hai sat on the bench.
One might refer to this style of captaincy as a facilitator style, but that many who have heard Cloud9’s comms have indicated that Hai has a commanding role in decision-making as well. When Hai rejoined Cloud9 as the team’s jungler in 2015, the team immediately adopted more of a split-pushing approach. Nicolaj “Incarnati0n” Jensen played Twisted Fate and pushed out a side lane in a manner reminiscent of Hai’s old Zed games. Cloud9 often operated by resorting to 1-4 splits from behind when Hai played mid, and the team had seldom attempted to adopt that strategy since his departure.
Most recently, Hai has transitioned to the support role. Cloud9 have won three of six games played in the North American League of Legends Championship Series Spring 2016, and two of the games the team lost featured Michael “Bunny FuFuu” Kurylo as starting support over Hai.
Bunny FuFuu was meant to slowly take over the shotcalling reigns, but has had little presence in comms and doesn’t seem well-suited to the role. With Hai, Cloud9 top laner An “Balls” Van Le — occasionally relegated to meme status — has had improved Teleports and actually feels present in Cloud9’s games.
Against Team Impulse, Lee “Rush” Yoonjae conducted a questionable invade without lane support, but in games where Hai plays, Rush’s ganks seem to more frequently hit lanes with minions pushed appropriately. His aggression is channeled, even in lane swap situations where Rush has traditionally seemed to struggle in the NA LCS.
Hai’s own individual impact comes more into question. As a mid laner, concerns over his wrists and lack of confidence from his team lead to Hai’s decision to retire after increasingly lagging play in each subsequent split. Hai seemed limited in his champion pool, especially toward the end of his time as a mid laner when he fell back devotedly to Zed.
As a jungler, Hai was a heavy farmer, even choosing champions like Shyvana occasionally. During his nine regular season games as a jungler, Hai averaged 19.4 percent of his team’s gold, and during the 14-game Regional Gauntlet run, Hai averaged 18.3 percent of team gold, more than William “Meteos” Hartman’s 18 percent that split. Hai’s tendency toward farming made it seem as if he had low impact in the early game and only existed for later team fights and peeling around Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi.
Hai has looked surprisingly adept on support as an engage player in search of openings for Cloud9. He hasn’t made the missteps that made him famous as an individual weakness for Cloud9 in the past, and it seems as if the less intensive support role transition has so far been good for both Hai’s health and his ability to metaphorically “keep up with the Joneses.”
Yet looking more closely at commonalities in Hai’s play as a support, jungler and mid laner, one might notice that the way Hai tends to make his presence known first in a team fight creates a very obvious point of collapse from the enemy. After this, it’s much easier for Cloud9 to pick off stragglers in stretched fights with skirmishes dotting the terrain.
Though Hai died frequently during the end of his career as a mid laner, it was often to start a fight and create points for counter-engage from the rest of Cloud9. Whatever else Bunny FuFuu may lack in communication, he doesn’t make up for it in initiave. His disappointing 40 percent kill participation in his Trundle game shows more hesitation to involve himself in Cloud9’s confrontations and create opportunities in the same way Hai does.
Outside just setting a team environment or making in-game calls, Hai’s own unique style has an underrated impact on the way Cloud9 plays. When one watches Cloud9 without Hai, players either take the wrong initiative, as with Rush and his risky invades, or wait for the game to be lost around them without trying to start the right skirmish. Hai always seems willing to bear the risk.
One also might notice that Hai has played Alistar in two of his three winning games, a champion with a high win rate in conjunction with Kalista. Alistar’s ultimate gives natural tankiness to compensate for some of Hai’s curious baits.
The argument for the strength of the Hai effect this year also loses some of its power when one notices that one of Cloud9’s losses with Bunny FuFuu happened at the hands of the undefeated Immortals. Even with Hai, Cloud9 still lost to Team SoloMid, and two of the team’s three wins were against Echo Fox and Team Dignitas.
Examining these games more closely, Team Impulse won with well-executed teleports from Shin “Seraph” Wooyeong. Rush seemed to farm much more against Immortals than Team SoloMid. Hai’s presence can be felt in the way C9 played, even if the caliber of opponents doesn’t yet speak of the impact.
Are Edward Gaming on a clearlove Hai?
Unlike Hai, clearlove isn’t known for his empathy. When people who have known clearlove talk about him, they mention his dedication to practice and League of Legends as something that possibly borders on fanaticism. In this regard, he can be something of a strict task-master. Chinese caster Sun “XiaoXiao” Yalong, once a starter for Invictus Gaming, spoke of clearlove with slight awe.
“The thing that most impresses me about Clearlove is that he wants to win so badly. He doesn't care for anything else. If his teammate is not practicing, he will poke them and say, ‘We are practicing.’ In China, there are many distractions like streaming, but Clearlove doesn't care about any of that. He only cares about winning.”
