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

by Kelsey Moser Apr 1 2015
Thumbnail image courtesy of LPL / LPL screengrab

It’s rare enough for an organization to discover a player talented enough to be called the best in the world at his position; it’s nearly unheard of for the same organization to do it twice, especially outside of Korea. World Elite discovered the world’s greatest AD carry twice in a row.

Many will rank World Elite’s Gao “WeiXiao” Xuecheng as not only the greatest AD carry to ever play League of Legends, but as one of the top five players of all time. This isn’t about him; this is about the AD carry named Devil, later called NaMei, who World Elite signed in 2012. Devil started on a team called World Elite i-rocks, a team that was never supposed to be that good, or at least not two-time LPL finalist good.

Since the 2014 LPL Spring finals, a lot of things have been said about NaMei, and not all of them are true. He’s not perfect. He’s not a mechanical god in so far as his outplays can form an in-exhaustive volume of YouTube highlights. He’s not good on “literally every AD carry champion.” He is not over-rated. From the end of 2013 through at least the first half of 2014, NaMei was the best AD carry playing League of Legends.

But before that, he was no one.

When World Elite announced World Elite i-rocks’ full roster, they did so with this statement:

“Team WE always adheres to the mantra ‘tap new, train new people,’ the team building ideal. After a period of study, WE signed five domestic potentially great newcomers under the title sponsor of the famous brand i-rocks of peripherals.”

Initially, World Elite i-rocks was impressive, but not too impressive. They were formed under the shadow of World Elite right before their period of international and domestic dominance. For promising new squads like World Elite i-rocks and OMG, first or second place titles seemed impossible at any event attended by both World Elite and their rivals, Invictus Gaming. WE i-rocks placed third or fourth, even after the purchase and rebranding of the team as Positive Energy in late 2012.

In late January 2013, Positive Energy and eleven other Chinese teams were tapped to qualify for the first ever Tencent Games League of Legends Pro League. To say no one expected any team other than Team WE, PE’s ex-sister team, to take the league was an understatement. They were still in the midst of their undefeated six month streak, and their position in LPL was assured without a qualifier.

Even if WE didn't dominate, iG was primed for their heyday, and PE wasn't on the radar.

The complacent stare of Clearlove

Oh My God, the real Cinderella story of 2013 LPL Spring, qualified for the league in the same tournament as Positive Energy, and their strong showing pegged PE as the fourth best team in the league at best, and even then Royal Club Huang Zu vied for contention to drop them into fifth. Some began to whisper about Devil, but the murmurs would increase to a cacophony in the coming months.

Positional Threat

2013 LPL Spring Champion Pick Data:

Champion Picks W W Rate (%) Banned
Varus 15 10 66.67 6
Caitlyn 7 3 42.86 4
Kog'Maw 5 2 40.00 0
Vayne 2 1 50.00 0
Urgot 2 2 100.00 0
Draven 1 0 00.00 0
Graves 1 0 00.00 0
Jayce 1 1 100.00 0

One of the first secrets of NaMei’s career is that, at any given point, he’s really good at one champion in particular. He’s perhaps best known for his explosive Twitch play in 2013 LPL Summer, but in 2013 LPL Spring, it was Varus. Varus wasn’t a well-kept secret, and during the early part of 2013, his utility and damage output were exceptional, but NaMei was the only AD carry in LPL against whom a Varus ban would become necessary toward the end of the season.

Varus became NaMei’s most-played champion and his most successful. Out of 15 games, he only lost five, and PE received six total Varus bans.

Aside from Varus, 2013 LPL Spring marked a hefty portion of NaMei’s development. From the first match PE played against Invictus Gaming, the regular season winners, it was clear NaMei was a potent threat. For the first half of the game, he spent most his time in lane farming, and iG slowly began to take control. Despite dropping three deaths early, Invictus Gaming’s Zzitai would ramp up on Karthus enough to punish Ziv and JoJo for their early indiscretions.

When NaMei joined the fray, PE won team fights around Baron. His Chain of Corruption grouped targets, and his positioning kept him safe even against a team like iG. He ended the 36 minute game with a score of 6/1/5 despite the loss.

Jing, Positive Energy's jungler in 2013 LPL

This was one of the only games of the 2013 Spring LPL that PE would play without their much-touted jungler, Jing. Outside NaMei and support Sicca, Jing held the roster together. He could rely on NaMei and Sicca to win lane on their own, and he would bolster solo laners JoJo and Aluka. By now, much of the world is familiar with Aluka, the top laner of the Team WE Squad that knocked the GE Tigers from the Intel Extreme Masters, placing second overall. Let’s just say he wasn’t the star on Positive Energy either.

Like Aluka, JoJo represented a mixed bag. He received by far the most jungle attention of PE, and sometimes he would rack up the kills and brute force his way through team fights, while other times he flopped completely.

To assure I don’t undersell NaMei’s teammates, let’s be clear; Jing was the best jungler during the Spring 2013 Season. He played a wide array of meta champions, could keep up with the fast style made prevalent by league leaders Invictus Gaming and OMG, and bridged the early game until team fight phase when NaMei led the charge. He and Sicca, one of the few vision-driven supports in LPL 2013, are now-retired gems of Chinese League of Legends history.

