He had just finished a long day of three matches with an absolute demolition of Team SoloMid, the final nail in a coffin already closed. His EDward Gaming put up a whopping 90 kills against 22 deaths in their three games, as if they were taking out their rage after their loss to SK Telecom T1 on Thursday. The EDG camp made it clear that Chinese fans were not to worry after a jet-lagged team looked lackluster against their Korean rivals, and Friday was critical.
“We lost to SKT yesterday, so we were motivated to do a lot better today,” PawN says. “Also we were just in better condition.”
His teammate Ming “ClearLove” Kai called jet lag EDward Gaming’s toughest foe on Thursday, and an extra night of rest certainly seemed to do wonders for the team. But PawN himself says he’s still struggling.
“I can’t really get to sleep at night,” he sighed. “Even if I go to sleep at 2am, I’ll wake up at 5. Sleeping has been pretty bad.” No wonder he has tired eyes.
It’s likely affecting his form, but he’s not using it as an excuse. Poor condition is par for the course these days, after all. Back in China, he nearly missed the League of Legends Pro League playoffs due to a back injury that saw him hospitalized. International travel can’t be good for the recovering man. He’s still suffering numbness in his legs, should he remain seated too long. “I guess I’m not fully healed yet,” he says. Plus, he’s dealing with an eye infection that hit him during travel. “It’s been a factor.”
Of course you wouldn’t really know it from his games in Tallahassee, Fla., like his 8/4/13 KDA romp with LeBlanc over Fnatic. Though EDward Gaming simply crushed Fnatic, Team SoloMid, and Beşiktaş e-Sports Club, it’s hard to judge the play of an individual player. But that doesn’t stop people from trying—this is the tournament of mid laners, after all.
The MSI is a melting pot for the best of the current generation of mid lane talent, a place where each region’s stars can test themselves against the world’s best. PawN represents China after a World Championship run where he emerged as a star. America brought Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg, hailed as the best mid laner in the West, the savior of American side Team SoloMid. Fnatic’s star Fabian “Febiven” Diepstraten earned his chance to test himself on the international stage by leading his team to the League Championship Series title in his rookie year. Taiwan brought veteran Fizz and Twisted Fate dynamo Shu-wei “Westdoor” Liu to the event in top form. And of course, SK Telecom T1 feature the best mid laner ever to play the game and his top-notch strategic foil.
Some of the other Korean mid laners at the tournament praised Bjergsen as a lone bright spot for the American side Team SoloMid, but PawN wasn’t as impressed. While he was surprised at Bjergsen’s powerful early game on Urgot, it wasn’t a problem for PawN after his first recall.
The mid laner who did impress him, at least a little, was Fnatic’s Fabian “Febiven” Diepstraten, though you wouldn’t realize it from Fnatic’s match against them; Febiven’s signature Zed let PawN’s Leblanc run roughshod. But in two scrims against Fnatic, PawN says, the Dutch player acquit himself well, including one Azir and Zed game he remembers. “I kept dying to him,” PawN says, though he noted a gank helped get the ball rolling for Febiven. “Judging him overall, he’s pretty decent.”
But the real matchup everyone wants to see is PawN and Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok. The two have a rivalry that labels PawN as the glorious counter to the world’s best player. In fact, the reason PawN’s Samsung Galaxy White skin, an honor earned by the world champions released on April 29, features Talon is that he scored a solo kill on Faker with that champion. PawN’s a bit disappointed he can’t use the skin much considering Talon is out of the meta, though believes the skin is the best in the set released. But fans would rather see PawN face Faker again in-game than him don some pixels commemorating it. At MSI that hasn’t happened yet.
SK Telecom T1 used their other mid lane weapon, Lee “Easyhoon” Ji-hoon, to combat PawN and EDward Gaming. The Chinese team lost because they “did not manage the game properly,” says PawN. But part of what made it so difficult was the fact that SK Telecom T1 can lean on two weapons like Faker and Easyhoon.
“They are both great players,” PawN says. “I don’t really care which one I play against, but they have such different play styles that when we ban-pick the champions we have to be really, really prepared.”
If PawN and EDward Gaming face the Korean side again, it will be in the MSI grand finals. To get there EDward Gaming needs to survive the onslaught of the event’s Cinderellas, AHQ e-Sports Club. The Taiwanese side shocked the West by beating both Fnatic and Team SoloMid. Then they nearly carried their rampage to Korea by building a 10,000 gold lead over SK Telecom T1 before falling prey to Korean brilliance.
EDward Gaming, though, is very confident in the matchup. The two teams were regular practice partners in the leadup to MSI. They know how each other plays. And EDward Gaming is ready for whatever AHQ brings to the table.
“We’ve played AHQ a lot since we got here, and even before we got here we scrimmed them,” PawN says. And his team hasn’t lost a single set. “So I’m pretty confident and especially confident that I will beat the mid laner for sure.”
Those are bold words considering Taiwan’s mid laner Shu-Wei “Westdoor” Liu is in surprisingly strong form so far at this tournament. But PawN might be just the thing to end that run.
Unlike many of their Korean brethren, PawN and teammate Kim “Deft” Hyuk-kyu have excelled in their new country. It has not been easy. The team’s struggled with communication issues. PawN has problems with his diet; he doesn’t handle Chinese cuisine very well, so the team provides a Korean chef to prepare meals. But when that chef isn’t around, he can’t eat comfortably. The team’s living conditions are “not phenomenal so far,” he says, but they’re moving into a spiffy new mansion soon so that’s a temporary issue. And he can’t practice at his maximum because his ping from China is too high. While most Americans might kill for the 30-40 ping he gets to the Korean server, that’s still not high enough to interfere with the razor precise mechanical plays he likes to make, which makes it tough to properly practice.
That isn’t to say EDward Gaming hasn’t been great to him. PawN wanted to thank the team owner for the “abundant medical support” he received when he suffered his crippling back issues. “He sent me a lot of doctors and got me the care I needed,” PawN says.
In the League of Legends server, PawN’s certainly held up his end of the bargain. Him and Deft have transcended stardom this season. While Deft’s star might shine a bit brighter, PawN has made good on the promise he showed at the World Championships. That’s in large part thanks to their EDward Gaming teammates, a trio of players designed to support the talent of their two carries. It’s a perfect marriage of talent and style.
MSI is a chance for EDward Gaming to finally break through on the international stage. They’re a team that’s dominated domestic competitions but never taken the next step worldwide.
“Winning the title here at MSI while representing China is a big deal and I will try to make it happen,” PawN says. “Even though we lost one game, I think we can win.”
If PawN is the man capable of taking EDward Gaming to the promised land, that only increases his legend. He’s already lifted one team to new heights, somehow unlocking the monster that was Samsung White, a team with unimaginable talent that never gelled until PawN entered the lineup. His new team might have slightly less star power, but PawN believes they can be just as potent as last year’s champions.
“The players from both teams are superb and excellent,” PawN says. “In EDG, I think if we can overcome the communication problem and learn to cooperate better, then I think we might become an even stronger team than Samsung White.”
That’s hard to believe, considering that Samsung team is likely the strongest ever to grace the Summoner’s Rift. But EDward Gaming has the pieces to make that dream a reality. The first step? Winning MSI and securing an international title for China for the first time since IPL5 in 2012.
To do that, PawN will likely need to beat Faker himself. But that’s OK—he’s done that before, too.
Screengrab via lolesports/YouTube