When I interviewed him in Shanghai, clearlove himself described his relationship with Gao “WeiXiao” Xuechengas one where “we would quite forcefully push each other to be better at the game,” but my translator struggled to find the direct equivalent in English, as she said clearlove’s own words were along the lines of “we would verbally beat each other to improve.”
clearlove’s return to the LPL came with stronger play in his position in every dimension than what substitute jungler Zhao “fireloli” Zhiming provided. After six games, clearlove maintains a KDA of 20.75 on four different champions. He’s improved the ward and ganking rate from the jungle position, as well as warding diversity.
Fireloli warded the same location between blue side red buff and the dragon every time he had a ward in the series against Royal Never Give Up. He fell drastically behind Liu “Mlxg” Shiyu in farm, and he had to be spoonfed a kill by Tong “Koro1” Yang so as to not be rendered useless for the later stages of the game.
In 2015, many of clearlove’s past and current teammates contributed to a birthday tribute for him in which they discussed his career. The most common factor mentioned was clearlove’s work ethic and the amount of talent he displayed in solo queue that he’s only recently been able to truly convert into his competitive play as of a year ago. His obsession with improvement finally paid off.
While clearlove has always been a strong team fighter with a focus on scaling to impact the game later, he often had a reputation for aggressive play-making in solo queue. Toward the end of 2014, he had made a mark in the top 10 of the Korean solo queue ladder, and many Korean players had begun to refer to clearlove as a free win, as one would have to be truly terrible at the game to lose with clearlove on their team. It was this reputation that allegedly attracted Kim “deft” Hyukkyu and Heo “pawN” Wonseok to Edward Gaming.
deft in particular has a reputation for adjusting his own performance as a result of his environment. If he doesn’t seem comfortable, the rumor is he won’t perform. He and pawN joined Edward Gaming to play with the player they saw in solo queue, a player clearlove only managed to find consistently during competitive games recently — not an Elise who always wards the same bush, a Graves with no late game damage or a player who frequently misses skillshots.
clearlove can sometimes have a more strict leadership style, but his own dedication to the game and his focus on personal improvement can also be motivating. Also unlike Hai, clearlove’s shotcalling is less precise. At the Mid-Season Invitational, Koro1 said, “When it comes to shot-calling, the whole team contributes ideas in the game. Only in situations where there is dissent do we follow the main shot-caller, who is clearlove.”
This is also reflected in Edward Gaming’s lack of distinct strategic improvement this year. Though clearlove’s return came with more focused compositions, in part due to new coach Jung “RapidStar” Minsung having time to work with the team and develop unique compositions around champion picks clearlove had been practicing, Edward Gaming’s set against OMG revealed that they haven’t really kept up with the split-pressure or lane swap style in the meta. The team’s strategy still lags behind, and they were reliant on late game team fighting prowess to knock out OMG’s group of castoffs.
clearlove’s presence on the roster likely helps the team more with confidence in knowing their jungler will make competent moves, in knowing that clearlove varies his warding with the plays that can be made on the map. If laners have strong vision laid out in the opponent’s jungle, they can pressure lane harder. In the series against Hyper Youth Gaming, pawN made great use of ward coverage to bully Shin “gosu” Hyuk, but against OMG, Xie “icon” Tianyu was less deterred by pawN’s posturing and commanded the lane, exposing additional flaws in Edward Gaming’s early game shotcalling and strategy.
None of this is intended to imply that Hai isn’t dedicated to the game or that clearlove has no empathy, but that finding the right player that makes a team click isn’t always about shotcalling. Different players have different leadership styles, and by most accounts, Hai’s and clearlove’s are very dissimilar.
Perhaps among Chinese players, Chen “pyl” Bo of LGD Gaming has a leadership style more like Hai’s. At the World Championship, pyl explained that he thought his leadership style was less to scold players and more to make them feel comfortable and be like brothers on whom they could rely. Prior to the new season, pyl said, “I think I'm the type of person that is easy to talk to, so it's easy for the new players to feel close.”
While LGD’s recent performances don’t make pyl look like a Hai-type player, his absence from the team for the first week of the LPL summer last year, and his return in Week 2 had an impact on LGD Gaming’s decisiveness and strategic approach similar to what Hai’s return did for Cloud9. The team began to play together, with better control of side waves.
LGD’s recent form has a lot in common with LGD during Week 1 of the LPL Summer 2015 when pyl was out recovering from jaw surgery. This points to differences in pyl’s own confidence or his leadership style in relation to Hai’s that isn’t so easily repaired.
Communication and leadership styles in League of Legends are difficult to understand and analyze with an outsider’s perspective, which is part of why so many spectators look for simple explanations for characterizing the impact players like Hai and clearlove can have on an entire team's performance. It’s easy to equate the Hai and clearlove effects when the results are the same, but it’s also possible that, language differences aside, one can’t swap clearlove and Hai so easily. A player like clearlove may have more in common with Meteos and be disastrous for Cloud9, while a player like Hai might fail to inspire the necessary confidence in EDG’s players.
Either way, it’s clear that players like Hai and clearlove are invaluable for the qualities they bring to their respective teams — and if the organizations that signed them dictate the future, retirement or bringing up fireloli may become impossible dreams.
Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore eSports. You can follow her on Twitter.