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Edge and the fall: Part 3 of 3 in an assessment of NaMei's career

by Kelsey Moser Apr 2 2015
Thumbnail image courtesy of Worlds screengrab

Continued from Part 2.

In the absence of frequent international events in League of Legends, the only way to gauge a player is to measure his overall consistency and how he and his peers stack up internationally. NaMei's showing internationally has not been great. 

Although he played well in the head-to-head against CJ Blaze's Emperor at the World Cyber Games 2013, he out-farmed his opposition in the 2v2 Finals, with 100% kill participation in the loss during Game 2. There's little to be said for "doing okay and not winning" against Blaze's AD carry.

At the 2014 World Championship, NaMei personally said that was the lowest point in his career up until that moment.

But at home, NaMei's consistency and proficiency in execution of his positional skill set has allowed him to show up the best in his region. When opponents like WeiXiao and Uzi get listed as top performers internationally, and NaMei soaks up all the titles at home over them, it's impossible not to put his name among the greats. NaMei is unique because he can be listed as one of the best players in League of Legends history, despite a lack of international credentials -  it's down to the pedigree of those he's bested on a regular basis.

NaMei and WeiXiao

NaMei has gotten himself in trouble for self aggrandizement on more than one occasion, but perhaps one of his biggest missteps within the Chinese community was claiming he would overtake WeiXiao.

WE in China is like Team SoloMid in North America, only people who don’t play League of Legends are WE fans*. WE appeared on national talk shows after their IPL 5 victory, garnering approval for their general level of attractiveness outside their skill. Still, there are fans who hold out hope that the original magic roster of CaoMei, Clearlove, Misaya, WeiXiao, and Fzzf will reunite and take down the Korean menace. Just after the 2014 World Championship, all five of them played show matches for fans, amassing well over 5 million viewers on three streams.

*NOTE: I did mean "WE is like TSM, except that you don't have to play League of Legends to have heard of and be a fan of WE." I decided to leave it as-is because of the hilarious, though unintended, jab.

Beating out WeiXiao didn’t just mean proving you were a better AD carry, but coming up against his mythos.

Despite PE toppling Invictus Gaming in the 2013 LPL Spring Playoffs, WE would remain the one straggler of LPL’s top five teams of 2013 they never bested in a convincing fashion.

One of the most memorable games of the 2013 LPL Summer regular season was the only game PE took against WE in LPL. Both WeiXiao and NaMei played what would become known as their signature champions, Ezreal and Twitch, but NaMei took complete control of the lane and the map. His use of Ambush and Spray-and-Pray constantly surprised WeiXiao and the rest of his team to take the victory. NaMei would end the game with a score of 12/2/13 (only failing to participate in two of PE's 27 kills) to WeiXiao's 10/5/7. This would mark the only LPL victory PE had over WE.

In a best-of-series, NaMei was deprived of a chance to face WeiXiao head-on throughout 2013. When WE and OMG went to the World Cyber Games in 2013, OMG replaced their bottom lane with NaMei and Sicca for the event. Although NaMei looked convincing against WeiXiao in the 2-1 victory, WE was a team on its last legs, and would pull out of their remaining off-season events for the year.

Then, NaMei was hand-picked to join Edward Gaming in 2014, where he became the primary carry in a team containing two of WeiXiao’s former teammates, Clearlove and Fzzf. Edward Gaming was less about NaMei than WE was about WeiXiao, though NaMei would still be granted most of the gold resources on the roster.

In 2014 LPL Spring, WE managed to take two games off Edward Gaming: once in the regular season when EDG decided to play with Sejuani jungle and Jayce AD carry, and one in the semifinals when NaMei decided to play Caitlyn with first trinket orb of deception.

WeiXiao would seldom win a 2v2 against NaMei and Fzzf with Conan as his support. Outside the lane is where they came to blows, and no one could touch NaMei in team fights during 2014 LPL. Occasionally, as in the final mirror match of the 2014 LPL Spring Semifinals, WeiXiao would out-lane NaMei, only to be flashed on and destroyed by him in team phase.

Edward Gaming after a 2014 LPL win over WE

In 2014 LPL Summer, WE continued to be put down by Edward Gaming, but WeiXiao would have a renaissance. Taking as much as 40% of his team’s kills, he thrived in 1v1 lanes against the enemy top laner while Conan went roaming. When turret and dragon changes took effect, he went back to suffering in the 2v2, but before that, WE would take EDG 2-1 in the IEM Shenzhen Finals that qualified WE for the IEM World Championship.