Jing’s and Sicca’s greatest claims to fame would be in helping shape NaMei’s play style. No one could describe them as peel-oriented players, but they held down the fort. NaMei could get the items he wanted and play aggressively in lane, unhindered. No jungler could match Jing, and Sicca kept lanes lit, meaning NaMei could play as far forward or back as he wanted in laning phase. In his Caitlyn games, especially against Royal Club Huang Zu, it wasn’t uncommon to see him flash past towers to snipe kills. This ingrained laning phase recklessness still shows echoes now in NaMei’s play, and is likely responsible for the kills he tends to give up early in present day LPL.

Sicca and NaMei, a bromance for the ages

With relatively lackluster solo laners and a still-developing identity, Positive Energy wasn’t a great team in 2013 LPL Spring, just a consistent team. Though they only lost twice to bottom four teams, they would only take two games off the top three, but not just any top three team. In the 2013 LPL Spring regular season, Positive Energy split even with OMG.

For their first win against OMG, the stars aligned for PE’s best game of the regular split. JoJo could not lane well against Cool, so he played a roaming Evelynn. Jing picked away the freight train Hecarim from BigPomelo's clutches. NaMei didn’t carry this game by himself, because at the time, he couldn’t. However, he took towers and won team fights with Chains of Corruption to seal the deal.

He didn’t hard carry their second win against OMG either, but his reactions to Malphite and Hecarim threats were clutch as Vayne, and he remained alive on game-winning team fights despite lockdowns meant for him.

Overall, PE only managed one more win than Royal Club for the regular season. During the Spring, PE wasn’t a top LPL team, but a middle team much closer to Royal Club in skill. Only one win separated Invictus Gaming, OMG, and Team WE for first, second, and third place. Four wins separated Team WE and PE.

PE had no part in the takedown of Team WE that occurred that spring. In fact, PE was one of the only two teams in the league to not win a game against WE.

But, that was the split NaMei came into his own as an AD carry, when he branched out into champions other than Varus, but kept the same essential quality that truly made him great: his understanding of threat zones.

NaMei was never a flashy player, but he knew where to stand in a team fight. He knew how far forward he could place himself to maximize damage to punish the enemy AD carry when he went in to kill creeps.  

This calculated style of play made him excel more at champions like Varus or Kog’Maw without escape abilities. In fact, his play seemed weaker on champions with escape abilities, as he played more recklessly. Without escapes, NaMei saved flash to avoid crucial lockdowns and stood at the appropriate distance to poke or deal damage, while kiting approaching tanks.

The first game where the Uzi vs NaMei discussion became relevant in LPL was the the third round faceoff between PE and Royal Club. Uzi picked away NaMei’s Varus, had an exceptional early game, and NaMei went down six deaths until 27 minutes in, when he and Sicca ambushed the Royal Club team from over a wall. This fight won PE the game from ten kills and seven thousand gold down.

The turning point

With so many eyes on him, NaMei wouldn't stand out as a truly great AD carry in China until the Playoffs. He had taken the regular season to rise and develop, but his surprising play against Invictus Gaming was akin to the awakening of the ancient Chinese forces that shaped a tradition of truly magnificent MOBA carries. He borrowed their powers for the best-of-three and more than a year going forward.

Positive Energy pulled off the biggest upset in LPL history in the Spring Playoffs. Invictus Gaming only dropped one game to Positive Energy in a G League best-of-five in January. In LPL Spring, Invictus Gaming took first place and lost six games of 28: three to OMG, one to Royal Club, and two to WE. In four regular season best-of-ones, they nearly flattened PE. IG were heavy favorites in the matchup, if not to take the tournament over OMG or WE.

Except iG didn’t ban Varus. As a result, NaMei was able to get a free win for PE off a single champion pick. Despite PDD picking Rumble, a champion on which he barely lost a handful of games in his career, NaMei and PE would have firm control over Game 1. Within ten minutes, NaMei had taken both side turrets and begun to roam on Varus to use Chain of Corruption and net his team free kills. By the end of the first game, NaMei had a score of 4/1/11, and PE had 18 kills in total.

NaMei and Sicca 2v3 in Invictus Gaming's base

NaMei finished Game 2 with a similar score line, and iG dropped to the third-fourth place decider while PE advanced to the Finals.

It was there that the OMG and Positive Energy rivalry kicked off. Before the season began, no one could predict that third and fourth place OMG and PE would be the last teams standing. 2013 LPL Spring Finals was a war of attrition between the players that would become China's strongest solo laners and China's strongest bottom lane by the end of the year.

OMG won 3-1, but they would ban Varus in three of those four games to take the Championship. NaMei was primed to take his place as the best AD carry in China, but his strongest rival still stood in his way. Positive Energy had yet to take a game off Team WE.

Continued in Part 2.

Kelsey Moser is a staff writer for the Score eSports and an avid excavator of Chinese League of Legends history. You can follow her on Twitter.