Ray’s early days are definitely not one to write home about, but they prime our story quite well. Those familiar with Ray know him for his aggressive style, often epitomized as a very Solo Queue way of playing the game. You win by getting ahead and lose if you don’t. So it should be no surprise that Ray cut his teeth professionally as the Top laner for AD Gaming, the then EDG sister team, in the LSLP. That’s the Challenger Series’ in China, and it’s just as bloody as the LPL itself.
Ray and ADG found some minor success in the LSLP but never managed to qualify out of the league into the LPL. Ray was given a bunch of actual experience competing, but it wasn’t the kind of growth one would hope for young in their career. He commented as much, saying, “Back in the LSPL, it had a really strong resemblance to solo queue because the Koreans used to communicate and play with the Koreans, and the Chinese used to just communicate and play their own game.” Check the interview here.
Ray’s first professional start for EDG came at a high point for the EDG organization. It was at the time of EDG’s dominance of the LPL scene, a time many Western fans will remember because it was then that they had the fabled Heo "PawN" Won-seok in the mid lane and Kim "Deft" Hyuk-kyu at ADC, the former a World champion, and the latter one of the strongest members of Samsung Blue. This game, for EDG’s side, was obviously not the most concerning matchup for them: EDG had been sitting pretty at the top of the standings for the whole split leading into week 7, and they even brought out another trainee player Xie "Jinjiao" Jin-Shan to swap for Deft.
Ray’s start, then, didn’t carry a lot of weight: he came in, largely we can imagine, to test himself in the LPL proper alongside his fellow sub Jinjiao. With Tong "Korol" Yang and Shek "AmazingJ" Wai Ho holding down the top lane, there wasn’t much of a place for the rookie in training to really challenge for a starter position. This was about seeing what he had when matched against the LPL’s top laning talent. If EDG lost because of this, then they had gained a lot of information about their trainee. If they won, well, that victory was all but locked down anyways with EDG’s power.
In his opening game (VOD can be here found here for the esport history nerds), much to the surprise of the casters, Ray locked in Riven. The quintessential top lane, “I’ll Destroy You if I Get Ahead” pick, it fit Ray’s personality and what would be his defining feature: aggression. Ray’s Riven play was what one would expect against a more defense, team oriented pick like Shen, as he secured (not first blood, so not as flashy) a kill with Ming "Clearlove" Kai, who was on his meme-worthy Nunu pick. A quick gank secures one kill, which may have been two had Ray landed his Q properly. Nerves or stage jitters aside, it worked against a high caliber player, as Li "Flandre" Xuan-Jun was and still is a force to be reckoned with for the Snake organization. It was a good start for the top laner trying to prove himself.
At the 17 minute mark a crucial team fight broke out, with Ray showing up on a huge flank, doing what Riven’s do best and putting the hurt on the opposing team. As someone who’s played against their fair share of Riven’s, it was beautiful and mildly distressing to see him be given such free range. He showed the error of Snake’s ways, and contributed to another EDG team fight won. Honestly, Ray’s play on Riven wasn’t just a display of pure mechanical prowess, as he showed a great sense of when to strike his opponents and how to be in the position to do so. Whether it was Snake not knowing how to respond, or his natural synergy with the roster, another pick in the midlane with the fabled Pawn led to the expected FF@20 by the Snake side. Ray had officially won the first game of his professional career, playing no small part in the victory either.
The smile of a man who drew a target ban against himself on his first game in pro play.
But against Snake, it felt difficult to fully judge. EDG as a whole rolled over their opponents. A smile crept across Ray’s face as Snake banned away his Riven, no small feat Game 2 was much of the same, with Ray locking in his soon to be signature pick of the Jarven the 4th into the top lane. Narrowly dodging a gank (this was, for those who remember those dark times for Top laners, the height of the lane swap meta, so top laners were often left to suffer on their own for the first five minutes) avoided giving up the first blood to Snake. A boring start by the standards of the current meta erupted as Ray appeared mid to help Pawn and secure the first blood with a beautiful J4 dunk. Full AD J4 showing off why that strat works.
Another clear setup from a teammate and Ray in the right place at the right time for another dunk and kill. A cleanup kill on the opposing Thresh, and Ray’s statline again is looking pretty for the newcomer on the roster. Ray’s most interesting quality in his starting games was something he often struggled with later, but, perhaps, excelled at in the Chinese aggression: his decisiveness in making a play. In a squared up, 5vs5 fight, he showed no concern for his own life and ulted right into the opposing squad, ultimately setting up the teamfight for a win (although, some sloppy play from EDG made it much more even than it should’ve been.)
The rest of the game was more of the same. When a team fight presented itself, Ray’s aggression and decision making, followed by the likes of Clearlove and Pawn, wiped the floor with the Snake squad. A triple kill at the end, as the Nexus explodes second later, topped of a great start for the Korean top laner. While Snake weren’t maybe the strongest opponents, their place in the standings was nothing to scoff at, hovering between 2-3 consistently throughout the split.
Ray never started for EDG the rest of the split. Ray’s first performance with EDG was not in the most memorable moment, but it was a positive start for the player who, ultimately, would struggle the most with his own demons. It was a sign of clear killer instinct that ultimately became the reason for his most notable signing: with North American darlings, Cloud 9. It was here that Ray’s story truly started, that his sharpening into a top tier top laner began under none other than World champion Jung "Impact" Eon-yeong.