For some, esports is the kills and the Ws in the standings. For others, it’s the stories of the teams, of the players themselves. Their triumphs, their falls, their grand returns, or their fading into the hum of the scene. In such a young, fluid scene, many names will ascend to fame, only to descend just as fast. Few will taste the glory of victory and many will look on in envy as their fate is to be one's who ultimately came in Not-First-Place. But every player has a story, has a reason they play, or a goal they strive for. We all have a reason to play, but for pro players, that goal is a hunger. To be better. To be the best. This is Jeon "Ray" Ji-won’s story, who earned the moniker the Sword. Ray’s return to his first team, EDward Gaming, was met with excitment by his fans. He would finally found himself as a starter on one of China’s strongest teams, and part of their hopeful redemption arc after a tragic showing at Worlds last year. Ray represented something that EDG was looking for: to shore up an obvious weakness in the Top lane that was Chen "Mouse" Yu-Hao. With a hungry, mechanically gifted Top laner, EDG looked to make their fans proud again after a tragic Worlds performance. With Ray, they’re on track to do just that.
The Homecoming Split: From “In Question” To the LPL Finals (again)
Worlds 2017 saw some of the highest viewership any esport has ever seen, with the host country of China bringing its gargantuan population in droves to make the event one of Riot’s most successful. Hell, even the Eldar Dragon’s amazing 3D CGI animation won Riot some serious recognition, claiming a Sports Emmy for graphic design (that’s pretty neat.) For Chinese fans, too, their drought of real success at international events came to an end, as both Royal Never Give Up and Team WE made it into the semi finals. While RNG ultimately fell in the end to SKT, and WE couldn’t hold out against eventual World Champions Samsung Galaxy, China felt confident again in reclaiming the ability to say they were the second best region in the world from Europe (sorry North America…)
But there was one team from China, one that had everyone shocked, that didn’t bring similar honours and accomplishments for the homecrowd: EDward Gaming. While RNG were shocking the world by taking first in what some heralded as the “Group of Death,” and Team WE managing to come from the Play-Ins to the semi-finals, EDG was nowhere to be seen. In week one, the LPL champions were 0-3. They had lost the first meeting with every team in their group. The LMS representative, AHQ E-Sports Club, the almost unanimous “To be last place in this group” was… one win above the LPL champions. Fans of EDG were reeling.
It hit the organization hard, even though they almost came back in Week 2, and fans of EDG were left feeling left out of the celebrations of their fellow countrymen. Star Jungler, Ming "Clearlove" Kai, even took a step back to practice more and redeem himself during the offseason and into the Spring Split. In the off-season, EDG looked to shore up their single biggest weakness: Top lane. They could claim to have arguably the best ADC in the world not-named-Jian-"Uzi"-Zi-Hao in Hu "iBoy" Xian-Zhao and his babysitter, Tian "Meiko" Ye, the botside was never really in question. Nobody could see captain and veteran Jungler Clearlove being replaced. Lee "Scout" Ye-chan, for all his ups and downs, was still one of the strongest Mid laners when he was firing on all cylinders. Mouse was the member found most lacking on the team, and it was why EDG looked internationally for a talent to fill his shoes. They found Ray, a familiar face.
Fans of Ray felt excited that Ray had signed as a starter. Finally, a time for his unproven track record to come to fruition. With EDG, too, Ray was amongst good company to succeed. The iBoy-Meiko botlane is still one of the most deadly in China, arguably one of the strongest regions for bot lanes (with the likes of MSI champions Uzi-Shi "Ming" Sen-Ming and Yu "JackeyLove" Wen-Bo-Wang "Baolan" Liu-Yi,) and with veteran talents like Clearlove and Scout, it was the first time Ray was really set up to succeed. Of course, that being said, it was also the first time Ray needed to succeed.
EDG returned to the LPL, who is well known for their die hard fanclubs, having not only made one significant off-season addition in Ray, but also signing Chen "Haro" Wen-Lin to fill in the hole left by Clearlove for the Spring. Fans were eager to see their team once against assert itself as one of China’s greatest. But, the start to the regular split was not the hopeful return of the tyrants of the LPL. In the opening weeks of the Spring Split, EDG struggled to look as formidable as they did in the Summer of 2017. They were disorganized, and often the new players seemed out of place constantly. Ray was not exception, but his fair share of play making moves on surprisingly tanky champions had fans content.
But things turned around for the roster. Being in the Western Conference of the LPL, the all but agreed upon weaker of the two conferences, EDG slowly climbed the ranks as Snake esports declined as the split continued on, and Team WE looked like a shell of their former selves. EDG fans saw their team start to adapt and synergize more without their captain Clearlove. Haro grew as a Jungler, and meshed better and better with his team mates. Ray, too, saw his play and teamfighting skills improve immensely over the split.
