Stepping out of Uzi's shadow: Peco's turn

by theScore Staff Feb 23 2016
Thumbnail image courtesy of IEM / ESL

“Well, someone tell me, when is it my turn?
Don't I get a dream for myself?
Starting now it's gonna be my turn.
Gangway, world, get off of my runway!
Starting now I bat a thousand!”

— Rose’s Turn, Gypsy

It's the 2013 League of Legends Pro League Spring Split. The region's most dominant team, Team WE, were starting to cool-off. Gao “WeiXiao” Xuecheng still carried the title of the world's best AD carry, but both he and WE began to stumble. Meanwhile, OMG had shrugged off their self-imposed laning phase constraints and Zhu “NaMei” Jiawen’s name grew from a hushed whisper to a household name.

2013 represented one of the steepest periods in League of Legends history for the LPL's AD carry competition. As WeiXiao lingered in the conversation, Jian “Uzi” Zihao's raw skill was impossible to ignore with Royal Club Huang Zu’s “Raise the puppy” strategy, and NaMei’s rise has its own story.

RELATED: The Varus that took out Invictus: Part 1 of 3 in an assessment of NaMei's career

Any Chinese AD carry who craved notoriety would struggle to make himself stand out that year. One player in particular flew under the radar, in part because he primarily played for bottom tier teams, but also because he seemed to lack a certain spark that that the others had. Rather than become the fourth name to stud the LPL AD carry crown, Yu “Peco” Rui would find a near-permanent position in Uzi’s shadow.

Peco has gone by many different names throughout his time in the LPL and the League of Legends Secondary Pro League, including F1sh, Avenger, Quiet, ASHE, Sins, Mes, and, more recently, TnT. “It’s just a name,” Peco said, “so I don’t care very much about it.”

Constant name changes make Peco resonate less with casual esports fans, and makes it seems as if he's actively avoided the limelight. It’s only come to him reluctantly, if at all, as his playstyle has often allowed him to serve as a solid carry threat without pulling peel or attention. Peco’s first LPL team, LiveMore, were, by all accounts, mediocre. From their Nike knockoff “Love Players Hate Blockers” jerseys to their sixth place finish, they never managed to make a splash in the scene. In fact, their only noteworthy win was against a collapsing Team WE.

Tian Ci saw enough talent in LiveMore to purchase the team alongside fifth place LPL team, Royal Club. He consolidated existing rosters into LMQ Tian Ci while improving the players around Uzi on the main Royal Club team. Peco and top laner Yao “Dreams” Yuan were the only two players from LiveMore to start for the majority of LMQ’s LPL games in the 2013 LPL Summer Season.

Young Peco in 2013 LPL Spring

Peco’s career started down a path that would intertwine him with Uzi’s trajectory. Both LiveMore and Royal Club finished in sixth and fifth respectively in the 2013 Spring Split, but Royal Club Huang Zu distanced themselves from their sister team in the summer season. Royal Club tied for second place with Positive Energy and Team WE, finishing with a 13-8 record that literally mirrored LMQ’s 8-13.

Uzi took center stage for Royal Club, gobbling resources and actively seeking to stand out in aggressive trades — he wanted to be the star. Top laner Xiao “GoDlike” Wang recalled that playing scrims against Cloud9 at the World Championship convinced Uzi that switching to jungle was ideal for carrying his team. Uzi wanted to be the star, he had the talent needed to be a star, and so he was one.

By contrast, despite contributing heavily to LMQ’s bare minimum success with careful teamfight positioning, Peco lacked the same gravitas and demanding playstyle. Mid laner Yu “XiaoWeiXiao” Xian excelled in the farm game but lacked overall pressure while Peco seemed to carry in the team phase. Yet within the context of his sixth place team, Peco didn’t stand out to the extent that Uzi did on Royal Club Huang Zu.

Following the World Championship, both Royal Club and LMQ underwent radical changes. Three of the Royal Club's five members chose to retire, and Uzi seemed bent on transitioning away from the AD carry role, which created an opening on the main squad. As a team, LMQ decided to make the trip to Los Angeles in an attempt to qualify for the North American League of Legends Championship Series.

Peco made a choice that would put him on the same team as Uzi for the first time. He became Royal Club’s AD carry while Uzi transitioned, first to the jungle, and then to the mid lane role.

“First,” Peco said, “I didn’t have the best relationship with NoName, LMQ’s jungler. Second, I felt the players on LMQ weren’t that strong, and since LMQ at the time was Royal Club’s B Team, I thought I had a better chance of doing well on the main team.”

Craving a chance to place in the top half of League of Legends Pro League, Peco remained in China. He played with Royal Club for the first time at the World Cyber Games 2013 qualifier, and despite sweeping their group and defeating Rising Stars in the quarterfinals, the makeshift Royal team lost to Team WE in the semifinals.