WeiXiao could kite better than any AD carry in the world over the course of his career, but the reality was that he couldn't adapt. He couldn't take a back seat when WE needed him to, and the team gave up dragons when he continued to try and force top lane 1v1s. Adaptability is where NaMei has excelled, playing two different styles on two different high level teams. He out-survived WeiXiao. In team fights, NaMei always had a bit of an edge on Edward Gaming with IEM Shenzhen finals being the exception.

The rivalry ultimately came to a head in the last Bo2 of the 2014 LPL Summer regular season. If WE took a game from Edward Gaming, they would have made the Playoffs. NaMei played some of the best games of 2014 on Corki and Kog’Maw with scorelines of 5/0/6 and 7/2/4, WE placed fifth, and WeiXiao retired.

After a poor 2013 LPL Summer, WeiXiao bounced back, and NaMei finally got a chance to get the better of his greatest rival, not just on speculative grounds, but in the game.

Uzi

I’ve written a separate article on the topic, but until the tail ends of either 2013 or 2014, Uzi wasn’t a contender for best AD carry in China. His all-in playstyle made him stand out as a "mad dog" in Royal Club's "raise the puppy" strategy. He could be a close second or third to WeiXiao or NaMei, but his rivalry with NaMei wasn't truly prominent during the LPL regular seasons. In 2013 Spring, PE won three of four games against Royal Club, and NaMei decisively crushed Uzi with Caitlyn in two of them. In 2013 LPL Summer, PE took the advantage in Bo1s, 2-1.

Royal Club Huang Zu bested Positive Energy in 2013 Regionals during their period of roster upheaval, and Uzi boasted massive scorelines in both games. In Game 1, he went 8/0/11 on Ezreal, but NaMei would fight back in the late game and prove an adamant irritation to end both games with positive scorelines.

Comparing Royal Club’s 2014 record to EDG’s yields similar results. In 2014 Spring, EDG would go 4-0 to Royal Club, with Royal Club once again failing to make Spring Playoffs. In the Summer, Star Horn Royal Club defeated EDG in three of four games, and Uzi had an overall much larger game impact than NaMei in at least two of them.

The draft during the final Regional game between SHRC and EDG

Once again, only Star Horn posed a threat toward the end of the regular season, and the 2-0 they achieved happened in Week 9. The 1-1 happened in spite of an EDG lead as a result of a creative backdoor called by inSec. In Playoffs, OMG beat out SHRC twice 3-2, and the winning team barely put up a fight against EDG, who beat them 3-1 and then 3-0 (with a one game upper bracket advantage in the Grand Final). In the Regional Finals after Playoffs, SHRC got a chance to face EDG in a best-of-series, and they fell 2-1 with Uzi mispositioning at a crucial moment around Baron.

Outside two Chinese Regional tournaments, Uzi has made the finals of two domestic events, and NaMei's teams were invited to neither. Outside the 2013 Chinese Regional that gave Royal Club Huang Zu China's first seed at the 2013 World Championship, Uzi holds no domestic titles. Since the start of 2013, NaMei has qualified for the finals of 14 domestic events. He's won a total of nine Chinese tournaments.

NaMei isn’t a flashy player with a massive highlight real, but Uzi is. Undeniably, Uzi’s skill ceiling will beat out NaMei’s. Quite possibly, Uzi’s skill ceiling could even trump WeiXiao’s at his peak. Uzi’s problem has never been his power or his potential or his mechanics, but his consistency. Until recently, consistency, adaptability, and calculation have always allowed NaMei to pull ahead of him. With WeiXaio departing from the competitive scene, if NaMei wants to name a Chinese rivalry, it has to be Uzi.

After the era of WE, NaMei has dominated China as an AD carry for nearly two years. Since he's returned to competitive play in 2015, Uzi has been winning handily.

Relegation

Post Worlds, NaMei and Edward Gaming continued to have a dominant offseason domestically. Edward Gaming advanced to the finals of every event to which they were invited, only placing second at IEM Shenzhen to WE in July and to King in the National Electronic Sports Tournament in November: another 2-1 loss. All told, Edward Gaming advanced to the finals of 11 domestic events with NaMei and won eight of them with him on the roster. Though NaMei would play with EDG through G League Semifinals, Deft would play for them for their ninth tournament victory.