For Ray, though, it was the start of a maturing process to the player who was once considered only a one dimensional Top laner. All the time spent learning under Jung "Impact" Eon-yeong taught the Sword how not only to strike, but also how to parry and set up his team. Ray started to excel not on simply carry oriented champions like his Riven or Jarvan IV. It was Gnar and Shen that Ray was making noise in the LPL on, as he began to find his footing with the EDG roster. Playmakers fit Ray’s style of wanting to be the mechanical prowess that got his team ahead, but turned his unbridled aggression into a well honed blade, a tool to help his team, not just himself, win the game. Where once it was gaining a lead for himself, the Sword learned to parry for his team as well as engage the fight.
It was exactly what EDG needed. EDG didn’t need another carry. EDG didn’t need someone to completely dominate the Top lane like a Kim "Khan" Dong-ha or a Heo "Huni" Seung-hoon. EDG needed a Top laner that could hold his own in lane and show up to the team fights and do his job. The Ray of yesterday would’ve struggled under this kind of pressure. He wanted to win his lane, not set himself (and his team) up to succeed later in the game. But the Ray that returned home to EDG was a new blade, a tempered one. When the Sword was drawn, it wasn’t just sharp, but tactical. Ray became a complete package for the EDG organization, something they desperately needed in their quest to redeem themselves to their fans.
The LPL playoffs, where EDG, as the first in their Conference, enjoyed a semis bye, awaited their challenger. Again, many commented on how EDG lucked out: their position allowed them to not only avoid the terrifying, nearly undefeated Invictus Gaming, but also long time rivals RNG before the Finals. They eventually faced a considerably less formidable Rogue Warriors, who, after a breakout beginning of the split, petered out to… an okay team, without much teeth. When the ever-supportive (almost to a fault, commenters sometimes felt) Kim "Doinb" Tae-sang is the only serious threat on your team, that’s not a good place to be in.
Rogue Warriors lost the series 3-1, with nobody being overly surprised. Besides a strong showing in game three by Donib, Rogue Warriors felt like a team without a focus, or a team whose focus had be thoroughly found out and exploited. Ray posted an impressive 10-7-29 statline over the four games, and had great showings on those tankier, playmaking champions like Shen and Gnar that a younger Ray might’ve struggled on. The MVPs all, rightfully so, went to Scout in the Mid lane, but Ray played no small part in again ushering EDG into the finals of the LPL. It became a familiar narrative for fans of the LPL, as EDG looked across the Rift again from long time rivals RNG. It was, afterall, EDG who had denied RNG their LPL title again and again. It was Clearlove who got inside Uzi’s head in the Finals time and time again.
While maybe a little cringey, there’s a long, long history between these two organizations. And it was on full display, as RNG had just done the impossible and conquered the seemingly unbeatable Invictus Gaming. However, the fairy tale story lines could only end well for one of the two teams: would EDG claim another title, against the odds, or would RNG and Uzi finally, finally, claim an LPL title. Fate would see that the latter was the case. EDG, after a competitive first game, didn’t put up enough of a fight in their next three, ultimately falling to RNG and an Uzi that seemed unstoppable. EDG was smart in banning Uzi’s Kai’Sa (unlike Invictus Gaming, who were punished harshly for that,) but they ultimately couldn’t match RNG’s momentum. A bitter pill to swallow, but a stronger finish than many would’ve felt EDG could claim after their collapse at Worlds in 2017.
For Ray, though, it was a great season. For such a small career as a starter, saying it was his career split doesn’t carry that much weight, but he truly seemed to shine with his old LPL organization. It wasn’t just that Ray was styling on his opponents in lane that Ray brought back to CHina. It was the fact that he was playing smart, he was being decisive in his play making, and ultimately he was becoming a true Top laner. His days of one dimensionality were gone. Ray had grown, and with the Sword drawn, EDG had a new, solid Top laner they could finally lean on to not just carry, but to set his team up and parry away his opponents.
The other benefit for EDG is the Championship points they secured in Spring. Worlds is every teams dream, but for EDG, it’s a mandate. They’re akin to the TSM of the LPL, always at Worlds, and with some of the most expecting fans in the scene. As for his older brother, Impact, the Shield, his mentor? He’s looking forward to meeting Ray at an international event (and they’re well on track to do so, given Liquid and EDG’s finishes in the Spring.) According to Inven, “If we vs, I think it will be a little easy (laughs). Saying this will probably help out Ray. It will act as motivation. I’m only saying all this because I miss Ray.” With such a challenge from his big brother, you can rest assured if Riot’s Worlds script is true, that the two will have a chance to clash again. Which would break first? The battle hardened Shield, or the tempered Sword? We can only hope it’ll happen.