Top laner GoDlike reflected on his time playing with Uzi in the jungle and Peco at AD carry and remembered a moment where Peco made a “flashy play” in scrims and attempted to draw the team’s attention to it verbally. When his excitement was met with silence from the rest of the team, Peco said, “Oh, I guess you've seen too many flashy plays from Uzi.”

Perhaps that in and of itself has always been Peco’s greatest flaw in the eyes of the fan community. Resource dependent players willing to pull off flashy plays will always get more recognition than the unsung heroes that understand the value of careful teamfight positioning. Uzi’s habit of going for the outplay makes him an easy favorite.

Peco’s stint on Royal didn’t take. Rather than continuing to compete in the LPL in 2014, Peco found himself in the first split of the League of Legends Secondary Pro League as the AD carry for Vici Gaming.

“Royal Club didn’t have a lot of money to pay my salary at the time,” Peco said, “so I requested a transfer and went to Vici Gaming.”

Even within the LSPL, Peco couldn’t claim the title of undisputed best. In joining Vici Gaming, Peco replaced AD carry Han “S1mlz” Jin, who had left for WE’s LSPL team, WE Academy. WE Academy’s players excelled in the laning phase, granting them an easy first place in the LSPL, where team fighting and strategic nuances are often lost. S1mlz had high expectations and the reputation as “WeiXiao’s hand-picked disciple.”

On Vici Gaming, mid laner Wei “We1less” Zhen’s style of playing “too hero” made him the team's standout member and earned him a position on an LPL team before the end of the year. The fact that Peco didn't demand resources allowed attention to gravitate toward Vici's flashy mid laner. Not only did Peco once again find himself in another player's shadow for the entirety of 2014, but he even spent time riding the bench in the LSPL's summer season.

Ironically, Li “Vasilii” Weijun, LMQ’s substitute AD carry, enjoyed a period of success and recognition as a Tristana player in North America. He and LMQ made the trip to the World Championship as NA’s third seed team where they split 1-1 with third seed Chinese team, Oh My God. Uzi advanced to his second consecutive World Championship final.

That’s when Li “LinkO” Linke, QG Reapers’ manager, took interest in Peco. In splitting off from Stand Point Gaming as a result of the new rule that restricted the amount of LSPL teams that could be owned by the same organization, the new team then known as Qiao Gu began with Peco as their foundational team member.

Peco and Mor at QG's 2015 gaming house

Finally, Peco would have a team built around him. His first action was in choosing his own support, QG’s Zhang “Mor” Hongwei.

“I tried to convince [Mor] to come with me to Royal Club when LMQ went to NA, but he decided to leave," Peco said. "When he returned to China, I contacted him immediately.”

Anyone who has seen a QG game knows that the team doesn’t play around Peco. Korean jungler Baek “Swift” Daehoon’s aggressive team fighting style characterizes QG. If Swift goes in, so does mid laner Kim “Doinb” Taesang. Mor has admitted to prioritizing the rest of the team before his AD carry. Swift earned the most MVP points in last summer’s LPL season, and Doinb is QG’s MVP point leader this spring. Once again, Peco is nearly forgotten.

Yet that’s exactly how Peco has stood out. The verdict on Peco under the moniker of TnT in 2015 is decidedly mixed. QG didn’t make the World Championship. They didn’t attend the Mid-Season Invitational. Peco’s first and only international event was Intel Extreme Masters Cologne where QG managed to conquer Team Dignitas and a newly formed Fnatic before losing to a Korean Challenger team in the final — a Korean Challenger team that managed to defeat SK Telecom T1, but a Korean Challenger team nonetheless.

Beyond results, there are two characteristics that defined Peco during the 2015 summer season: self-sufficient teamfight positioning and a poor laning phase with Mor. Peco frequently fell behind in creeps to opposing laners, but his ability to navigate teamfights and impact them from behind allowed QG to play well around Swift without incident.

Even without peel resources, Peco managed to take care of himself, averaging the second fewest deaths on the team and finding ways to output damage and take out targets. It may surprise spectators to learn that Peco quietly secured the most kills of any player in the LPL last summer and was among the Top 5 AD carries for percentage of team gold earned, dispelling the improper “low econ carry” label.

Some have characterized QG as inconsistent. They’ve placed second in nearly every event in which they have participated, except the 2015 LPL Regional. Even with a risky playstyle, that's almost as near to the definition of consistency as an LPL team can achieve. Peco is a huge part of that. "As the team improves," Peco said during the 2015 LPL summer split, "I will seek to improve to fit the team as it changes."

Learning to play from behind and look after himself has characterized Peco in a unique way that makes him stand out, but only if you watch him carefully. His ability to look after himself in a fight allows teams to run multiple carry threats that demand more peel.

Yes, Peco struggled in lane, but the way he impacted other phases made him look like a true contender for title of “best AD carry in the LPL” for the first time in his career. Still, many fans were unimpressed, and rallied behind Uzi despite OMG’s plummeting spot in the standings. Not to mention that their favorite AD carry would occasionally find himself benched with no significant difference in win rates between when Uzi played and when he didn't.