NaMei isn't good because he's flashy or has a massive champion pool. His positional advantages are based on understanding threat zones, choosing the correct range in fights to kite and continue to auto-attack. His use of Varus and Jinx ultimates as well as Twitch's Ambush show that one of his greatest strengths is his engagement sense and surprising map pressure for an AD carry. He's able to manipulate his strengths and understand his opposition well enough to stand above the greatest AD carries in China for a prolonged period of time. NaMei has adapted to two very different team environments and served as a primary carry in both.

His over-extensions, vision reliance, liberal use of escapes, and over-confidence have cost him. It continues to cost him now.

Despite offseason success, Edward Gaming picked up a Korean AD carry, ex-Samsung Blue Kim “Deft” Hyuk-kyu. NaMei left the organization after being offered a spot on Star Horn Royal Club when Uzi went to OMG.

2015 LPL Summer Champion Pick Data

Champion Picks W Win Rate (%) Banned
Jinx 4 3 75.00% 0
Kog'Maw 2 1 0.00% 0
Twitch 1 0 0.00% 0
Corki 1 0 0.00% 0
Kalista 1 0 0.00% 0

SHRC signed NaMei outside the transfer window. ACE imposes transfer window regulations to prevent midseason player poaching. Despite an amicable exchange from EDG, NaMei was not permitted to play for Star Horn Royal Club until mid-March, eight weeks into 2015 LPL Spring.

Having shown signs of growing pains in adjusting to a new roster twice in his career before exerting control, first with Jing leaving Positive Energy, and then when he joined Edward Gaming, the odds have been stacked against NaMei. Several supporters have optimistically declared that Star Horn Royal Club could be an even better team with NaMei, including EDG’s coach, Ji “Aaron” Xing, praising NaMei’s adaptability.

NaMei returned to LPL with a promising start, 2-0ing Gamtee and splitting 1-1 with King. NaMei’s positioning on Jinx in the first two sets seemed as immaculate as ever. He shirked boots in favor of six damage items, telling the interviewer at the end of the set that, to play an AD carry without escapes, one must simply “just dodge everything.”

Fzzf and NaMei shaking hands after their loss to ahq at Worlds

In Week 9, he didn’t dodge. NaMei was caught several times after a rough laning phase in both sets against Edward Gaming and WE, which cost the team four games, including NaMei’s first ever loss on Jinx.

Just three points below the illusive eighth place spot in LPL, SHRC is facing relegation. In the coming weeks, SHRC faces Vici Gaming, Invictus Gaming, and Snake, teams in the top six of LPL. Their best shot is 2-0ing Energy Pacemaker and praying for a miracle. Otherwise, they must play the Promotion against the bottom four teams and LSPL teams placing third through sixth with only two LPL spots up for grabs.

NaMei is under more pressure than he’s ever been. Morale has decayed on the team, as evidenced by post-game shots of inSec holding his face in his hands, and he’s taking up the reigns as the primary shotcaller for the first time in his career. SHRC hasn't lane swapped in many of their games this split, which would be a boon given NaMei’s laning phase woes. It’s almost a given that this will be the first LPL final where NaMei isn't present.

Just recently, inSec broke his leg jumping from a ledge during Demacia Cup dress rehearsals. There's no news regarding when and if he'll be able to return to the starting lineup. SHRC lost 3-0 in Demacia Cup quarterfinals to Team WE using substitute jungler, blank.

SHRC shaking hands after their Week 9 loss to Team WE

After Worlds, NaMei told his followers on Weibo that the 2014 World Championship was the lowest point in his career, but he still wants to compete. Here is a lower place. If Star Horn Royal Club ends up in LSPL, and NaMei doesn't receive any offers to join LPL teams (frankly, if he continues performing like he did in the ninth week of LPL, he shouldn't), the question becomes how badly he wants another shot at international glory.

This is the year where AD carries like PraY and Piglet are searching for redemption after a rough 2014. There's no denying NaMei's mispositioning is costing his team. There's no denying this is not the NaMei we've come to know for the past two years. With everything he’s shown China so far, NaMei has it in him to struggle through 2015 and return to his prime to shock the world in 2016. He doesn't have the flashy mechanics of Uzi. Players like NaMei only reach the top by building and rebuilding, honing craft with the mouse and keys.

Just make no mistake. NaMei has already been at the top. He is already one of the greatest AD carries to ever play the game. He has nothing to prove.

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.

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