Calls to free Uzi from the bench grew louder, and most of this past offseason's speculation fixated on which LPL team would win the Uzi sweepstakes. Even after a successful year with QG, Peco firmly remained in Uzi's shadow.

So it’s only natural that Uzi would sign with the QG Reapers.

Fans greeted the news with excitement, as QG were already a strong team, and some expected that Uzi would only make them stronger. Initial reception pitted Uzi as an upgrade over Peco in every way, especially noting Peco’s near-constant laning phase deficits and Uzi's noted 2v2 prowess.

Excitement came to a grinding halt when Manager LinkO told journalists that Uzi would likely not play for QG immediately. The team would begin working Uzi into the lineup in scrims only, and QG would start 2016 with their 2015 roster.

QG played their first match in of the new split against LGD Gaming, but it didn’t seem at all like the same team initially. Swift’s insistence on finding a gank, though punishable, propelled QG into a dominating position. The team continued to play decisively, developing a unique lane swap style.

Eventually, hints of the old QG emerged. They began losing early in objectives, but it wasn’t exactly the same. QG’s ward coverage improved, and even if they lost objectives, QG's players managed to stay even. Peco has averaged a CS lead of two minions at 10 minutes in each of the 12 games he's played, which places him in the Top 5 of LPL AD carries for CS differences at 10 minutes.

Peco’s self-sufficient positioning in teamfights has also remained immaculate, as QG managed to close down a 28-27 kill slug fest against Team OMG with Peco only dying once. His final score line was 12/1/14, and his KDA in three games for the entire week was 53.

Uzi has played three games for QG. The team’s drafting has continued to force the comparison between the two, but Peco has won out for once. Since Uzi has begun to rotate into the lineup with Peco, both carries have begun to play Ezreal exclusively. In the first two games, Uzi seemed to play as much more of a footnote to Doinb’s dominating Viktor and Swift, Doinb, and Mor’s signature diving Nidalee/Kassadin/Alistar diving composition.

QG’s first loss of the season occurred when Uzi played his third game for the team and after watching the disastrous early game, no one would dare blame Uzi for the loss. Swift ganked the 2v2 lane awkwardly, giving up a free kill, and the other two lanes all seemed to die in unison. Yet the game provided an opportunity for an audience to get a taste of Uzi when he’s put into Peco’s shoes for the first time instead of the other way around.

On Royal, Peco was put into a position to assume more of Uzi’s demanding carry role. QG have played for more than a year with a peel-intensive jungler and a self-sufficient AD carry. Uzi lacked the angle of approach in team fights that characterizes Peco’s playstyle. In the same position, Uzi found himself locked down and killed more easily. While it was only one game, the comparison finally swung into Peco’s favor.

When asked why the team valued Ezreal so highly when picks like Kalista are available for earlier rotation, Peco said, “I like [Kalista], but… Many teams pick it first, so I can't play it, and I have to use Ezreal.” QG not only value peeling for Swift, but seem to value securing strong picks for the rest of the team before their AD carry, whereas OMG last year would often first pick Kalista for Uzi, even when it wasn't overwhelmingly popular, or see it banned against them.

The real kicker? Uzi averages a CS disadvantage of six creeps at 10 minutes in the three games he’s played — the lowest of any AD carry in the LPL so far.

From the perspective of fan pressure, it’s better for QG that they lose their first game with Uzi. The roster with Uzi shows signs of less synergy, as Uzi is simply assuming Peco’s position, a position that doesn’t successfully highlight Uzi’s strengths as a player and instead only serves to illustrate ways in which Peco has developed a playstyle of his own decidedly different from Uzi’s. No one would think to blame Uzi for the loss or suggest he ride the bench on a more permanent basis at this point.

If the team had lost their first game with Peco, however, Uzi’s following may immediately suggest that the team should begin playing with their other AD carry exclusively. In the past, it was hard to see the value Peco provided that Uzi didn’t.

In Uzi’s own words at the start of the season, “I think [Peco] is also very strong, and I told him we should rotate on the team. We will progress together, hoping to achieve good results as a team.”

After this weekend, Peco leads the KDA rankings at 18.22, overcoming both Ming “clearlove” Kai, the usual KDA king, and Uzi. Though QG play around Swift, they were built around Peco. If they want Uzi to slot into the team more fluidly, they will have to change their approach.

When asked how he rated himself among LPL AD carries in August, Peco jokingly answered, “The worst.”

It's baffling to realize that some fans concurred with the sentiment based on CS deficits in laning phase. Now, two of the major contenders for "best AD carry in the LPL" share the same team.

Where comparisons to Uzi have usually damaged Peco's ability to shine, this week they made him stand out. Peco is stepping outside Uzi’s shadow. Whether he wants it or not, it’s finally his turn.

Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for theScore eSports. You can follow her on Twitter.